"Yeah, and I'm the tooth fairy." Welsh rubbed his tired eyes with the back of his hand. "Look, Ray I know you don't like the idea, but disappear until it blows over, huh? I don’t think my nerves can stand much more of this…"
"No way!" Ray exploded upwards, wincing at the pain that shot through his arm. "I am not afraid of these guys. Let 'em do their worst.
Welsh opened his mouth to make a, no doubt, sharply witty reply, but before the words could leave his mouth, a polite rap on the door of his office interrupted. "Come in Constable," he bellowed, recognising the red blob through the frosted glass panel.
"Ah, Ray, you're here also. That saves time…" Fraser began without even so much as bidding them 'good day' which, in retrospect, should have warned Ray that something was up.
"And I'm fine, thanks fer askin'" Ray groused, rubbing at his arm in the hope that his partner might actually notice his latest injury and sympathise or something. It had been a busy week for Fraser at the Consulate, and Ray hadn’t seen much of him in that time, but he would rather gouge his eyes out with a spoon than admit he’d missed having Fraser around. Not to his face anyway.
"Good to know, Ray," Fraser nodded distractedly at him and continued into the office, closing the door behind himself. "Lieutenant, I've come to let you, and of course Ray, know, that I won't be able to fulfil my role as liaison to the department for the next week. I'll be out of the country."
That got Ray's full attention. Fraser was going away? Since when? He hadn’t said anything at the weekend when they had watched a hockey game at Ray's place. A sudden, and somewhat alarming jolt of panic shot through Ray at the thought that maybe Fraser was homesick again, and this time, he might not come back. He flopped back down onto the sofa, focused on his partner.
"Taking a vacation, Constable?" Welsh asked, removing his glasses and laying them on the desk.
"Um, actually, no, not as such,” Fraser began to rub his eyebrow, another sure tell that something queer was going on. "I've received a letter from a solicitor in Aberdeen. Apparently they are handling my Great Uncle Callum's last will and testament, and have asked me to fly over for the reading…"
"Whoa, whoa, back up there, Frase. Aberdeen - as in Aberdeen, Scotland?" Ray found himself standing up, and squaring off to his partner. Even the surge of relief that it wasn’t Canada didn’t totally alleviate his fears. Scotland was like… the other side of the fucking world. At Fraser's nod, Ray shook his head and began pacing. "Since when you got relatives across the pond?"
Fraser watched him warily. "Well, actually since around the 14th century I believe. The Fraser's are a well-established clan in Scotland. At any rate, the story goes that in the mid nineteen forties, my great grandfather, Alexander Fraser divorced his wife and left her and his two young sons in Scotland, to emigrate to Canada. Once there, he met and married a local girl from Tuktoyaktuk … Ray, are you even listening to me?"
Ray blinked a couple of times, trying to make sense of Fraser's words.
"I'm listening, I'm listening!" he insisted. "Fraser, your family are totally fucked up, you know that? First you find out you got a half sister, then a whole bunch of Celtic cousins…"
"Ah," Fraser said regretfully. "No cousins at all I’m afraid. You see Alexander's first wife never remarried. And her younger son, Tiberius eventually came to Canada too, when he was old enough."
"That's the nut-job with the cabbage leaves, right?" Ray blurted.
Fraser's blush almost rivalled the hue of his serge. "The very same. And it would appear that the eldest son, my great uncle Callum, never married either, so I am the last surviving Fraser descendant. Maggie is still officially a Mackenzie."
Ray stopped pacing and flopped down onto the sofa again. "So, this old guy's shuffled off, and you gotta fly half way across the world to listen to some crusty old lawyers tell you he's left his money to the Cat's Protection League, or what?"
Fraser, in a complete breakdown of normal Mountie protocol, seated himself beside Ray without being asked and sighed deeply. "Essentially, yes. According to my Father, the Scottish side of the family were as poor as church mice. He probably lived in a ‘Butt 'n' Ben’, and I'm going to have to find homes for his goats, sheep and whatnot."
“Buttin’ who?” Ray asked in confusion.
“A one roomed croft, Ray. I’ll explain later.”
"So how long you figure this trip will take, Constable?" Welsh asked, managing to sound interested, which set off alarm bells inside Ray’s skull.
"I've been granted a week's leave, sir. I'd like to see a little bit of the old country while I'm there, and it seems that recent legislation allows me to take Diefenbaker with me after I've collected the appropriate paperwork from my veterinarian. I hope you can spare me that long?"
Welsh placed his glasses back on his nose and peered at Ray, who was definitely getting a bad feeling about all this. "Oh sure, we can manage. And as a matter of fact, you could do us both a favour and take Ray here along with you. I've been trying to tell him he needs to take a vacation."
Ray would have immediately wriggled his way out of it had it not been for the look on Fraser's face. He looked so damned pleased. And he couldn't bear to be the one to take that look off Fraser’s face.
Fraser's smile lit up the whole damned room. "Really? Well Ray, that would be delightful! Let me get Turnbull to book another seat on the plane. The flight leaves tonight at 11pm. I'm afraid I couldn’t get a direct flight to Aberdeen so we'll have to take the train from Edinburgh…"
As Fraser continued to spew forth itinerary information, Ray slumped further down into the sofa and absently began to rub his sore arm again. Scotland in November, huh? He figured the weather there couldn’t be any worse that it was in Chicago in November but still, to be on the safe side, he’d borrow some of those thermal long john things that Fraser liked so much. And then any hope of hearing what Fraser was saying evaporated into a hazy daydream involving Fraser, red long johns and a blazing fire.
"Jeez what the hell is this?" Ray made a face as the semi-congealed grey gloop on his spoon plopped back into the dish.
"It's called Scott's Porridge Oats, Ray and its actually very tasty. Perhaps a little salty for most palates but…"
"Looks like the stuff I used to grease the gears on my bike." Ray shoved the dish to the side and lifted a round flat biscuit to his nose, sniffing it suspiciously.
"Oat cake," Fraser informed.
"Guess the Scots got real healthy bowels, huh?" he observed as the flight attendant finally appeared with a pot of coffee. As she topped up Ray's cup for the fourth time since they had taken off, Fraser liberated his untouched porridge and wolfed it down.
Ray shook his head. Didn’t seem to be a damned thing the Mountie wouldn’t eat. He let his head fall back against the headrest and gazed out of the tiny window.
Ray didn’t get the chance to fly much, so the sight of fields of fluffy white clouds below him, and the uninterrupted blue sky all around still had the ability to fill him with awe. At least it did when he was safely inside a nice, pressurised, warm cabin. Not so much when he was clinging to the wing of a plane, but that was an entirely different story and not one he wanted to dwell on. That whole period of his life seemed like a dream now, even though they had only been back in Chicago for a few months.
"Are you going to eat that?"
Blinking back to reality, Ray followed Fraser's pointing finger to the untouched oatcake. "Knock yourself out, buddy. I'll grab something at the IHOP when we land. That is, if they got a pancake place here?"
Fraser shrugged and began to spread butter on the oatcake. "I would imagine so, Ray. Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland. However, I doubt we'll have time. The flight was delayed for four hours remember?"
Oh yeah, he remembered. Stuck in an airport departure lounge with Fraser regaling him with tales of bloodthirsty Scottish history. That was four hours of his life he would never see again.
Fraser checked his watch and sighed. “The reading of the will was scheduled for two hours ago. I’m afraid the office will be closed by now.”
That was fine by Ray. He'd barely gotten more than half an hour's sleep on the eight hour flight what with the kid in the seat behind kicking him in the kidneys and wailing or throwing up every time they hit a bit of turbulence. Fraser hadn't let him pull his gun on the kid either. Of course, he wasn’t actually carrying a gun, but that was entirely beside the point.
Fraser, on the other hand, had slept through both in-flight movies, and several passes of the drinks cart. He was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and depressingly cheerful. Now they were getting ready to land at 5pm and in Ray's head it was 11 o'clock in the morning, Chicago time, and he'd been up all night.
“So, not going to Aberdeen today?” Ray yawned.
Fraser sighed again. “I doubt it. We’re to meet a Miss McDonald at the airport, who was supposed to take us to the solicitor's Edinburgh offices to hear the will being read, then after an hour or so to refresh in a local hotel, we were to catch a train to Aberdeen to view the property. I imagine we’re far too late for that now.”
What with the four-hour delay and the lack of sleep, Ray was more than a little relieved that the trip up north would be postponed. He could use a brisk shower, a hot breakfast, and a warm bed. Not necessarily in that order.
"May I take your tray, sir?" The flight attendant smiled sweetly at Fraser and he grinned back.
"Thank you kindly. It was delicious."
Ray grunted when she asked the same question of him and got a poke in the ribs from Fraser for his rudeness.
A few moments later, the plane began its decent.
Miss McDonald was waiting for them outside customs after they had liberated Diefenbaker, who complained long and loud about having to travel in the hold with the other 'animals' and having to wear a collar and lead.
She was short woman, with close-cropped brown hair and wearing the most enormous pair of glasses Ray had ever seen. She was holding up a card with Fraser's name on it and scanning the crowds of recently disembarked passengers with barely concealed impatience.
"My name is Fraser," Fraser said warmly, offering her his hand, which she ignored. Looking up, way, way up, she lifted her glasses from her nose and squinted at him.
"Ye are?" This obviously surprised her.
"I am. And this is my friend and partner Ray Kowalski."
"Is it now?"
It still sounded odd hearing Fraser use his real name. He'd been someone else for so long. In fact, Ray still felt disorientated and not at all sure who Ray Kowalski really was.
Dief whined. “And this is Diefenbaker,” Fraser added impatiently. “My, um, dog.”
"I see," the tiny woman spared Ray a quick glance before concentrating her gaze back up to Fraser. "Well, yer late. The office is closed now fer the weekend." As she spoke she began to walk quickly towards the exit, so the two men had no option but to follow. Fraser had all he needed stuffed into his haversack, but Ray had to juggle a large suitcase and his carry-on.
"I'm terribly sorry Miss McDonald. The flight from Chicago was…"
“Delayed. Aye, I know.” The woman stopped dead, looking up and down the busy road outside the terminal. Fraser almost lumbered right into her. Ray wasn’t quite so nimble. He thumped into Fraser's warm back and made a small 'oof' sound. It was raining, and cold enough to see your own breath especially after the warmth of the arrival lounge. Ray decided to huddle closer to Fraser.
"TAXI!" she yelled, waving her hand at a passing black cab. The cab screeched to a halt, blocking traffic amidst a cacophony of blaring horns.
The window rolled down, and a large bearded head poked out. "Where to hen?"
"Waverley," she said over her shoulder, hustling the two men into the cab along with their luggage. "And guie it wings. We've a train tae catch."
As the taxi roared off into the thronging traffic, Ray fumbled around for a seatbelt. Something told him he would need it. He discovered Fraser doing the very same thing, when his groping hand encountered Fraser's. They exchanged worried looks before Fraser found the end of his belt and clicked it into place.
"Um, Miss McDonald…."
"Daphne. A'body cries me Daphne."
Fraser located the end of Ray's belt and pressed it into his hand. "As you wish. I was about to enquire as to our destination? My itinerary said that the Clarendon Hotel is located on Princes Street, yet I heard you instruct our driver to take us to Waverley?"
Daphne rolled down the window and stuck her head out, breathing deeply. "Well, ye were late. They told me tae take ye straight up to Aberdeen. So that’s what I’m doing.”
"Hey, hold the phone" Ray exploded angrily. "I am in serious need of a hot shower, and some food that doesn’t go 'splat' and a flat surface to lie on. You tellin' me I'm not getting that anytime soon?
Miss McDonald leaned her face against the cab wall. She was looking a little green about the gills. "Sorry, I dinae travel well. I may have to vomit shortly. What were you sayin'?"
Ray edged a little closer to Fraser, out of the line of fire, should the lady decide to hurl. "Hotel… food… shower?"
Daphne closed her eyes and groaned. "Aye laddie. When we get to Aberdeen. If I survive the trip."
"Fraser?" Ray turned to impale his partner with an icy look.
Fraser patted Ray lightly on the knee. "Hush, Ray. Let's not upset Daphne when she's clearly feeling fragile."
Ray glared but decided not to argue. Scotland wasn’t a big place. How long could it take to get to Aberdeen after all? He looked down at his knee, where Fraser’s hand still rested lightly.
Ray was having his dream again. The one where Fraser was lying on the floor of a cabin in front of an open fire. He was just wearing the bottom half of his long johns and Ray was in the process of licking every inch of exposed skin on his chest.
"Pardon me, Ray," Fraser gently shoved Ray upright in his seat, wiping the drool from his otherwise pristine red serge shoulder.
"Whazzap?" Ray rubbed at the crick in his neck and looked blearily around. Nothing much seemed to have changed in the last hour. Miss McDonald was still snoring loudly from the seat in front, it was still dull and raining outside the train, and they were still not ‘there yet’.
"The next stop is Aberdeen, Ray. We should get ready to disembark."
Ray cracked his neck loudly and peered out of the window. Not that he could see much. They seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, with no city lights or even stars to light the way. "I gotta use the can," Ray announced, lumbering to his feet. "Why don’t you wake up sleepin' beauty there?" There was a loud grunt from the row in front followed by incoherent mumbling. "Oh lucky you, she's awake already!"
As Ray staggered up the corridor he heard Fraser say "Good evening Miss McDonald. I trust you enjoyed your… nap?"
In the trains' tiny rest-room, Ray stared at his wild reflection in the cracked and dirty mirror. He looked like a hobo. Hair flat on his head, stubble itching his face, eyes red-rimmed and bleary from lack of sleep. This was not his idea of a vacation. Not by a long shot. His ideal vacation involved lots and lots of sleep, preferably coming right after a night of booze, dancing and hopefully sex. Instead he got to travel around rainy Scotland while drooling all over Fraser. He smiled wanly at his reflection.
Well at least Fraser was in the second scenario.
Ray splashed his face with water, and ran his wet fingers though his hair in the hope that it might stick up even a little. There wasn’t much he could do about the stubble and the dark rings under his eyes until they got to Fraser's uncle's place. Although chances of finding the place equipped with hot running water were minimal, according to Fraser.
What was it he'd called the place - a 'Butt'n'Ben'. Fraser had explained that it meant ‘outside’ and ‘inside’. The ‘outside’ part probably referred to the john. How the hell had he ever agreed to tag along? In his mind’s eye, he saw Fraser's huge shit-eating grin. Oh yeah, that was why.
Ray shook his head ruefully. He was such a damned sucker when it came to Fraser. He'd only just gotten himself unzipped to take care of business when someone started pounding on the door.
"Ye gonnae be long?" Daphne McDonald's voice sounded desperate. "Only I think I'm gonnae be sick."
Ray stuffed his dick back into his pants and threw open the door, only just getting out into the corridor before the woman started throwing up. Jeez! She really meant it when she said she didn’t travel well. Ray made his way back to his seat, and squeezed past Fraser.
"The train is now approaching Aberdeen Station,” a tinny voice announced from the overhead speakers. "All passengers for Aberdeen please get ready to disembark here."
"This is our stop, Ray. Perhaps I should go check on Miss McDonald?"
Ray closed his eyes. "Yeah, perhaps you should. Just remember to stand well back.”
It was pouring as they stepped onto the almost deserted platform. Fraser was virtually carrying Daphne, so Ray slung his haversack over his shoulder and juggled the other two cases. Dief immediately raced off into the bushes to relieve himself, reminding Ray that he still had a pressing need to do the same.
"Where to now?" he asked, glancing up and down the platform.
"There'll be a… a car along… directly," the stricken woman managed to mumble right before retching forlornly over Fraser's boots. Ray did his best to hide his grin.
Fraser helped her to a bench under the overhead shelter and after making sure she was comfortable, moved off to deal with the boot desecration. Ray sat on his suitcase and patted down his pockets for a packet of smokes he’d bought at the airport. Fraser would no doubt give him a dirty look, but fuck him! He didn’t fall off the wagon very often. And after the 24 hours he’d just had, he deserved to indulge at least one of his vices.
Taking a deep drag, he felt the smoke burn his throat and lungs. His head swam a little, just like it always did when he hadn’t smoked in a long time. Hey, he was on vacation. Why shouldn’t he enjoy it?
The sound of a car racing towards him had Ray wheeling around. He just managed to haul his ass out of the way as an ancient and battered car skidded to a halt inches from his foot.
“Halloooo, are ye the folks that are to go up to the big hoose?”
“Um, maybe,” he hedged, peering in the window of the cab; not at all sure he’d actually understood a word of that.
Fraser appeared at his side, scowling at the cigarette hanging from the corner of Ray’s mouth. “My name is Benton Fraser. How do you do?”
“I do all right,” the red-haired driver replied warily. “You’ll be the new laird I suppose?”
Fraser and Ray exchanged bemused looks for a moment before a somewhat recovered Daphne McDonald shouldered her way between them both.
“Oh, thank God yer here. Get us up tae the big hoose will ye, afore I die of dehydration.”
Daphne tugged open the door of the cab and almost fell inside. Dief appeared from nowhere and jumped in behind her leaving the two men to deal with the luggage themselves. By the time Ray was wedged into the back seat beside Fraser, the rain had soaked him to the skin.
“So is it far?” he asked the driver, trying to enunciate his words as clearly as possible. “To the big hose? Is it far?” He figured that must be Scottish for hotel.
“Ye mean hoose? Nae, not far. Maybe a couple o’ miles.”
Ray settled back as best he could, and tried to tug his feet out from under the wolf, who had sprawled out on the floor. He could handle a couple of more miles before collapsing into a nice warm bed. Didn’t even have to be warm, necessarily, just flat and quiet and stationery. Dief snorted and wriggled into a more comfortable position.
With that the taxi turned off the main road and headed down a dirt road that had more craters than the moon. Ray began to think that maybe his ass wouldn't survive a couple of miles of this after all. And neither would his bladder.
“We’re here, thank God!” Daphne sighed with relief. “Whay dae ye think of yer inheritance, Mr Fraser?”
“It’s a castle!” Ray blurted as the car finally came to a stop in the pebbled courtyard. “It’s a fucking, god-dammed castle, Frase!”
Beside him, Fraser was staring wide eyed at the looming edifice. “Um, yes, it does appear to be,” He mumbled.
Daphne leaned forward to peer out into the gloom. “Gentlemen, welcome to Castle Fraser; the majority of which has been converted over to a hotel and conference centre to help with the running costs o’ such a large establishment.”
Ray dragged his eyes away from the impressive façade to glare at their travelling companion. “You couldn’t have warned us?”
Daphne rolled down her window and let the rain soak her face. “Warn you?” she scoffed. “I’ve barely been able to put two words together since we left Edinburgh.”
Ray raised an eyebrow but couldn’t argue with that.
A fucking huge castle with battlements and flags and… and, Jesus…. staff! As he watched in awe, the entire castle staff assembled on the steps outside the ancient portcullis in the driving wind and rain to welcome their new… what did the driver say… Lard?
Daphne did her best to tidy her hair up and then took a deep breath. “Well, we’d best be getting this over with if you want to bathe anytime soon. The manager’s name is Sebastian deMarco. Yer uncle Callum never cared much for him as a person but he’s one hell o’ a business manager, from what I've been led to believe.”
Daphne checked her refection in the rear-view mirror, handed some cash to the driver and took another deep breath. “Shall we?”
Dief had finally noticed that the cab had come to a halt and was whining to get out. The wolf had the bladder capacity of a thimble. “Yeah, yeah, hold your horses,” Ray complained, trying to find his scarf and gloves in the gloom.
No sooner had he pulled on his knit cap, than Fraser had reached past him to open the cab door, which almost came off its hinges as a gust of frigid wind caught it. Jeez, and they called Chicago the windy city?
Ray stumbled out, to be met by a young lad wearing a rather fetching kilt, which he was trying desperately to keep from blowing up around his armpits.
“May I take yer bags, sair?” the youngster asked, shivering.
“Sure, knock yourself out. They’re in the trunk,” Ray replied, unable to drag his eyes off the towering grey walls of Fraser’s croft. Holy fucking crap, Fraser owned an honest-to-God castle! Ray wondered if he’d ever get over this.
“Um, trunk?” The lad asked hesitantly. “I’m not sure I follow ye, sair?”
Fraser had once again appeared at Ray’s elbow, and it seemed to Ray that the Mountie had gotten over the shock of finding out that he’d inherited a huge pile of stone with staff way quicker than was natural.
“That's American for ‘boot’” Fraser smiled warmly, striding towards the castle as though he owned it. Oh wait! He did own it.
A strikingly handsome man, with dark olive skin and curly black hair, met them at the head of the line of shivering house staff. When he smiled, his white teeth gleamed in the moonlight giving him a predatory air. Ray took an instant dislike to him.
“Welcome to Castle Fraser, gentlemen, and lovely lady,” he gushed, in a thick Italian accent. Sketching a quaint little bow, he continued, “I am Estate Manager Sebastian deMarco. Please, won’t you come in from the cold?”
Ray was all over that suggestion. He still needed to pee, and the rain had already soaked through his clothes leaving him feeling damp and clammy.
Fraser was smiling politely at every damned person in the welcoming committee line-up, obviously taking his new responsibilities very seriously. “C’mon, Frase,” Ray stage-whispered. “Some of us don’t have an extra layer of sub-crustaceous fat remember?”
“Subcutaneous, Ray,” Fraser corrected automatically. “And of course, you’re right. We shouldn’t keep these people out here a moment longer.” And with that he fairly flounced up the stairs and through the massive double oak doors into his castle.
At his elbow, Daphne leaned close. “Smarmy as hell, but not at all harsh on the eye.”
Ray glanced down at her. “Who, Fraser?"
She rolled her eyes. "No, deMarco."
"He’s full of shit,” Ray mumbled.
“Aye, maybe. Come on Mr Kowalski, let’s get indoors afore I freeze ma titties aff.”
He couldn't agree more, so taking her arm, he hurried up the steps in ‘Lard’ Fraser’s wake.
The hallway was huge, lit from above by the biggest chandelier Ray had ever seen. He was so impressed by it, that he barely noticed the flurry of activity happening around them. Someone helped him out of his coat, took his scarf and gloves and pressed a mug of something hot into his cold fingers. He’d raised it to his mouth before he strong aroma of alcohol hit him full in the face.
“Is called ‘hot toddy’,” deMarco explained, handing a similar mug to Fraser from a tray carried by the shivering kilted boy. “They say here, it warm you inside and out.”
“Butt’n’ben,” Ray quipped, pleased that he’d remembered even that much from the earlier conversation. He was sure the Italian accent got thicker every time the manager looked at Fraser. Too early to tell if the guy was up to something, but Ray was getting some seriously strange vibes from pretty boy deMarco.
Fraser sniffed the concoction and raised his eyebrows. “Glenmorangie?”
“Ah! The laird knows his whisky!” deMarco took Fraser by the elbow and drew him towards a door which was being held open by two burly men with red hair, beards and kilts. Ray eyed the men suspiciously. Scottish Mafia? Oh yeah, they were security of some sort. No telling what weaponry could be concealed in that fuzzy little purse they both wore.
Ray got the distinct impression that their not-so-gracious host, was skilfully ignoring him and Daphne. She didn’t seem at all bothered by this state of affairs. She was currently inhaling the fumes from a mug she’d liberated from the tray. Dief was nowhere to be found. He’d probably already found the kitchens and made friends with the cook. But Ray wasn’t about to be left standing in the drafty hallway. Taking a fortifying gulp from the mug, which seemed to contain a lot of hot whiskey with a tiny drop of tea, he followed Fraser into the reception room.
The door closed behind him and he turned to see kilt-boy grinning at him. “Is there anything I kin dae for ye, sair?”
“Huh?” Ray blinked. It was like a foreign language or something. If he watched the kid’s lips real closely, he could just about make it out, but he kept getting distracted by the eyes, which sparkled with merriment.
“I just wondered if ye wanted me tae fetch you something? Mair tea, or perhaps ye’d prefer coffee.”
Coffee! That at least had come across loud and clear. He nodded, handing the pungent mug of hot alcohol to the lad. “Oh, hell yeah. Strong, black and sweet. I got serious withdrawal shakes here.”
The boy smiled hesitantly. “I’m Keith. I’m the handy-man aroond here.”
Ray shook the outstretched hand. He was surprised the kid was old enough to have such a title. “Kowalski,” he replied, “Ray Kowalski.”
“Be right back,” Keith smiled, letting go of Ray’s hand slowly and lingeringly, then slipping out of the room. Ray’s eyebrows climbed skyward. Was it his imagination, or was the kid coming on to him? He’d love to think he could pull someone as good looking as kilt-boy Keith, but if the kid were a day over 17, Ray would eat his woolly cap! He preferred someone a little more mature. Someone old enough to vote. Though the kilt was definitely turning his crank. What would Fraser look like in one of those, he wondered.
“Ray?” Fraser’s voice from the other side of the huge room drew Ray out of his musings. “Mr deMarco has just been telling me about all the wonderful events he’s scheduled for us. Starting tomorrow morning bright and early with grouse beating!”
“Grouse beating? What the hell is that? You kick the crap out of some bad tempered hobo?” Ray took in the roaring fire, the luxurious surroundings and the fact that Italian gigolo was standing way too close to Fraser.
DeMarco’s cold smile came no where near reaching his eyes. He laid a hand on Fraser’s shoulder in an overly familiar manner. “Your friend; he is amusing, no?”
“No,” Fraser agreed pleasantly, smiling right back.
Ray gave the Italian one of his very best glares. The ones that made bad guys quake in their boots. This guy needed watching very carefully, and not just because he was fawning all over Fraser. Nah, there was something queer about him. Ray’s spidey sense was all a tingle.
Ray spent the next half hour standing in front of the roaring fire, watching his clothing steam, and sipping hot coffee. He was almost asleep on his feet when deMarco finally got through his introductory spiel about the history of the castle and lengthy introductions of all key members of staff. He was so damned hungry that he felt like he could go out and beat one of those damned grouse to death with his bare hands and eat it raw. At least he’d managed to find a john earlier, so that was one less thing to worry about.
“The top floor of the castle was preserved as a personal residence for the old Laird,” deMarco was saying. “I’m sure you will be most comfortable there. Keith has already taken your cases up.”
“Thank you kindly, Sebastian,” Fraser effused, stifling a yawn. And just when exactly had they gotten on first name terms?
“You are fatigued? Perhaps you would like to retire?”
Ray didn’t bother trying to stifle his own yawn. “Yeah, that’d be great, Seb old buddy, old pal. But first, I gotta eat something. Just point me at the kitchen and I’ll throw together a couple of sandwiches.”
deMarco looked horrified. “I would not hear of such a thing! Keith will bring a tray up to your rooms.”
“Whatever.” Ray was too tired to argue
DeMarco snapped his fingers. “Take the Laird and his companions up to the residence. Then have cook prepare something for them to eat.”
“Right away, sair,” Keith nodded politely, ushering the tired trio ahead of him.
They piled into a small elevator, which creaked and groaned its way to the very top of the castle. Keith stopped outside a large, ornately carved door. “Ye’ll find everything ye need in here. There are two double bedrooms off the main living area, each wi’ its own shower, and the master bathroom has a jacuzzi. If ye need anything else, just pick up the phone and dial zero for room service. One of the standard rooms on the next floor down has been prepared for yersel’, Daphne.”
“Pardon me, Keith, but would you happen to know the whereabouts of my wol… eh, dog.?” Fraser asked with concern.
“Oh, he’s down in the kitchen asleep in front o’ the fireplace. Lizzy, the cook gave him the leftovers from the banquet. We had a wedding for 200 guests this evening.”
Fraser nodded. “Thank you kindly.”
Keith grinned at them, his smile seeming particularly warm when his eyes met Ray’s and now he was sure he had a young admirer there. Ray didn’t get a lot of attention when Fraser was around, so it was kinda nice, if a little creepy.
Daphne hooked her arm through Keith’s. “You boys have a good evening. Ye’ll hae tae excuse me. I’m still a wee bit wobbly on ma pins. I’ll be staying until Monday, so we’ll worry about signing the paperwork later. Night!”
“Good night Miss McDonald. Sleep well.” Fraser waved as she disappeared down the corridor.
“Don’t let the bed-bugs bite,” Ray added distractedly to the closing door. Then turning to Fraser, “A fucking castle Fraser? How could you not know this?”
Fraser flopped down tiredly on the brocade sofa and began undoing his bootlaces. “Ray, you have to remember that my father never spoke about the Scottish side of the family. He never spoke about anything much, point of fact, not until after he was dead, but that’s a different story…”
Ray sighed as he kicked off his own boots, without undoing the laces. It had been a while since he’s heard Fraser having imagined conversations with his dead father. He had hoped it was a sign that Fraser’s weird mental health had finally righted itself.
“Okay, so you got yourself an honest to god Scottish castle. What you gonna do with it?”
Fraser was prowling the room barefoot, opening doors and peering inside. “Honestly Ray, I have no idea. It seems to be very well run though, don’t you think?”
“DeMarco gives me the creeps,” Ray blurted before he could stop himself. “Something ain’t right there.” He joined Fraser in his investigation of their living arrangements. “Whoa! This would be the jacuzzi then?”
The master bathroom seemed bigger than Ray’s whole apartment. Everything was made out of white marble, and all the trimmings were gold. Greenery adorned every surface, making Ray think of pictures of Roman bathhouses he'd seen in a magazine in his dentist waiting room. And right in the middle there was a sunken jacuzzi large enough for five people to sit in. Someone had very kindly filled it and turned on the jets and the steam filling the room smelled like roses.
Suddenly Ray was aware of how stiff and sore the journey had made him and all he could think about was sinking into that lovely hot bubbling water. “Last one in’s a rotten egg!” he declared, peeling off his sweaty t-shirt and reaching for the button of his jeans. He hadn’t even gotten them to mid thigh, when a draft at his side heralded Fraser’s hurried passage, and he got a quick flash of pale buttocks, long legs and the curve of his spine, before Fraser disappeared under the water.
“So let me get this straight,” Ray eyed the large stick dubiously. “We ain’t supposed to actually hit the bird with this, just make enough noise to scare them shitless?”
It was the butt-crack of dawn, Ray was still half asleep, but at least it wasn’t raining any more.
“Well essentially, yes,” Fraser confirmed, scratching his eyebrow. “The birds take fright, fly up over the concealed shooters and….”
“Get shot?” Ray finished. “Listen Frase, not that I want to put a damper on your little excursion, but shooting helpless birds for sport just ain’t my thing.”
Fraser nodded unhappily. “Mine either, Ray. I don’t know how on earth I got us talked into this.”
DeMarco was approaching them, a shotgun thrown casually over his shoulder. “Buon giorno, gentlemen. We have a fine day for the shoot, no?”
Fraser looked down at his borrowed rubber boots and cleared his throat. He was obviously finding difficulty with the wording so Ray decided to help him out.
“Seb, we changed our minds. We’re thinking of maybe just hanging out in the jacuzzi all day.”
Fraser spluttered and needed thumping on the back before he could meet Ray’s eyes. “Or perhaps we might take a nice stroll, Ray. See the sights. Have a look around the estate? I would be very interested to see how things are administered.”
Ray was watching deMarco’s reaction and could swear that he saw momentary panic flit across the handsome features before the slime-ball mask was firmly back in place.
DeMarco scanned the line of beaters preparing for the off and spotted Keith. Beckoning him over, he leaned close and whispered something to the lad. Ray strained to hear what was being said without being obviously rude, but between the thick Italian accent and the rolling Scots burr, he couldn’t make out a thing.
“Keith will take you. As you don’t know the area, I’ve asked him to go with you.”
Keith’s huge grin was aimed, once again, at Ray. He wasn’t feeling quite so freaked out about it after finding out this morning from one of the staff that Keith was actually twenty-three. He just had a realy baby face.
They stopped off at the castle to change into more suitable footwear, and for Keith to pick up Jock and Jamie, two of the largest dogs Ray had seen in his whole life. Deerhounds, he called them. And Ray believed they could take down a fully-grown deer with little trouble. Dief didn’t seem to notice that the hounds were twice his size. He trotted up to them and did his usual alpha thing. Within moments, both hounds were part of his extended pack.
They set off through the grounds, with Keith pointing out the famous rose, herb and walled gardens. Now that the sun was trying to poke out from behind the low clouds, Ray supposed it was really quite pretty. Not that gardens were his thing. He could barely tell a rose from a radish on a good day. Back in the Stella days, he'd relied on the local florist to make sure his floral apologies where apropriate. The place smelled weird too, but not in an unpleasant way. Ray’s nose was far more accustomed to Chicago smells. City smells, like gas fumes and garbage.
Once out of the castle grounds, the terrain changed drastically. Where there had been manicured lawns and cultivated flowerbeds, there was now bracken and gorse and thistles growing as high as a man. Ray found out the hard way not to go near those. Then there was the sticky, clinging weed that tried to eat him alive when he fell into a patch of it. Keith hauled his ass out, laughing as he picked little round balls of greenery from Ray's hair.
"Yer covered in sticky willie, Ray," he chortled.
"That's disgusting!" Ray proclaimed, stomping away from Keith's ministrations. Fraser wisely didn’t say a thing.
Keith offered Ray his stick to help on the increasingly rocky paths, but Ray shook his head. If he could chase a scumbag down a Chicago street in the middle of rush hour, he could damned well handle a few rocks and some evil plant life.
The bugs were another matter. As they passed a small stream, a huge black clouds of the little fuckers started swarming around his head and man, they could bite. Ray could hardly concentrate on avoiding the thistles for slapping at the back of his neck.
“The midges hae taken a linking tae ye Ray,” Keith smiled apologetically. “Here. This should help,” he held out a packet of cigarettes, which Ray gratefully took. Lighting up, he was relieved to see that the little buggers really didn’t appreciate the smoke and took off after Fraser instead. “They must have been attracted to yer hair gel,” Keith suggested then under his breath added, “or maybe it’s pheromones?”
Ray felt a blush spread over his face and he hastily handed back the smokes. “Thanks. Remind me to buy some mosquito repellent at the first pharmacy we see.”
“Out here? Ye’ll be lucky.”
Ray noticed that they seemed to be heading farther away from civilisation. The path they were on was now littered with pine needles as they headed into a small forest, but at least the bugs were not so thick in here.
“So where the hell are we going anyway?” Ray puffed. Obviously all that extra conditioning he’d had by the end of the quest had disappeared after two months of pizza and beer.
Keith stopped to let him catch up. “The other side o’ this hill, we start heading down towards Loch Skene. There’s a wee pub down there that serves the best haggis this side of Inverness.”
“Sounds delightful,” Fraser enthused, thumping Ray on the back encouragingly. “I should think we’ll be more than ready for a good hearty meal by the time we get there.”
Under his breath, Ray muttered, “Or an oxygen mask!”
“It’s made of what?” Ray spluttered, looking at his plate in absolute horror. Keith was grinning like a lunatic. The bastard had obviously chosen this particular dish from the menu on purpose to freak Ray out, and it was working, damn it!
“I believe the traditional recipe for haggis is minced sheep’s lungs, liver and heart - otherwise known as offal- mixed with onion, oatmeal and suet, then boiled up inside the sheep’s’ stomach,” Fraser helpfully told him. Ray felt the bile rising. How the fuck did the Scots eat stuff like that?
He poked the giant sausage-like thing with his knife. It nestled between a large creamy dollop of mashed potatoes and some virulent orange mulch which looked like it might be pumpkin. Fraser’s plate held the same horrors as his. Keith, on the other hand, was making short work of a T-bone steak.
“How come you ain’t eating the awful offal?”
Keith chewed slowly on his succulent morsel, eyeing Ray hotly and taking his god-damned time about answering. Swallowing, he winked at Ray. “Can’t stand the bloody stuff,” he confided. “That shit’s just fer tourists.”
Fraser was shaking his head. “Really? Well I must say you don’t know what you’re missing.” He stuffed a forkful into his mouth and made appreciative noises.
“You like that?” Ray couldn’t tell if the Mountie was just playing along or if he really did like what he was eating.
“Delicious!” Fraser beamed, shovelling up another forkful.
Ray pushed his plate aside and went to work buttering a dinner roll. Even if he were on the brink of starving to death, he couldn’t have choked down something that revolting. Diefenbaker was obviously hoping to sample the local delicacy, and Ray would have happily put his plate down to him, only that might offend the chef. He could feel Dief's eyes boring into the back of his head, and turned in his seat.
“Hey, I can hear you drooling,” he admonished.
Dief woofed and tossed his head in the direction of the two hounds, who had turned away the moment Ray looked in their direction. It was obvious that they had been staring too.
“What’d he say?” Ray asked Fraser.
Fraser, caught in the act of mopping his plate with a bread roll, blushed and cleared his throat. “Well, it appears that Jock and Jamie share your aversion to offal. They would prefer um… rump steak.”
Ray glared at the pampered pooches. “So how come they were staring at me like that?”
“According to Dief, it’s your rump they have designs on. Are you going to eat that?” Fraser was already reaching for Ray’s neglected dinner plate.
“Yeah, whatever,” Ray eyed Keith hopefully. “Swap seats?”
“The wolf is pullin’ yer leg, Ray. They will’na bite.”
Dief whined, sneezed and grunted, which, judging by Fraser’s shocked expression, was pretty dirty language for a lupine. “There’s no need to be so disparaging,” he scolded. “I’m sure Ray has an extremely tasty rump.”
Ray expelled his recently taken mouthful of beer in an impressive arc, managing to miss the Mountie by scant centimetres.
“Oh aye, he has at that!” Keith agreed.
Ray wiped beer from his face and gave Keith the evil eye. If Fraser wasn’t aware of the sexual tension between Ray and Keith by now, then he really was some kind of monk or something. But the temptation to get some kind, any kind of reaction out of the Mountie was becoming harder to suppress. "Hey," he groused, "eyes off my ass okay, and I mean all of you"
Fraser's eyebrows disappeared under the brim of his hat. "Ray! I can assure you…
“Nu-huh. I seen you looking."
“I was merely making sure…”
“You were leering."
“As you wish, Ray.” And damn him if he hadn’t gotten the last word again!
It had begun to get dark as they made their way back up the rocky incline toward the forest. Keith had had the foresight to bring a flashlight with him, but the going was still tough. They stuck close together, Keith in front, Ray in the middle and Fraser bringing up the rear. The hounds and Dief were way ahead, probably hunting poor defenceless woodland creatures.
Ray wasn’t sure, but the path seemed way steeper than it had on the way down. The darker it got, the harder it became to keep his bearings. They stopped for a rest about half way up and Keith produced a flask of water from his pack. Ray was glad for the stop. He was out of breath already and they were nowhere near the castle yet.
“Is that a tawny owl I hear?” Fraser asked tilting his head to one side. Ray had heard the weird scream too, and was more than a little relieved to hear that the culprit was nothing more dangerous than a bird.
“Aye, we hae a nesting pair close by." Keith seemed a little worried. "Would you mind staying here while I go make sure the dogs are behaving? Not that I think yer wolf would kill an owl, but Jock might, to prove something. Ye understand?"
“Of course. We’ll be fine. Won’t we, Ray?” Fraser answered. Ray recapped the flask and handed it back to Keith.
“You taking the flashlight?” Not that he was scared of the dark or anything. Not at all. He was merely concerned for kiltboy. Wouldn’t want their guide falling and breaking something.
“I’ll no’ be long. Just sit on that rock and try not to let the Kelpies get ye.”
It got dark very quickly when Keith took the light away. Ray eased himself down onto the rock as instructed and stared up at the darkening sky. The last time he’d seen stars so bright had been on the quest. There was no light pollution or smog up there in the Yukon. This place reminded him a lot of Canada actually. Only smaller.
“Kelpies? What the fuck?” he asked after a moment. Fraser lowered himself down onto the rock beside Ray, and Ray caught a faint whiff of fresh sweat from him. Hurriedly, he crossed his legs, not that even Fraser, with his eagle eyes, would have been able to see his burgeoning erection in the dark.
“Kelpies? Mythical beasts that looked like horses," Fraser explained. "When a person tried to mount said horse, it would dive back into the loch, from which it came, drowning the hapless person in the process.”
“Nice.” Fraser tilted his head back, looking up at he sky and giving Ray a rather tempting view of exposed throat.
“Lovely night, don’t you think?” It never ceased to amaze Ray how Fraser could see the good in every situation. Here they were, alone on a mountain in the dark and cold and he was as happy as a pig in shit. At least they weren’t hanging from said mountain in a hammock this time.
“Fraser, can I ask you something?”
“Of course, Ray. Ask away.”
“Do you ever think about where you’ll be, say... ten years from now? Ever wonder what you’ll be doing? Who you’ll be doing it with?” That was a lot more than he’d intended to say really, but it was out now. No take backs.
Fraser was silent for so long that Ray had begun to wonder if he would answer. Finally he took a deep breath. “An interesting question, Ray. Although location matters less to me than vocation, I always assumed that I would be doing exactly what I’m doing right now. Being a Mountie is all I’ve ever wanted, all I’ve ever known.”
“So that’s who you are? Benton Fraser, the Mountie. That’s how you see yourself?”
“That’s how I’ve seen myself in the past, Ray, yes. There was never any doubt that I would follow in my father’s footsteps. He was a Mountie, so I would be one too. I always saw it as a calling of sorts. Recently I’ve come to question that line of thinking a little.”
Ray had been expecting that. This trip to Scotland had opened up new and exciting possibilities for Fraser. Who wouldn’t want to explore a whole new life?
“How about you, Ray? How do you see yourself?”
That was the big question. Who was Ray Kowalski? For the longest time, he’d identified himself as Stella’s husband. He’d been so lost after that, that taking on the role of Ray Vecchio had at least given him an identity. These days, he saw himself as Fraser’s partner. But that wouldn’t last forever. He’d done the undercover gig for so long that he’d lost sight of who he was. He couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t identified himself as part of some kind of partnership.
“Cop. Just a cop,” Ray answered flatly after a while.
“Ah,” Fraser replied equally flatly.
They sat in silence for a while, looking up at the sky.
Then silence was broken abruptly by the sound of falling rocks.
Ray kept his eyes squeezed tightly shut as he tumbled down the hill, arms raised protectively over his head. By the time he came to a stop, he was no longer sure which way was up and he hurt all over.
“Ray. Ray, are you all right?”
Ray opened his eyes to see a couple of fuzzy Frasers staring down at him. He blinked, and the Frasers thankfully merged into one “What happened?” he croaked.
Fraser's hands planted firmly on his chest prevented him from moving. “There was a rockslide. I managed to push you out of the way, but we rolled quite a bit down the hillside. You may have been knocked unconscious. How many fingers am I holding up?”
Ray batted Fraser’s hand out of his face. “Fraser, its pitch dark. I can’t see a damned thing. Where’s Keith?” He could hear barking and it was coming closer.
Fraser finally helped him to his feet, keeping one arm tightly around his waist as they turned back towards the path. “I believe he’s on his way.”
Ray was pretty sure he hadn’t been knocked out. He was just a bit dizzy from the fall. He didn’t need anyone holding him up, but then again, it was kinda nice to have Fraser this close. His hair smelled of pine and roses and… damn, maybe he had received a blow to the head if he was openly sniffing Fraser.
The beam of a flashlight cut through the darkness. Keith skittered into view, almost losing his footing on the uneven path. He saw that Fraser was holding Ray up and rushed to their sides. "Oh, my God, what happened? I heard rocks falling…"
"Yeah, Frase thinks they all landed on my noggin." Ray shoved Fraser away, determined to stand on his own, but succeeded only in landing on his ass.
Dief was all over him, licking his face and whining piteously. "We should get him back to the castle as quick as we can," Keith said. "I'll call Sebastian and have him meet us in the 4X4 down at the loch." He was already dialling his cell phone as Fraser reached down and threw Ray over his shoulder.
"Hey, put me the fuck down!" Ray protested. The fact that his face was hanging inches from Fraser's ass was neither here nor there. He clutched the fabric of Fraser's jacket to avoid temptation. "It's not like I lost the feeling in my legs. I can walk."
Fraser just laughed and launched into a long story about a downed airplane, a desperate criminal and a head wound that had resulted in Ray Vecchio having to carry Fraser through a forest much like this. Ray decided it was better just to let him talk. Until he suggested that they might all like to sing. Ray had to draw the line there.
Sebastian and a local doctor were waiting at the foot of the trail. The doc gave Ray the once over, proclaimed him battered, bruised, but not concussed and they all bundled into the car.
"I think Scotland hates me."
Fraser just patted him reassuringly on the knee.
Daphne McDonald was waiting for them in the drawing room when they returned. She was curled up in a big armchair in front of the fire with an old book and a pot of coffee.
“One of the gillies told me about yer wee accident, Mr Kowalski,” she put the book down and got to her feet. “I hope it didnae put ye off oor country?”
Ray shrugged and headed for the fireplace, hoping to get some warmth into his bones. He hadn’t felt this cold since the quest. “No damage done,” he said, deliberately not answering her question. Scotland was cold, wet, dismal and dangerous. A lot like home actually.
She nodded knowingly and turned to Fraser, pointing at an official looking manilla folder on the table. “If ye feel up to it, there are papers to be signed. Apart from the castle, yer uncle left a wee bit money and a shepherds cottage. Shouldn’t take long to get the formalities over and then everything will be settled.”
Fraser gave Ray a long look. “Why don’t you go up and get comfortable, Ray?” he asked. “I’ll check in on you when I’m done.”
Feeling like he’d just been dismissed, Ray stomped out of the room, leaving Fraser to do his lairdly business. The truth was that he could do with a shower and a full night’s uninterrupted sleep. Although his bed had been comfortable enough, once he finally fell into it the previous night, he’d only managed to doze for most of the night. The lack of sleep was making him cranky as hell and probably a bit paranoid too.
He showered quickly and climbed into bed. Tense muscles began to relax one by one and he let out a long breath, sinking deeper into the pillows. Had to be some kind of record. He’d been in Scotland less than a day, and already he’d almost died. Although Canada had tried pretty hard too, if he were honest. Still, he’d survived Canada, he could totally kick Scotland’s ass.
"Good morning, Ray. How are you feeling?"
Ray squinted, as Fraser pulled open the curtains, letting pale November sunlight stream into the room. Up until that point, he'd been feeling fine. He'd been dreaming about the quest and the night that they'd been trapped in the tent by a storm. The temperature had fallen so low that Fraser had zipped their sleeping bags together to keep them from freezing to death, and Ray had just kept thinking 'what a way to go.'
Last night, after his shower, he hadn’t bothered putting any clothes back on. Quickly, he pulled the covers up to his chin and glowered at Fraser.
"Feels like I just went three rounds with Mike Tyson," he grumbled.
"Would this help?" Fraser produced a mug of steaming hot coffee, seemingly from nowhere, and Ray was reminded yet again, why he loved this guy.
As he sipped the strong black coffee, he was aware of Fraser surreptitiously checking him out. Of course, he knew it was just for cuts and bruises, but a guy could dream right? He let the cover slip down to his waist again, just to see if he could get some sort of reaction out of his partner. And he did…
"Good grief, Ray, that must hurt!"
Ray glanced down and his naked chest and saw an ugly black and blue bruise at the top of his ribcage. There was a small gash at the heart of it, which had happened, no doubt, as they'd toppled down the mountain last night. He winced as Fraser's gentle fingers traced the line of it.
"I think I have some ointment that might help…"
As Fraser dashed next door to his own room, Ray tried to locate his boxers. No way was he going to lie here totally naked and let Fraser smear him with cream! Just, no way! He had one leg in his shorts when Fraser reappeared. Ray cursed silently and hauled his shorts up. Now he was left with a dilemma. Did he stand where he was and let Fraser do his Florence Nightingale act, or did he crawl back into bed where he could better hide his embarrassment?
"Ray, I need to examine you for more abrasions," Fraser stated calmly, running his eyes up and down the length of Ray's body, and incidentally causing the entire length of Ray's body to break out in goosebumps. Ray almost leapt into the bed.
"Fraser, I've been hurt worse slipping in my own shower. I don’t need you fussing over me." It came out sounding way angrier than he wanted it to but at least it had the desired effect.
Fraser backed off."Understood," he said stiffly, eyes fixed on the small pot of walrus-gonad-and-caribou-tonsil ointment in his hands.
Ray immediately felt like three kinds of asshole. He sighed and lay back on the bed, shoving the covers down to his waist. "Do what you gotta do, Frase, but I'm warning you, if those fucking mosquitoes are attracted to that shit, I'm gonna kick you in the head so hard, you eyeballs with go into orbit."
Fraser's grin was only marginally suppressed. "Thank you, Ray. I'll bear that in mind."
Ray endured the intimate examination, but ignored Fraser’s advice to take it easy for the rest of the day. After all, Fraser wasn’t a doctor and Ray wasn’t fragile. After breakfast, he found himself waist deep in the coldest, most crystal clear lake he'd ever seen. Suitably kitted out in hip waders, he and Fraser were attempting to catch something called a grayling.
Ray wouldn’t know a grayling if it bit him on the ass, but if it got Fraser this excited, it might be worth the discomfort of freezing his balls off. On the bank, Keith reclined with the dogs, and Ray could hardly focus on what Fraser was saying to him.
Keith was getting more blatant by the minute and it was growing harder to resist. Ray was only human, and the guy he really wanted to be with was oblivious. "It's all in the wrist action, Ray," Fraser was saying.
Ray jolted back to reality, dragged his eyes away from the slash of golden stomach revealed when Keith had stretched and gaped at Fraser dumbly. "Huh?"
"Casting your line. It's all in the wrist action. You see first you flick the line back like this…"
Ray focused on Fraser but didn’t really hear what he was saying. Fraser was looking damned good today. He always looked good, no matter what he wore, but Ray was so used to seeing him in uniform, that it was a real kick to see him in something else. Today he wore hip waders like Ray and a thick white cable knit pullover that brought out the darkness of his hair and the pale blue of his eyes like whoa!
Ray watched Fraser expertly flick the line out and nodded in all the right places. Then it was his turn. He tried to do it the way Fraser had showed him, but the damned line got tangled in a tree. With a frustrated sigh, Ray hauled it back in. "Knock yourself out Frase. I'm gonna sit this one out."
On the bank, Keith greeted him with mug of steaming coffee, poured from a thermos flask. As soon as he'd struggled out of the waders, Ray flopped down onto the blanket and wrapped his cold hands gratefully around the mug.
"He's something else, isn’t he?" Keith commented.
Ray frowned, following Keith's gaze to where Fraser was expertly casting his line, and snorted. It was only a matter of time before Keith's attentions shifted. Ray was frankly surprised that he'd held the young man's interest this long. "Yeah," he sighed.
Keith's green eyes found Ray's and he licked a droplet of coffee from his lower lip. "Ye love him, Ray?"
Was it that obvious? Ray felt his face flush. "Yeah. We've been through the mill together. We're tight."
Keith reached out and laid a had on Ray's thigh. "I mean, ye're in love with him."
Ray's eyes fell to where Keith's hand rested. "Yeah," he whispered. No point in denying it. The kid was an observant little bastard. And it felt kinda good to finally admit that out loud to someone.
Keith's thumb was moving in tiny circles on Ray's leg. "But he's not wired that way, Ray. It's not healthy to be mooning over someone ye can't ever have." Ray heard the open invitation in that sentence loud and clear, and yet he still hesitated.
Even if Fraser could never want him that way, going with someone else still felt like a betrayal of sorts. But then again, it had been so fucking long… and he was so horny, he could use his dick to hammer in nails.
"Got anyone else in mind?” He asked, quite unable to meet Keith’s eyes. But Ray didn’t get an answer. Fraser let out a whoop of joy and began frantically reeling in his line.
"Get the net!" he yelled. Keith gave Ray one last long look, and hauled him to his feet.
"The laird has made his catch, Ray. You should try to do the same." Those words haunted Ray for the rest of the day.
He was glad that fishing was a silent sport for the most part, because it gave him time to think. Keith was right. He should put Fraser out of his mind and live a little. Keith was young, and available and damned hot. Why shouldn’t he take what was on offer?
He glanced downriver, to where Fraser was heading back to the bank. He'd caught eight Grayling to Ray's zero and was calling it a day. Ray figured it was time he faced reality. Fraser was off limits. As he began reeling in his line, he became aware of an odd noise growing louder by the minute. It kinda sounded like a whole pack of mosquitoes, but giant versions, which made him wind in the reel more frantically. He wasn’t hanging about to find out just how big the bloodsuckers got.
"Ray! Look out!" He glanced up to find out why Fraser and Keith were waving and yelling in time to see the speedboat bearing down on him and then it was on top of him and he was going under, the water turning white all around him as the propeller blades churned it up.
Fuck! His last thought before he blacked out was that Scotland really did have it in for him, and that he would have been safer staying in Chicago and taking on the mob.
Everything hurt. Ray lay still, trying to make sense of the weird noises all around him. Felt like his ears were full of water. He could hear people talking, but their voices were distorted and he couldn’t make anything out.
The thought that he was dead flitted across his subconscious for about a nanosecond, before he remembered how much he was hurting, and that his mum had always told him that all suffering and pain would end in the afterlife so this was not it, or at least it wasn’t heaven… so maybe…. okay, okay it could be hell.He’d always figured he was heading down there anyway…
“Ray. Ray, can you hear me?” Ray screwed his eyes shut tighter. That could not have been Fraser’s voice, on account of how Fraser would not be here in hell. No way. Fraser already had a little golden harp with his name carved on it and a nice fluffy white cloud reserved for his day of reckoning. Seriously – wings, halo, long white dress – the works.
“If you can hear me, squeeze my hand, Ray.” Ray wasn’t about to squeeze any damned thing. He was just gonna lie there and wait for the devil to come along and clue him in on his eternal punishment. And if that punishment involved working for the rest of eternity along side a Canadian in a funny red suit, then it would damned well serve him right.
“Has he stopped breathing? I think he’s stopped breathing.” Oh great! Keith was here too! Any minute now, Vecchio, Frannie, Welsh and his great Aunt Hilda would appear and put in their two cents worth. Because they had to be here, didn’t they? It wouldn’t be hell without them. Oh and Stella. She wouldn’t miss this…
“I think you’re right. I’m going to attempt to resuscitate him.” Okay, yeah. This was hell. This right here was hell. Fraser’s lips were on his, and he couldn’t even feel it. He was numb. He was cold and numb and shivering and… and… Jesus, coughing up a lung!!!
Ray bolted upright, shoving Fraser out of the way, gasping for breath. “Wha’ hit me,” he rasped. His head was thumping.
“Thank God, yer alive,” Keith was clutching his shoulders and squeezing hard enough that Ray could actually feel it. “I thought ye were a gonner when that speed boat ploughed intae ye.”
Ray was aware of Fraser’s hand in the small of his back, supporting him. It felt nice. He leaned back into it a little. “Do you remember the boat, Ray?” Fraser asked.
There had been fish. Big fish. A couple of them. And mosquitoes. Giant mosquitoes. Then something had grabbed him by the leg and pulled him under the water. “Shark?” he wheezed, and why did his throat feel like he’d just smoked a whole carton of cigarettes?
“No, Ray. Not a shark – a speed boat. It almost killed you.”
Ray closed his eyes and tried to remember. It was coming back to him slowly.
Scotland was trying to kill him.
Ray spent the rest of the day with both Fraser and Keith fussing over him like a pair of crazed mother hens. The local doctor had been called out yet again to take a look at him, and pronounced him hale and hearty but for a crop of new cuts and bruises, and the faint possibility that the water he’d swallowed might give him a stomach bug.
By dinnertime, he’d had about all the fussing he could take and sneaked downstairs to the kitchen as soon as his two nannies turned their backs. The cook took one look at him and shook her head. “Scotch broth. That’s what ye’ll be needin’,” she decided, ladling a bowlful out from the giant black cauldron that sat on the hob. “It’ll put hairs on yer chest.”
“Thanks, but I already got some. I really just want some peace and quiet. The Mountie and kiltboy are driving me nutzo!”
He didn’t really expect the matronly woman to understand but she smiled knowingly. “Aye. Neither o’ them let’s you oot o’ their sight for mair than a minute. Must be nice tae be so weel liked?”
Ray shrugged. “You’d think so, yeah.” It actually felt rather suffocating. If he didn’t know better, he’d say that Fraser and Keith were getting a bit competitive over who could look after him the best. Under normal circumstances, Ray might have found the attention flattering, but his ego was taking backseat to his sense of self-preservation.
Didn’t have to be a detective to work out that his life was in real danger there. Two near misses inside as many days couldn’t be a coincidence.
Diefenbaker trotted in through the open door and totally ignored Ray in favour of his new best friend, Mrs Campbell. The cook had saved him a nice hambone and while she was cooing over the mutt, Ray slipped out the back door and into the garden. Of course he didn’t have a jacket with him, and it was late autumn, but he’d survived everything Canada had thrown at him during the quest, so Scotland could just do its worst.
He lit up a cigarette, coughed as the harsh smoke hit his throat and leaned against the wall, wondering which Prince Charming would come to his rescue first. The sun was setting, painting the sky with a palette of golds and reds. Somewhere off in the woods, a flock of birds were chattering loudly as they settled in to roost.
Ray breathed in the fresh cool air and sighed. Could Carboni’s arm stretch this far? DeMarco was definitely up to something and he was Italian. Welsh had sent him here to protect him, but Ray knew that if Carboni wanted him gone, nowhere on the planet was safe. At least in Chicago, he’d had his gun. Here, he was a sitting duck.
He should tell Fraser about this, but something held him back. He could see how much his partner was enjoying being here, and there was the faintest chance that his own perceptions were being clouded with jealousy. Until he was sure that Scotland really was trying to kill him, he would keep his suspicions to himself.
“So, this is where you’re hiding?” Keith stepped outside, and closed the door behind himself. Ray smiled. He’d been sure that Fraser would find him first.
He offered Keith his cigarette and watched while the youngster took a deep drag. Keith was still wearing his kilt, but had lost his jumper somewhere along the line. The thin white t-shirt was no defence against the chill evening air. Ray realised he was staring at the kid’s nipples, and dragged his eyes slowly upwards.
Keith grinned and pinged the cigarette butt away. He slowly advanced on Ray, placing his hands on the wall on either side of Ray’s head. “So,” he drawled in a voice as smooth as fine whisky, “if I were you, I’d be thinking about getting myself laid, before any more bad luck befell me.”
“Good plan,” Ray grinned right back.
This was fun. The thrill of the chase, the adrenaline spike. God, how he’d missed this. He wanted it so much he could taste it.
He licked his lips in anticipation. Keith stepped closer, mingling their breath on the night air. Ray could feel the heat radiating from Keith’s body and he closed his eyes. Second later, warm lips covered his and he sighed, opening his mouth to deepen the kiss.
“You are one fucking sexy bastard,” Keith murmured against his lips, pressing hard against Ray, forcing him back against the cold wall, but Ray wasn’t feeling the cold anymore. He was feeling nothing but heat, and want and need, bubbling up inside him like a blast furnace.
Keith moved against him, grinding his hips slowly and rhythmically, until Ray couldn’t hold back a deep moan of pleasure. He was hard, so very hard and desperate to get off. Panting helplessly, he fisted the thin material of Keith’s t-shirt, tugging it out from the waistband of his kilt.
Keith’s hand found the fly of Ray’s jeans, and at the first cool caress of frigid November air on his cock, Ray gasped, thrusting his erection into the warmth of Keith’s hand.
This was nuts! Letting the kid give him a hand job out here in the open where anyone come see. They could be fucking arrested for this… He felt teeth on his neck and a hot puff of air against his ear.
“You want me to suck you, Ray?” Keith asked, voice like velvet.
“Fuck!” Ray squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated real hard on not coming.
When the door to the kitchen opened, Ray barely even noticed, but Keith jerked back leaving Ray slumped against the wall.
Fraser coughed and cleared his throat. “Pardon me. I was uh… I was wondering where Ray had…” Fraser looked from Keith to Ray and smiled woodenly. “I see you’re in good hands, Ray.”
No sooner had the door closed than Keith was all over Ray again. Ray wanted to call Fraser back, but his throat was dry and parched. He shoved Keith away, tucked himself in and ran a shaky hand through his hair.
“That was not cool,” he growled.
Keith sighed deeply and tucked his t-shirt back in. “Come on Ray, it’s not like he didn’t know, and we’re both adults.”
Which was true, but so not what Ray had meant. The last thing he wanted to do right now was piss Fraser off. Pushing away from the wall, Ray pulled open the door and went in search of his partner.
Hearing a muttered, “Fuck!” from Keith, he looked back over his shoulder and shrugged. “Sorry about the blue balls. Maybe later?”
Keith threw him a sardonic grin. “Aye, maybe.”
Forty minutes later, Ray still hadn’t managed to find Fraser. He kicked the door to their suite in frustration feeling like a complete ass-hole. Fraser shouldn’t have had to find out like that. Even if the guy had guessed, it was one thing having suspicions, and a whole other thing having them confirmed.
He needed to talk to Fraser, find out if they were still okay. He flung himself onto his bed and stared at the ceiling, listening for the sound of the suite door opening.
It was a very long and sleepless night.
The next morning Fraser greeted him with coffee and a smile, like nothing had happened. Ray decided to be cool and play along.
Eventually, Fraser would say something. He was sure of it. Until then, he could use the time to figure out the shit flying about inside his own head.
Daphne headed back down to Edinburgh first thing on Monday morning, leaving Fraser with her personal mobile number, should he have any questions. If it hadn’t been for his promise to keep Fraser company on his trip, Ray might have gone with her. What little sleep he’d managed had been punctuated with weird dreams about someone leaving a poisonous snake in his bed, or short-circuiting his electric blanket. He made a mental note to himself next morning to stop watching so many Scoobie Doo reruns.
Having survived the night, Ray felt a little silly refusing breakfast. But he still wasn’t convinced that porridge oats was a genuine foodstuff. He sipped hot black coffee until deMarco showed up with the suggestion that they check out the paddock.
They were leaning on the railing surrounding the stable watching the smaller ponies being put through their paces. Ray stifled a yawn and tried to look interested.
“I suppose you do not ride? deMarco asked tartly.
“Me?” Ray scoffed. ”Never been on a horse in my life. Don’t intend to start now, thank you very much. He on the other hand,” Ray tilted his head towards his partner, “was born in the saddle.”
DeMarco took that as his cue to ignore Ray and turned his back on him, focusing his attention on Fraser instead. “You have experience in riding?” he asked excitedly.
“Ah, well, yes. As a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police I’ve had extensive training, but it’s been some time since I took to the saddle.” Fraser replied.
Ray decided to leave them to it. There were a hundred ways he could be killed horse riding. He wasn’t going to take the risk but he hadn’t even made it to the gate when Fraser was beside him. “Ray, riding is a truly wonderful pastime. I’m sure you would enjoy it, given half the chance, and I would be honoured to teach you the fundamentals.”
Damn. He could feel himself weakening already. The thought of having Fraser teach him to ride was definitely doing something to his equilibrium. But still, he wasn’t sure it was a good idea. What if someone deliberately spooked the horse?
“I’ll spend most of the day flat on my ass, Fraser,” he hedged, trying to get the stupid damned gate open so that he could escape into the four-by-four and get out of his own borrowed boots. Wellies, Keith had called them. Short for Wellington boots. There had even been a song written about them, allegedly, sung by someone called 'The Big Yin.'
“There are many bridle paths through the woods,” DeMarco chimed in. “or there is the beach. The horses enjoy galloping through the breakers.”
Ray could see it all in slow motion, Fraser, shirt open and billowing in the breeze as his horse threw up surf with its hooves. He could even hear the cheesy romantic musical underscore in his head. If they would let him just lie on the beach and watch Fraser exercise the horse, then maybe…
“Indeed they do,” Fraser nodded enthusiastically, reaching past Ray to unlatch the gate one-handedly. “It’s been too long since I’ve felt the thrill of all that barely controlled power between my thighs.”
That cinched it.
“Okay, but no galloping, no cantering, no trotting." Ray shoved his hands into his pockets and stomped off to the waiting car. "Nothing faster than a slope or I'm outta here. My ass still hurts from having a mountain land on it."
"Do horses slope?” Fraser grinned, following right behind.
DeMarco was already on his mobile phone, instructing Keith to have suitable horses prepared.
“Are you coming with?” Ray asked, when deMarco ended the call. Much though he disliked the man, Ray would rather have him where he could keep an eye on him.
DeMarco shook his head apologetically. “Regretfully no. I am kept busy today with much business. Keith goes with you. He is accomplished rider.”
“I bet he is,” Ray muttered under his breath as he slid into the back seat next to Fraser.
“Do I have to wear it?” Ray eyed the riding hat with distaste. “Do they have mounted police here who can pull you over and fine you for failing to wear the correct head gear?”
Keith’s smile grew impossibly wider as he placed the hat firmly on Ray’s head and fastened the chinstrap. His eyes sparkled warmly. “It’s nae so much about the law, Ray, but about yer safety. If ye fell from yer mount and got injured, I would never be able to forgive mysel’.” Ray felt the colour rise in his cheeks and he had to look away.
“He’s quite right, Ray,” Fraser chimed in, fastening his own hat with a flourish. “Even a fall from this height can result in…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it, I get it. I’ll wear the damned hat.”
The sound of hooves on cobbles made Ray turn in time to watch the stable boy lead out three of the most beautiful horses he’d ever seen. Not that he’d seen many, but these were just stunning. The most beautiful of all seemed also to be the hardest to control. A jet-black animal, with a narrowed nose and arching neck, it whinnied and stomped impatiently.
“Good heavens,” Fraser’s eyes were huge. “Is he Arabian?”
Keith nodded and approached the skittish beast slowly, crooning softly under his breath until the animal had calmed a little. It allowed him to stroke its neck, and even went so far as to nuzzle him, looking for a treat, no doubt. And Keith did not disappoint. He just so happened to have a piece of carrot in his pocket.
“He’s worth a fair bit of money. Apparently the old laird won him in a card game.”
Fraser looked embarrassed, even though he had never met his uncle, and should not be taking any responsibility for his actions. “He seems… somewhat jumpy?”
Keith scratched the animal behind his ears. “Ack, he’s nae bad once ye get to know him, eh Lucien?” The horses’ ears flicked forward at the mention of his name. “But it would take an experienced horseman to handle him.” He looked enquiringly at Fraser.
“Oh, um, well it’s been several years since I rode. Perhaps I should take one of the more docile mounts this time around?”
“As ye wish,” Keith said with obvious relief. He probably wouldn’t have argued if the laird had insisted on taking the Arabian, but Ray could see he was happier riding it himself. “The chestnut with the blond mane is called Megan and the thickset Icelandic lad is called Eric. He’s a good steady horse. Nothing much spooks him.”
Ray patted Eric on the shoulder. “Sold.”
“Good choice, Ray” Fraser beamed, swinging himself up into the saddle as though he’d been doing it all his life. He patted Megan affectionately on the neck. “And I believe this lady will serve me quite well.”
Ray watched Keith mount, his kilt fanning out behind him on the horses’ haunches. His eyes strayed over to where Fraser was leaning down to whisper something to his horse. They both looked so fucking good that Ray could have stared at them all day.
He let out a small snort of laughter and shook his head. He’d worked for months beside Fraser, never once giving himself away. All it took was for someone to show an interest in him, and suddenly he was making moony-eyes at everything with a pulse? Ray gave himself a mental shake. Get a grip Kowalski.
“Dae ye need a wee hand?” Keith enquired, noticing that Ray still had made no attempt to get onto his horse.
“Nah, I got it,” he assured the kid, eyeing the saddle warily. They had made it look easy. Just slip your foot in the stirrup, hold onto the pointy bits and haul yourself up.
He took a little too long to convince his leg to swing that high, and Eric decided to begin without him. He found himself bent over the saddle, clinging on for grim death as the horse trotted off to check out the nice green grass in the next field. Fortunately, he didn’t have to endure the pummelling for long. A blur of reddish-brown swam into view and suddenly he wasn’t moving anymore.
He looked up at Fraser, who was holding Eric’s bridle. “Forgot to ask where the brakes were,” he offered weakly, trying to turn himself around enough to get his leg over the horses back.
“Ray, I’m sure Megan can handle the weight of us both. Would you care to ride shotgun?”
Sit behind Fraser?
On a horse?
With his arms around Fraser’s waist?
Rubbing up against him… able to smell him… close enough to lick….
Fuck! Bad idea, bad, bad idea.
“Hey, I got it covered. Just need to point me in the right direction and I’m set.” Ray finally managed to get settled in the saddle, and took the reins back from Fraser. “See? No problemo."
Jeez, it was difficult to ride with a hard-on.
“So… Eric… you like your job?” Ray asked.
For the past half hour, the sturdy horse had been his only conversational option. Fraser and Keith were so deeply entrenched in a conversation about the day to day running of a large estate that he doubted they would even notice if he stripped naked and galloped past them doing a handstand.
Eric was remarkably intelligent, tossing his head and shaking out his mane in what Ray chose to interpret as an indication to the negative.
“Me either,” he sympathised. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good job, feels fucking great when you put a scum-bag behind bars, but the pay is lousy and the hours stink.”
Eric appeared to be nodding his head in understanding, so Ray continued.
“So you? You gotta plod across the hills with some freeloader on your back, but at least you don’t get shot at. Or knifed. Or kicked shitless by a gang of…”
“Ray, are you all right?”
Glancing up, Ray realised that Fraser had been waiting for him to catch up. Keith was nowhere in sight. “Oh yeah, me and Eric were just doing some bonding, you know?”
“Ah, right you are.” Fraser replied uncertainly.
Ray decided it was time to change the subject. “Where’s kiltboy?”
“Keith? He thought he’d spotted a stag so he rode ahead to check it out.” Fraser looked worried about something. Well not so much worried, as concerned.
“You think he might try to shoot it?”
“What? Oh, no.” Fraser eased Megan around to walk beside Eric at his slower pace. “Keith would far rather photograph wildlife than massacre it.”
Into photography, was he? Ray couldn’t even take a snap-shot without cutting everyone's heads off. At least if Keith had been into shooting, they would have had guns in common. You know, if they wanted to… talk about stuff. Not that it mattered 'cos Ray was not interested in getting to know Keith any more intimately than necessary. If anything happened, it would be a holiday fling. All about the sex. No need to exchange numbers or anything.
“So, what’s up?” he asked.
Fraser’s thumb shot up to rub absently at his eyebrow. “You’re not enjoying this are you?” he sighed, glancing sideways at Ray.
“Mosquitoes the size of bats, people who say they’re speaking English but clearly are not, sleazy Italian Gigolos with questionable motives and winds strong enough to blow a grown man off his feet. What’s not to like?” he threw his hands into the air.
Fraser was staring at him wide-eyed. “Actually Ray, I was just referring to the riding.”
Fraser was enjoying all this. The mosquitoes; the weird people; the wind; the rain; the whole fucking shebang. Fraser was loving it. Great, Ray. Way to go. Open mouth, insert foot.
The bullet missed Ray by less than an inch, judging by the sound of it whistling past his ear. He was off his horse and crouching on the ground before it hit and splintered the bark of an ancient fir tree. He would have liked to have put it down to his lightening reflexes, as it turned out, gunfire was the one thing that could spook old Eric, and he'd reared up in terror, throwing Ray to the ground.
"Frase!" He hissed. "You okay?" Both horses had taken off at a dead run, both riderless.
"I'm fine, Ray. You?"
Ray took a quick inventory. His already injured arm was killing him. Must have landed on it. Not broken though. In fact nothing was broken. He took a moment to thank his lucky stars. "Who the fuck is shooting at us?"
Fraser's head popped out from behind a large boulder on the other side of the track. "I'm afraid I didn’t get a bead on the direction, Ray. The shot may not have been intended for us, however."
Ray got down on his belly on the muddy ground and commando crawled towards his partner. "You see anyone else around here that looks like they need shooting?"
"I merely meant that perhaps the bullet from a poacher's rifle went astray."
Ray snorted, making himself as comfortable as possible on the wet ground. "Fraser, you see the size of the hole it left in the tree? That was no bolt action hunting rifle. That was a sniper's rifle. M21 probably. Good job the guy is a lousy shot."
"For heaven's sake, Ray. This is the middle of the Scottish Highlands. Who on earth would be taking pot shots at us with a sniper's rifle?"
Ray shrugged out of his soaked jacket and looked around for a fallen branch. "I dunno, buddy, but someone damned well is. An inch to the left and my hair would have been experimental for a whole set of different reasons."
Ray retrieved a longish stick, hooked his jacket over it and hoisted it aloft. He waved the sodden garment back and forth for a few moments before Fraser decided to pop his head up for a look-see. "I think the coast is clear, Ray. Although… "
Ray had been in the process of struggling up for a look-see of his own when Fraser landed on top of him, one hand clamped firmly over Ray's mouth to keep him quiet. Fraser was pinning him to the ground and suddenly Ray forgot how wet and cold and completely pissed off he was feeling on account of how his brain had stopped functioning. It took a few seconds before he finally heard what Fraser had already heard. The sound of multiple hoofbeats approaching.
"Mmmpff!" Ray muttered, trying to get Fraser to move his hand. He wasn’t about to yell out and give their position away, but he would appreciate being able to breathe.
Fraser's mouth was mere inches form his own. Wouldn’t take much to just reach up and… yeah, okay. Get them both killed! He really needed his brain to come back on line, like - now?
Fraser seemed to get the idea, and shifted his hand a little, letting Ray drag in a welcome lungful of air. They both lay stock still listening to the mystery riders approach. Ray could make out at least two horses, maybe three. Damn, they were sitting ducks here. The rock was really no cover and the only weapon they had was Ray's stick.
The horses came to rest right next to their position and both men stopped breathing.
"Really lads, there is a time and a place for such shenanigans." Keith's amused voice forced a snort of relieved laughter from Ray as he shoved Fraser off him and got to his feet.
Keith had hold of both the escaped horses. "Could ye no wait until we got back to the hoose?"
Ray reached down and helped pull his bedraggled partner to his feet. "Har de har, kiltboy. For your information, we were taking cover from the sniper who was trying to part my hair for me - and don’t tell me you didn’t hear the shot?"
"Are you, okay?" Keith asked, concern lacing his voice as he slipped from his horse to give Ray the once over. "Must have been the poacher. He was after the stag, but I scared him off. Not before he let off a random shot mind. I had no idea it came so close to you."
Fraser was trying to brush some of the muck off his jeans. "We're both absolutely fine, Keith, but I think it would be wise to head back now. No sense in taking any chances."
"Aye, agreed." Keith nodded handing Fraser the reigns to his mount. "Here, let me help you up, Ray."
Ray gave Keith a tight little smile and shook his head. "I can manage."
For some reason, he didn’t feel like flirting anymore.
Fraser spoke barely a word on the ride back to the castle. It didn’t bode well. When Fraser did the silent treatment, it meant he was thinking deep thoughts and usually that meant Ray needed to do some serious apologising.
They left Keith to deal with the horses, and Ray trailed Fraser up to the suite.
After the door had closed, they stood in silence, not looking at each other until Ray couldn’t stand it any longer. "What I said earlier…"
"Ray, it's fine."
"No, no it's not. I haven’t given it a chance…"
"I never stopped to wonder if you were enjoying any of it…."
"The mosquitoes ain’t even that bad…"
"They're called highland midges. The female is the one that bites, as she can’t actually lay her eggs until she's consumes a full meal of blood…"
Ray came over to stand beside Fraser with his back to the fire. "What I'm trying to say, is that I didn’t mean to upset you, buddy. I mean, it’s kinda obvious you’re having a ball here."
Fraser sighed deeply. "I feel a strong affinity with this place, Ray. It feels more like home than anywhere I can remember. I think I may be falling in love."
Ray’s eyes widened. He’d been expecting to hear those words from Fraser eventually, but had always assumed the recipient would be a woman, not a whole god-damend, fucking country! How could he compete with that?
“My mum always says that home is where the heart is,” Ray turned to face the fire and laid a hand on Fraser’s shoulder. “I never did understand what she meant by that.”
“She was telling you that home is not so much about bricks and mortar, or even about putting down roots. Home is where your loved ones are.”
Ray tried on a lop-sided smile, which failed to reach his eyes. “I hear ya.” Even though it broke his heart to hear those words. Because in essence what Fraser was really saying, was that there was no one in Chicago that he loved enough to want to make him stay there.
“Kylie? As in Kylie Minogue?” Ray was sitting on the end of Fraser’s bed staring at the acres of tartan material spread out on the covers. “The little Australian singer?”
Fraser was holding a white, ruffled shirt up to his chest and admiring it in the full-length mirror. “Not Kylie, Ray, Ceilidh, which is pronounced ‘Kay-lee’. A traditional Scottish dance. I’m rather looking forward to it.”
“And we gotta wear skirts?” Ray lifted the corner of the tartan and rubbed the rough wool between finger and thumb. He tried to imagine what that would feel like against his bare legs and shuddered.
Fraser’s reflection scolded him gently. “Kilts, Ray. Kilts.”
“Yeah, whatever. Either way, I’m out in public without my pants.”
Fraser laid the shirt carefully atop the tartan and examined the soft black leather brogues. “Well you can rest easy, Ray. As everyone else will be similarly dressed, you wont look in the least odd.”
Ray fingered the rough wool again sceptically. “So this is your own personal pattern? The Fraser Clan Tartan?”
“Spectacular isn’t it?” Fraser beamed proudly.
What Ray had actually been thinking was that ‘loud’ perfectly described the bright red and green material, but as he’d already upset Fraser once too often today, he kept his big mouth shut.
Ray’s own outfit for the evening, which had been chosen and dropped off by Keith earlier, was quite different. Unlike Fraser’s’ white frilly shirt and bow tie, Ray had something called a black Jacobean shirt, which fastened up the front with leather thongs and reminded Ray of a pirate shirt. Coupled with the jet-black kilt and socks, the whole ensemble was quite sexy, if you liked men in skirts, that is. And obviously, Keith did.
“You know how to dance to Scottish music, Frase?” Ray had seen Highland dancing on television once and it looked dangerous, what with jumping over swords and the high pitched whooping noises.
“I know the Gay Gordons,” Fraser replied, starting to unbutton his shirt. “And the Dashing White Sergeant of course.”
Ray backed towards the door. He’d had the pleasure of seeing Fraser strip before, but in his current state of horniness, he doubted he could stay cool and collected once Fraser’s shirt came off. “If you hear a yell, come help me wrestle my sporrgle into submission, okay?”
Fraser’s shirt fell from his shoulders and landed on the bed. “If you mean sporran, Ray, then I would be more than happy to assist.”
Great! Now Ray had an image in his head of Fraser adjusting the lie of his man-purse for him, which was way hotter than it had any right to be, and he needed to get out of Fraser’s bedroom right now before anymore of his clothes came off. “I get to wear shorts though, right?” he just had to ask.
“Well, no true Scotsman would, Ray.”
“Thank God I’m Polish then.” And with that, he fled to the safety of his own room
Give deMarco his due; he knew how to throw a party. The ballroom was brightly lit and filled with pipe music and whirling dancers by the time Ray plucked up the courage to come down. He’d knocked on Fraser’s door but he had already gone.
Ray paused in the doorway and scanned the throng, hoping to catch a glimpse of his partner. Just as Fraser had said, most of the men were indeed decked out in kilts, not one of which seemed to be the same as the next. Some of the differences were subtle and Ray wondered how people could tell the clans apart at a glance. No-one else seemed to be wearing a black kilt, but a couple of guys were actually wearing tartan trousers. Now why hadn’t he been offered those? Those he could have carried off.
“Ye managed to figure out which way aroond it goes then?” Ray turned to smile at Keith, who like the rest of the male staff, was dressed in waiter’s whites.
“The skirt? Wasn’t hard to work out. I am a detective you know.”
Keith stepped a little closer, lowering his voice so that no one but Ray would hear him. “Looks good on ye. Black is definitely yer colour.”
It was hard not to respond to the smouldering look. Ray lowered his eyes and then looked very slowly back up at Keith through his lashes. That had always made Stella go weak at the knees.
Keith leaned against the doorjamb. “But the thing I want to know most is, are ye a true Scotsman?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Ray whispered, knowing how corny it all sounded but enjoying the game anyway. Keith was interested, he was over the legal age and Ray was horny. Why shouldn’t he have a little fun? It wasn’t as if the object of his heart’s desire was even remotely interested.
And speak of the devil… “My, my, Ray, you do look nice.”
Ray wiped the lecherous leer from his face before turning round. Fraser didn’t look too shabby himself. He was giving Ray the once over, a proud smile lighting his eyes, and Ray would love to believe that his partner was thinking how sexy he looked. Of course, he was in all likelihood just as impressed as Keith had been that Ray had gotten the outfit on the right way around.
“Itches,” he confided in a low voice, “in unmentionable places.”
Fraser looked suitably surprised at the admission, so Ray turned his attention the blonde attached to Fraser’s arm. “Hi,” he grinned, giving her the once over.
She did him the same favour. “Hello.”
Fraser coughed politely. “Ray, I’d like to introduce you to lady Penelope Fairbairn. Penny, this is my partner, Ray Kowalski.”
Penelope disengaged herself form Fraser’s arm and reattached herself to Ray’s. “Do you know the ‘Gay Gordons’ at all?”
Ray shrugged. If it was a dance, he could pick it up in a flash. That was his thing; his talent. “If you wanna risk your toes, I’m game.”
Penelope’s smile was blinding as she ushered Ray to the edge of the dance floor. He cast his gaze back towards his partner before the swirling mass of shrieking dancers carried him off into the throng. Fraser appeared to be scowling at Keith’s retreating back.
Ray flopped down onto a secluded bench, hidden from the ballroom French windows by a high wall surrounding the rose garden. He could still hear snatches of riotous music, but it was muted here, and he desperately needed a break from it.
Once he’d picked up the basics of Scottish Country Dancing there had been no stopping him, until his hair was plastered to his head and his lungs felt like they were half a dozen breaths away from bursting. He’d kept a weather eye on Fraser even as he whirled around the ballroom on the arm of one woman after another. His partner had remained in the shadows, watching him right back.
So Ray had snuck out, for some air and a quick puff. He pulled the crumpled pack and ancient zippo from the sporran and lit a cigarette, drawing deep until his lungs burned anew. He closed his eyes and leaned back on the bench, arms spread along the back. It was cold; the breeze rapidly cooling his sweat, but it felt good. Smelled good too. Although there were no roses at this time of year, the air was heavy with the smell of pine and gorse.
He found the autumnal aromas comforting. Chicago never smelled this good, not even when winter snow covered everything with a mantle of innocence. No matter how hard he listened, he could hear no traffic sounds, no dogs barking, no police sirens splitting the night. It was still, and quiet, and peaceful.
But Ray couldn’t switch off the cop in him completely. Even sitting alone on a bench with his eyes closed, he still listened intently for sounds of anything suspicious. Which was why he didn’t jump out of his skin when he heard voices approaching from behind.
He couldn’t make out what was being said, but he recognised the voice. deMarco seemed upset or angry about something. But one thing was certain. Neither deMarco or the person he was speaking to knew that Ray was there.
He was just wondering whether or not to make his presence know when the men drew close enough to hear properly.
"Shh. I hear something,” an American accented voice whispered. “Someone's coming.”
"Meet me at the stables tomorrow night at midnight, and bring the money,” deMarco hissed. There was some rustling and the sound of people making off into the night. Then Ray heard the approaching footsteps too.
“I thought you might need this,” Fraser said, holding out Ray’s overcoat. “You must be freezing.”
Ray opened his eyes slowly. Fraser was wearing his blue wool Mountie coat with the red lining. It looked strange with the kilt but as usual, Fraser managed to pull it off. Ray took another deep drag of his cigarette and hitched over to make room. “Take a load off, Frase,” he instructed, watching his friend though the smoky haze.
Fraser hesitated for a few seconds before settling on the bench next to Ray. “You’ve started smoking again?” he asked softly, eyes looking everywhere but at Ray.
Ray flicked the ash from the end of the cigarette and blew on the end, making it flare and spark. “Sometimes I just need… something,” he admitted, wishing he could tell Fraser what it was he really needed but knowing it was hopeless. “I got an obsessive personality. If it’s not cigs, it’s booze or sex.”
“Have you considered taking up a hobby?” Fraser finally turned to face him, a teasing grin playing with the corners of his mouth. “Philately for example?”
Ray took a final drag and flicked the butt away. It arced through the air and landed in with a mini-explosion of embers. “Sounds kinda kinky.”
“I suppose that would depend on what you do with the stamps, Ray.”
They sat in silence for a long time. Ray with his head tilted back, watching the dark clouds drift across the moon; Fraser staring at his own knees.
“You know, Frase; when you take away the weather and the insects and the fucking impossible to understand language…. It’s a really beautiful place.”
Fraser’s eyes were suddenly on him and he couldn’t ignore their pull.
“Yes. Yes it is.”
He looked into Fraser’s shining eyes and saw love there.
Pure, simple, unconditional love.
It hit Ray right between the eyes like a four by four. “So you, um… you think you might stay here?”
It wasn’t really a question. Fraser had as good as said there was nothing in Chicago for him to come back to. He braced himself mentally for Fraser’s reply, hoping like hell he was wrong, but knowing he wasn’t.
Fraser sighed and dropped his gaze to his knees once more. “Sebastian has offered to help me find my feet here and I really want to take him up of the offer. ”
Ray wondered how Fraser would react if he just blurted out all his suspicions, including the fact the Sebasstian was probably responsible for all the little accidents Ray kept having? He’d probably say that Ray was trying to put up barriers to Fraser staying behind. And the thing was, the thing that worried him? Fraser might just be right.
Not about Seb, Ray trusted his instincts about stuff like that. But the whole ‘putting up barriers’ thing? What if he was doing just that?
He wanted Fraser to be happy. But somewhere deep inside, he was almost glad that he would be able to expose deMarco and discredit him in front of Fraser, even if Fraser got hurt in the process. And that scared him.
“We should probably go in,” Fraser was saying.
Ray shook himself out of his black thoughts and forced a smile onto his face. “Yeah, I lost the feeling in my left testicle about ten minutes ago.” He got to his feet and began to walk towards the castle.
He froze. The uncertainty of Fraser's tone gave him pause, but he knew his own face would betray him if he turned around. "Yeah?"
“Perhaps you would consider… I thought maybe…”
Fraser's voice trailed off, and for a moment Ray dared to hope. "What? What did you think, Frase?"
For long moments, the faint sound of music from the house was the only sound. Then Fraser sighed deeply. "Never mind, Ray. It's just a foolish fancy."
Ray squeezed his eyes shut and fought back the wave of disappointment that threatened to overcome him. Squaring his shoulders, he walked away.
Ray awoke with the hangover from hell.
After his little chat with Fraser the night before, he’d decided to get hammered, hoping it might dull the pain. Of course it hadn’t helped at all and now he had to add a headache and a rolling stomach to his list of woes.
Some kind soul had left a jug of water and some painkillers on his bedside table. Probably Fraser. He had a vague memory of Fraser propping him up in the elevator and depositing him on his bed. His clothes were gone, and it really bugged him that he couldn’t remember how it had felt to have Fraser strip him.
Ray swallowed the pills and got out of bed very slowly. Once the world stopped spinning, he took a shower, shaved and got dressed. Not that he felt much like eating, but it would probably be a good idea. He headed down to the kitchen, where Mrs Campbell was busy doing what she did best - cooking.
She took one look at him and shook her head. “Here,” she handed him a glass of something thick and orange. “Best hangover cure available.”
“What’s in it?” Ray asked, sniffing the concoction with distaste.
“Best not tae ask,” the cook grinned, turning back to the range.
By the time he’d forced the potion down his throat, Mrs Campbell had whipped up a plate of bacon and eggs and placed it in front of him. “I’ll make ye coffee, but not until ye have something solid inside ye,” she insisted. Ray didn’t argue. She could probably take him in a fair fight.
Through a forkful of scrambled egg, Ray asked, “Seen Fraser today?”
Mrs Campbell had begun polishing silver. “Aye. He took young Keith and the dogs up to the high moor at the crack o’ dawn. They’re looking for Capercaillie.”
“Caper-who?” Ray asked, shovelling in another forkful of eggs. They really were good, and his stomach had settled down nicely.
“It’s a bird, Mr Kowalski. There’s nae a lot of them left in the wild any more. It’ll be dusk afore ye see The Laird again.”
Ray finished up his breakfast and spent the rest of the day wandering around aimlessly. He checked out the stables for good hiding places, figuring he’d need a place where he could see what was going on, but still be hidden from sight himself. He thought about breaking into deMarco’s office to find evidence, but the two huge red-heads were stationed right outside so that was a no-go.
When it began to get dark, he returned to the suite to find a hand written note stuck to his bedroom door. It was from Keith who must have put it there before he left in the morning. Ray hadn’t noticed it but then, he’d been a little the worse for wear.
He tugged the note free from the tape and read it through twice. Keith was asking him to the village pub for drinks that night. So, a date? A proper date? He shoved open the door, and kicked off his shoes. He would be lying if he said he didn’t want to go. Fraser was all caught up in doing Lairdly stuff, which was fine. Ray didn’t need Fraser to entertain him 24/7, but still, it would be good to have someone look at him with more than just polite tolerance for once.
He picked up the phone and dialled zero. Keith answered. “About tonight?” Ray said without preamble. “What time?”
There was a pause on the other end of the line before Keith chuckled. “Does seven suit ye?”
“Seven is good. See you then.” Ray hung up the phone. He fully intended to be back here by midnight though, hidden among the hay bales in the stables and ready to pounce.
A few moments later, Fraser's head poked around the bedroom door. “Ah, here you are, Ray,” he said cheerily. "Packing already?"
Ray was sitting on the end of his bed staring into his empty suitcase. He glanced up. Fraser's face was as implacable as always, the Polite Mountie Mask firmly in place. "Nah, just looking for something to wear. I sorta said I would meet Keith later."
"Oh?" Fraser came more fully into the room. "You seem to be getting on very well with that young man. It's obvious that he's… fond of you, too."
“Um, yeah, about that…” Fraser had been going out of his way to ignore what he’d seen, but Ray really needed some kind of assurance from his partner that he was okay with it.
Fraser's eyes were suddenly on him, clear and blue and heart-stoppingly intense. "Ray, if you… I mean to say that if you and…. I'm sure that Deifenbaker and I could find a vacant room for the night if you need some… privacy?"
"You and Keith. If you want… if you… if you…. Oh dear!" Fraser hung his head, letting out his breath in an exasperated whoosh. "I'm making a pigs ear of this."
Ray had no idea what to say. Fraser was not only okay with it, he was actively encouraging it? It didn’t sit right with Ray, which kinda pissed him off. He should be glad that his buddy was giving him the green light. Any other guy would say ‘thank you kindly,’ and take him up on his offer. So how come it felt a lot like disappointment? Ray shook his head.
"Um, thanks," he mumbled. "But it's only a couple of drinks. I don’t really know him well enough for that sort of shenanigans."
“Ah! I see. I’d hoped that you two might….”
Might what? What the hell was going on inside that head of Fraser’s? Ray couldn’t imagine what Fraser could have hoped for involving him and Keith. Unless he’d hoped Ray might invite him up to the room for a threesome? And that was so impossible to visualise, that Ray was left gaping like a fish out of water.
"Right! Well, if you should change your mind…" Fraser gushed way too cheerfully, bouncing to his feet. "Now, if you'd excuse me, Dief is waiting for me to accompany me on his nightly constitutional."
"His… con what?"
After Fraser left, Ray threw on a Bulls sweatshirt and baseball cap, and splashed on a little cologne. He didn’t want to make too much of an effort - didn’t want to seem too eager. He figured that casual would be a good way to go. A quick glance down at his watch told him that he was running late, so grabbing his waterproof jacket, he headed for the elevator.
He was somewhat surprised to see Fraser in the reception hall. "Hey, you still here?"
"Well, it appears that my half arctic wolf has developed an aversion to a little rain, Ray." His voice dripped scorn, and Ray almost felt sorry for the mutt who was steadfastly refusing to come out from behind the reception desk. "However, as he will no doubt see fit to wake me in the early hours of the morning if he should miss this opportunity to urinate, I have to insist that we do this now."
Dief whined and backed a little further away.
"Oh for heaven's sake, you're a wild animal. Start acting like one." Ray shook his head and began to shoulder into his coat. "Um, Ray? Is that what you're wearing?"
Ray looked down at his attire, and then at Fraser who was frowning disapprovingly. "What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"
"Oh, nothing. I like that sweatshirt. But it's more suitable for a night on the couch watching hockey and drinking beer than for a… date."
Ray felt the blush rising. It felt beyond weird to be discussing this with Fraser. It felt totally surreal to be discussing appropriate date attire with him too. "You think I should put something else on?"
Fraser looked him up and down and shrugged. "Entirely up to you, Ray."
While Ray was hesitating about what to do, Fraser strode to the front door and opened it, letting the driving rain and wind into the hall. Dief, obviously realizing that he wasn’t going to win this one, slunk around the reception desk and like a condemned man going to the gallows, he braved the elements, tail between his legs.
Making up his mind, Ray pulled off his baseball cap. "Frase, catch…" he tossed the cap and his heavy coat to his buddy. "I'll go find something more suitable."
"Thank you kindly," Fraser said, zipping up the coat and pulling the cap onto his head. "In case I don’t see you again this evening, have a nice time."
"Yeah, thanks." Ray decided to take the stairs back to the suite. He needed the time to get his head around this.
Fraser knew he liked guys. He'd all but given Ray his blessing to go ahead and have sex with a guy. He seemed happy that Ray was considering it. But still, it felt screwy. Something was wrong here. Very wrong, and Ray couldn’t figure it out.
It took Ray about ten minutes of pacing to work it out.
He’d expected Fraser to go green with envy and try to sweep him off his feet, not smile and tell him to go right ahead and screw the guy in their suite. He wanted Fraser to be jealous. He wanted Fraser to want him.
Sighing deeply, Ray flopped down on the bed. All this time, he’d been subconsciously looking for Fraser’s approval, but hoping he wouldn’t give it. One negative word from his partner, and Ray would have dropped Keith like a hot potato, which made Ray realise that he’d been using Keith to get a reaction out of Fraser, and that was not cool either.
What a fucking mess.
No way was he going to meet Keith now. It wasn’t like it would break the kids heart.
He was reaching for the door handle, to go find Fraser and drag him back here for a nice long soul searching session, when the phone rang.
"I have a call for you, Mr Kowalski.” the receptionist's voice informed him. “It's a lieutenant Harding Welsh?”
“Thanks,” Ray sighed a little theatrically, and threw himself down on the bed.
“That you?" Lieutenant Welsh's gruff voice enquired.
"Uh, yeah. Yeah, it's me."
"Kowalski listen up. You got big problems. I just found out that the mob put out a contract on you. Huey's snitch says they been speaking to someone overseas about it. I think they might come after you across there, Ray."
Ray flopped down onto the bed. "Crap! That confirms it. They already had a couple of tries."
"Damn! Ray, don’t let the Mountie out of your sight. He’s all you got right now!”
Ray wasn’t about to tell Welsh that right now, his sidekick was probably sleeping on a park bench so that Ray could get some. "Yeah, yeah sure. I'll keep you informed.”
“Yeah, you do that. I’m gonna see who I can speak to in local law enforcement. Get you some back up. Be careful, Ray.”
Ray hung up the phone. He had to find Fraser and fill him in. He was halfway out the door when the phone rang again.
"Ray, it's Keith."
"Oh! Shit! Yeah, Keith I'm real sorry about earlier…"
"Shut up and listen Kowalski. We've got your partner. Now either you meet us the shepherd's cottage on the moor at dawn, or he gets a bullet through the head. Capisce?"
Ray's mouth went dry. What the fuck?
“And Ray. No police. Come alone or he’s dead.”
“Yeah, I hear ya.”
Keith hung up and Ray stared at the receiver. His mind was whirring. Fucking bastard! Ray smacked himself on the forehead. And he was a fucking idiot to think that anyone that looked like Keith could find someone that looked like Ray even remotely attractive.
He’d been so wrapped up in finding out what deMarco had to hide, that he’d totally missed the danger right before his eyes. To say he felt like an idiot was a total understatement of his mental condition. Grabbing boots and another heavy parka, Ray headed for the moor.
Ray really wished he had a gun. The chances were high that Fraser was already dead, and even if he weren't, these guys would leave no witnesses. But he still had to go. He had to try.
With nothing more to go on that a vague idea of how to reach the moor from the bridal path that lead from the castle to the village, Ray set off. He'd borrowed a flashlight from a storeroom, along with a pair of binoculars and a good sized craft knife which he slipped inside his boot. No way was he going into this completely unarmed.
He figured that they might be watching the style that spanned the fence, so keeping low, he shoved his way through thick bushes and shrubs until he found a tree with an overhanging branch that looked strong enough to take his weight. He lowered himself down onto the grass and went into a crouch. He was wearing dark clothing, so he was fairly sure he'd escaped detection so far.
It was an overcast night. Clouds blocked out the moon so it was hard to make out anything at all. Inky darkness spread out all around him. He couldn’t even see the vapour of his own breath. "Where are you, Frase?" he murmured.
Perhaps it had been stupid to set out across the moors in the dark. He could have waited until it was lighter, could have gotten directions on how to find the cottage, but he'd been too wound up to wait. Taking a deep breath, he began walking in a random direction.
An hour later, he was cold, wet and covered in mud from stumbling around in the dark but he was no closer to finding any cottage. He'd hoped that there might be a light on that he could follow, but so far he'd only come across sheep and they hadn't been very forthcoming with information, despite Ray's threats of violence and the mention of mint sauce.
He'd walked into the big rock outcrop before he even saw it. After a few moments of swearing and hopping around, Ray flopped down onto a rock and scrubbed his face with his hands. "Stupid rock," he growled.
The rock growled back.
"Um… who's there?" Ray felt like a complete idiot talking to a rock, but he'd definitely heard something. Reaching for the knife in his boot, he tried to remember if Scotland had any dangerous wild animals. Lions? Nah. Tigers? Don't be stupid Kowalski. Bears? Maybe they had bears. Maybe that's what sporrans were made off…
"Grrrr. Wuff wuff, yip!"
"Jesus, Dief, is that you?"
Suddenly there was a wet nose making intimate with his groin. Dief whined and barked his happiness and relief at seeing Ray and Ray, for his part, didn’t even complain about the dog-breath and the licking. "How you doing, buddy?" he asked.
Dief said something in wolf, which could have been anything from 'I'm fine' to 'shut up and make with the doughnuts', then placed his head in Ray's lap. Figuring that maybe the wolf needed his ears scratching, Ray pulled off a glove and groped for the head, finding to his dismay that the fur was matted and wet. "Awww Christ, Dief, tell me you ain't been rolling in sheep shit?"
Ray pulled the flashlight out of his pocket, deciding that he was probably not being followed or they would have jumped him long ago. He directed the beam at Dief and swore. Not sheep shit. Blood.
"Fuck. Looks like they hit you with something, huh?" The fur around Dief's head and neck was red with blood. Ray checked carefully for bullet wounds but found none. Dief flinched a couple of times, but allowed the touch. "You know where the bastards got Fraser stashed?"
Dief whined and limped off into the dark. Ray followed, keeping the torch trained on the wolf but his eyes trained on the horizon. They would pay for this. Anyone tried to rough up the wolf, they would have a Mountie and a Chicago cop to answer to.
It was hardly any wonder that Ray had missed the cottage. Not one glimmer of light shone out from its windows. Either they were waiting in total darkness for him to arrive, or they had blackout curtains pulled shut. Either way, he'd never have found it without Dief.
"How many goons in there, boy?" He asked before realising what a stupid question that was. He didn’t speak wolf. How the hell would he be able to…
But Dief surprised him, pawing the ground three times like a shorter, furrier version of Trigger the Wonder Horse.
"Woof." Might have been a sneeze but Ray was fairly sure it was a nod of affirmation.
"Alright, great. This is great. We can do this. Element of surprise and all." Ray squinted down at his watch, but couldn’t make out the face in the gloom. The sky was still inky black but there was a faint streak of purple beginning to show on the horizon. Dawn was fast approaching and he didn’t have much of a plan.
A low growl from his side alerted him to the fact that something was about to happen so he threw himself flat onto the muddy ground and scrambled behind the cover of a gorse bush. A second later, the cottage door opened, painting a stripe of yellow neon right across the place he'd been standing. A large figure appeared in the doorway holding something bulky in his hands.
"Stupid mutts," the man muttered. "Nothing out here but sheep!" Ray heard a click, and the searchlight flared to life in the guys hands.
"Fuck!" he whispered. The bush was not going to hide him for long, especially as he'd just realised the goon had dogs with him. Dief hadn’t mentioned that part. Beside him, Dief pawed his arm to get his attention. The wolf looked at him long and hard, licked his ear and then took off at a dead run, making sure to run right through the beam of the searchlight.
The two dogs went wild, barking and straining at their leads. "Jesus, it's that fucking white wolf. I thought we'd killed that already!" Keith’s voice cut through the gloom.
Ray kept his head down, muscles shaking with the tension of being at full alert, ready to leap up and move the second it was needed.
"Let the dogs go." Keith instructed. "They'll tear him to pieces."
Ray's eyes narrowed. He didn’t think Dief had much of a chance against the two Rottweilers either, but the wolf was a wild animal. He'd put up one hell of a fight. And he'd effectively saved Ray from detection. If Dief came through this in one piece, Ray would personally buy him a whole bag of donuts.
The two men remained in the doorway with the searchlight trained on the receding dogs until they were out of sight. Keith grinned sadistically when he heard a loud yelp. "Ye got tae give the wolf it's due. He's got have balls the size of basketballs to come back here looking for the Mountie after the kicking we gave him."
The other guy snorted and clicked off the flashlight.
“Okay, keep alert,” Keith said, “I need to go and fetch Carboni at the airport. Anything else goes wrong, and you get to explain it to the Boss himself.”
Keith climbed into a land rover and roared off with a squeal of tyres.
Then the door closed and Ray was plunged back into darkness.
He rolled onto his back and fumbled for the knife in his boot. He didn’t have a whole lot of time left to him. It was now or never. He commando-crawled his way towards the cottage, ignoring the sharp stones that tore at his knees and elbows, and the cold mud that squelched beneath him.
At the side wall of the cottage, Ray got carefully to his feet, keeping low and pressed against the cold stone. He made his way around back. Peering into the window didn’t help. As he'd thought, there seemed to be a heavy blackout curtain blocking his view. The second window was similarly clad.
Something bumped against his boot and he looked down. A log sticking out from the bottom of a woodpile. Ray ran his hand along the wall until he found the edges of a door. The handle moved without a noise and the door opened easily enough. Thank God for small mercies. Ray slipped inside quickly.
He was in a storeroom of some kind. Boxes were piled up against the walls and equipment was hanging from the ceiling. It was going to be damned near impossible to get across the room in the dark without kicking or knocking something over, but his only advantage against two guys with guns, was surprise.
Like a blind man trying to navigate without his cane, Ray threw out his arms and inched his way towards the sliver of light coming from under a door. It was taking too long, but he had to keep his impatience in check. Wouldn’t do Fraser any good if he blew it all now. Unless Fraser was already dead, which was entirely possible but… well he wasn’t gonna think about that right now.
The voices from the other room became clearer as he drew near. The two guys were playing poker, and probably using real money too, not candy. They were probably drinking whiskey. Who played poker and didn’t drink, right? Apart from Fraser, of course? That would slow down their reflexes a bit, but they would still have their guns close by. Maybe even in a holster. If he'd had his glasses on, he was fairly sure he could throw the knife with enough force and accuracy to pin one guy's skull to the wall like a hunting trophy. But by then, the other guy would have blown his fucking head right off. Back-up would have been nice, but if course, if Fraser was still breathing… which he was, of course he was… he was obviously in no condition to help.
Ray took a deep breath, pressed his forehead to the door and began counting back from three.
"Angus, it's freezin' in here. Go fetch some more wood for the fire."
Ray's head snapped upright.
"What am I, your fucking servant? Get it yourself."
Ray groped along the wall, hoping to find something to hide behind, but there was nothing. Even as he half listened to the two guys arguing about who was going to go for wood, his brain was zooming through all the possible outcomes, considering and rejecting plan after plan. He was screwed, he was fucked…
"Okay, okay, keep yer shirt on!" The door flew open and Ray flattened himself against the wall. A dull, overhead bulb flared on and the guy called Angus stomped to the back door, muttering all the way. So long as he didn’t turn around, Ray had a chance. He'd been holding his breath so long his hair was turning blue. Finally the guy disappeared through the door and Ray let out his breath in a tight woosh.
Decisions, decisions. Which goon did he take down first? The light in here wasn’t real good, but he could now see that the back door had one of those old fashioned drop down latches. Decision made, Ray padded to the back door and dropped the latch, effectively locking goon number one outside, then before the guy could start making a fuss, Ray liberated a good sized length of lead piping and took up his original position again.
Angus kicked the door a couple of times with his foot before he realised he was locked out. "Very funny. Now open the buggering door before I put a bullet in ye."
Ray raised the pipe over his head and waited.
"I'm not kiddin', Hamish. OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR!"
"What the hell you playin' at?" The goon called Hamish complained as he lumbered into the storeroom. "I never locked the door in the first…"
Goon number two went down like a sack of potatoes. Ray frisked him for a gun but didn’t find one.
"Hamish? You okay, Hamish?"
Goon number one sounded a bit worried, and Ray had no idea if the guy was armed with anything more deadly than a log. Quickly, he ran into the main cottage and checked the front door was secure. It was.
"Frase!" he yelled. No point in being quiet anymore. Even these ass-holes must have worked out that they'd been rumbled by now. A muffled thump came from behind a door in the hall and Ray kicked it open. The knob impacted with the stonewall and shattered but Ray didn’t notice. He was too busy looking at his partner, lashed to the bedposts like some kind of wet dream.
He tugged the gag out of Fraser’s mouth. "You're not dead?" he finally managed to choke out.
"Apparently not," Fraser replied. "Although, I am a little stiff. How did you find me?"
"Not me. Dief." Ray quickly cut Fraser loose, keeping half an ear on what Fraser was saying, and half and ear on the noises coming from outside the cottage. Angus was busily trying to find another way in. He'd already discovered that the front door was locked. Ray heard the sound of a safety coming off and swore under his breath. “Who the hell takes a gun out to collect firewood? Get down."
The bullet took out the window, scattering shards of glass all over the room. Fraser had rolled under the bed, pulling Ray with him. Ray gave him a quick visual once-over, finding no obvious injuries. Fraser gazed back. "Ray, do you have a gun?"
"Nope. Got a knife, and piece of lead piping… "
"Which would be just wonderful if we were playing Cluedo, Ray, but not much use against actual firearms."
As if to emphasise the point, Angus emptied a clip into the room, taking out an ancient painting of the Virgin Mary and the light bulb, plunging them into darkness, but failing to hit either of the two men hiding under the bed.
"On three, we make for the main room. Okay?"
"All right, Ray." God, he loved it when Fraser did as he was told. He was more than aware that the goon in the storeroom could come too any minute and then they would be in real trouble. He needed to find a gun, and quick.
"Okay, one… "
Angus fired again, this time shattering the bed knob, taking out an antique pitcher-dish combo and shaving about an inch of the top of Ray's hair.
They made it to the storeroom in one piece just as Hamish was struggling to get to his feet. "What the…"
Ray felled him again. “Cluedo my ass!” he yelled. “The lead pipe totally rocks as a weapon.”
Fraser rubbed his eyebrow as he regarded the fallen malfeasant. "You hit him a little hard, Ray. He'll be lucky to survive this without brain damage…"
"Hey," Ray barked, "tryin' to rescue you here. Quit whining about my methods, thank you kindly."
Fraser rolled his eyes. "My apologies, Ray. Please continue."
Ray found some rope and trussed Hamish up like the turkey he was. If he did survive the encounter with Ray, this time, he was going nowhere. "Guy outside's got us pinned in here. So long as he's got plenty bullets on him, we're sitting ducks."
"Perhaps we should try reasoning with him?"
"Are you nuts?" Ray admonished. "They're hired guns. They got no reason to reason."
Fraser flattened himself against the wall and peered through the open storeroom door into the main area of the cottage. "I could distract him while you sneak up from behind and maim him with your big metal stick."
Was that a hint of sarcasm Ray was hearing? "Or you could just talk him to death. My way's quicker and way more humane." Ray tossed the pipe from one hand to another, trying to look threatening.
Fraser sighed and peered out into the hall again. "Whatever we decide to do, we should do it soon. I fear that by dawn, we shall have rather more company than we can handle."
"Carboni?" Ray asked. Keith had said he was going to pick him up at the airport. Ray had assumed that was just a threat to scare the hired help.
Fraser shrugged. "Apparently, they grabbed me by mistake. Hardly surprising, as it was dark, and I was wearing your jacket and cap. From what I could glean, their boss no longer trusts them to get the job done and he's coming to do it himself."
"Well good,” Ray cracked his neck, "bring it on."
They both hit the floor at the same time when Angus aimed another salvo into the building, this time through the living room window. The stuffed stag trophy over the fireplace hit the floor in a cloud of dust and the only remaining light bulb shattered.
"This guy is seriously pissing me off!" Ray growled, crawling across the floor to get closer to the living room window. "Show yer ugly face, buddy, and I swear to God, I'm gonna rearrange yer features so good your own mother won't recognise you."
Ray plastered himself against the wall and took several steadying breaths. It was getting lighter outside. He could make Fraser's huddled form on the floor, the outline of the doorframe, the stag's severed head. It had gone deadly silent in the room, bar from the sound of Ray's breathing.
The chances that Angus had run out of ammo, or decided to skedadle were remote, and Ray got the feeling this could just be the calm before the storm. Using the wall to brace himself, Ray got slowly to his feet. If their friend were smart, he would stay as far away from the window as possible. Ray lived in hope that Angus was as stupid as he looked.
"You guys might as well give up,” Angus yelled. "You got no weapons, and I got nothin' but time."
Fraser appeared out of the gloom on the other side of the window. "He has a point, Ray. Its almost dawn."
"Yeah, yeah, he holds all the cards. Any bright ideas?"
He could make out Fraser's hand come up and imagined he was scratching his eyebrow with his thumb as he so often did when thinking things through. "I'm afraid I'm all out of bright ideas," Fraser admitted. "He's obviously in a position to see right into the room."
As rescues went, this wasn’t exactly Ray's most shining moment. He was beginning to think that the only way to end the stalemate was to jump out of the god-dammed window wielding the pipe like a sword. He might actually have done it too, if he hadn’t been beaten to the punch.
Angus let out a yelp of surprise, his gun went off, but what really got Ray's full attention was the deep, resonating growl from outside. Taking a huge risk, Ray peeked outside and a grin spread across his face. Angus was face down on the path with a snarling white wolf standing on his back, one massive deerhound on either side holding down his arms. The Rottwielers were nowhere in sight.
"Dief!" Fraser scrambled out of the window, and kicked Angus's gun out of the way for safety's sake. Not that the guy was going to be stupid enough to reach for it with Dief's fangs inches from the back of his neck but it was standard procedure. "Thank you kindly for joining us. Good call on the reinforcements.”
Ray finally managed to haul himself through the window and retrieved the gun, dropping his metal pipe in the herbaceous border. "Hey, mutt. I owe you doughnuts. And a couple of rump steaks for your buddies here."
Jamie and Jock licked their chops in anticipation, so Ray made sure not to turn his back on the dogs as he patted Angus down for concealed. He wasn’t sure how much American the mutts could understand, but he wasn’t taking any chances with his backside with them around.
Fraser appeared at his side with a convenient length of rope with which Ray trussed up Angus. Then it was time to get the hell out of Dodge.
Ray wasn’t even sure where they should head for. If deMarco were behind all this, then going back to the castle would be a mistake. He looked around helplessly at the featureless landscape. Taking a deep breath, he turned to ask Fraser how they should proceed only to find that Fraser was gone.
"Gonna tie a godammned bell around his neck, I swear to God…" Ray muttered, backing away from the still prone Angus to look left and right. He wasn’t too worried about Angus crawling off if he went to look for his partner. Jamie and Jock bared their impressive teeth every time the goon so much as twitched.
Before he could make his way to the window, an engine spluttered to life just around the corner and suddenly there was Fraser, sitting astride the rustiest, most decrepit motorcycle Ray had ever seen. Looked like it was a prop from the set of The Great Escape or something. But it was running, and no doubt way faster across the bumpy Mooreland that they would have managed on foot.
"Fuckin' A!" Ray exclaimed.
"I'm afraid I couldn’t see any helmets, Ray" Fraser apologised, as Ray climbed on behind him.
"You can write yourself a reprimand later, Frase," Ray yelled over the revving engine. "Just get us the fuck out of here before Carboni shows up."
"As you wish." Fraser stuck his index finger in his mouth, held it aloft and closed his eyes, before deciding on the correct direction. "Hold on tight," he warned.
Ray was more than happy to oblige. Fraser was big, and warm, and solid between his legs. He allowed himself a few seconds to imagine Fraser in biker's leathers, before realising that he needed all his wits about him just to stay attached to the bike.
Off they raced, swerving to avoid boulders and thorny vegetation; Dief and the Deerhounds galloping alongside. If he put aside the fact that any moment now they were likely to be shot at, it was quite good fun. Like being a teenager again, riding pillion on his cousin Ivan’s Harley.
An early morning mist clung to the ground as they got deeper into the moor. It looked really eerie, and meant that they were hitting every concealed pot hole and bump but Ray tightened his hold around Fraser's waist and decided to worry about the bruising his ass was getting later.
Which was right about the time he began to hear the sound of an engine coming up fast behind them.
"I hear it." Fraser leaned forward and squeezed every last Shetland pony's worth of horsepower out of the battered bike, but they both knew it wasn’t going to be fast enough.
The bright beams from a set of headlights bounced off the mist, almost blinding them but Fraser just kept going. Ray closed his eyes and waited for the shot that would end it all. His fingers gripped the material of Fraser's jacket and he leaned in close and whispered in Fraser's ear, "Just in case this is it for us, Frase, I need to get this off my chest. I’m in l…….."
The bike hit a pothole, swerved sharply to the right, and they hit the ground with a wet splat!
At first, Ray was so dazed, that he didn’t notice the light show had changed to flashing blue. It wasn’t until he heard the siren that it began to dawn on him that they might not have Mr Big on their tails after all. Fraser seemed to be coming to the exact same conclusion. He tried to disentangle their legs and arms long enough to push himself upright.
Ray had half been expecting to see a black and white striped panda car like in those old British Police dramas on the entertainment channel. The big shiny four by four with its bull bars and strip of coloured lights on the roof came as a bit of a surprise. "It's okay, Frase," he grinned. "It's the cops."
Before they could get their feet beneath them, two police officers in helmets and Kevlar had them down in the mud again with their hands pinned behind their backs, and Fraser was yelling to Dief that everything was okay. The wolf clearly didn’t believe Frase, or just couldn’t make out what he was trying to say, because he was advancing on a third cop with fangs bared.
Ray hoped that the cop with the gun aimed at Dief didn’t have an itchy trigger finger. "Hey, Rambo, don't shoot. We're cops!"
The guy currently kneeling on Ray's back eased off a little and shone a torch in Ray's face. "Are ye Kowalski and Fraser?" he asked. Ray nodded and suddenly he was being hauled to his feet. Fraser appeared beside him, trying to brush some of the moor off his clothes and for once, failing.
"Sarge, we got them,” the guy yelled into a radio. “They seem to be fine, sir."
"Yeah, no thanks to you," Ray muttered, rubbing at his lower back where the cop's knee had pressed. He wasn’t going to be able to walk straight for at least a week. Then again, he'd have this guys knee in his back over a .44 magnum bullet any day.
"Sorry about that," the cop said holding out his hand for Fraser to shake. "Detective Constable Hastings. We thought you might be more of Carboni's men. We found two back at the cottage but they wouldn’t tell us where you were."
"You were looking for us?" Fraser asked, trying to suppress a shiver. Now that the adrenalin spike was falling off, Ray felt the cold fingers of mist creeping through his shirt too.
"We intercepted Carboni at Aberdeen airport, thanks to a tip off from your Lieutenant Welsh. One of his men gave us the whereabouts of the Constable, in return for a lighter jail sentence."
Someone had draped a warm blanket around Ray's shoulders and was leading him towards the police car. “What about DeMarco? Did you get him too?”
In the front seat, Hastings twisted around and frowned. “Sebastian DeMarco? Manager of Castle Fraser?”
“Yeah, him,” Ray growled, sneaking a sideways glance at his partner to see how he was coping with the latest shock. And he was coping just fine it seemed. He was looking rather sheepish actually.
Surprisingly, it was Fraser that answered Ray’s question. “DeMarco may well be in custody by now, Ray, but not for being involved in the Carboni case. You see, I’ve always been aware that Sebastian was involved in criminal activities. In fact, I was asked to take part in a joint venture with Scotland Yard when they became aware that the new owner of the castle was a member of the RCMP…”
Ray was cold, and he was wet, and he was tired. He couldn’t face one of Fraser’s long stories right now.
“Cut to the chase, Fraser!”
“DeMarco is the ringleader in a fraudulent business selling Scottish land and titles to gullible Americans. Right before I took Dief out for his walk, I’d heard from Scotland Yard that they had enough evidence to convict him. I was going to tell you when I got back.”
“Jesus.” Ray tried to wrap his head around this. Fraser had been investigating the Italian gigolo the whole time? “Jesus,” he repeated.
The sun was almost up, painting the sky orange and gold. He leaned back against the headrest and closed his eyes. He'd had worse nights. Not many, but at least he'd survived this one in one piece. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” he said quietly. “I could have helped.”
Fraser sighed. “I wanted to, Ray, believe me. WPC McDonald was sent to keep an eye on things by Scotland Yard when they discovered you would be accompanying me. They were less than happy about…”
“Whoa, back up there buddy. Daphne? Daphne is a cop?”
“Yes, Ray. An undercover policewoman.”
Ray rubbed at the back of his neck in disbelief. “The castle’s not yours then?”
“Ah, that at least was no deception. I really have inherited Castle Fraser.”
Ray shook his head and closed his eyes. He decided that he would not speak to Fraser again until he’d had at least two glasses of whiskey.
Dief had been checked out by a local vet and given some heavy-duty painkillers to help him sleep. He’d taken a nasty beating, but luckily nothing was broken. He had a gash on his face, which was the source of all the blood Ray had encountered, but again, no fractured skull or even concussion. The wolf was made of Teflon or something. Ray wasn’t even complaining that Dief had chosen his bed to sack out on.
"Yeah, he's good. He's fine. He's in the shower right now, washing off Scotland." Ray lay on the couch wearing one of the fluffy white bathrobes provided by the hotel, with the phone cradled to his ear. Welsh and Thatcher seemed to be fighting for control of the receiver on the other end. One minute he was trying to give Welsh a half way coherent report, the next he was trying to convince the Ice Queen that her precious Mountie was still in perfect condition.
His eyes drifted to the closed bathroom door. He could hear Fraser singing even over the noise from the shower. If he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine…
"… um yes, sir!" he sat bolt upright hearing the exasperation in Welsh's voice. "Got a flight booked already." Ray put the phone down and scrubbed a hand roughly through his hair, making it stand up on end.
"Were you just on the telephone?"
Ray refused to turn around and look at Fraser. He didn’t need to be looking at him to know he would be wearing nothing but a towel, another one draped around his neck, barefoot and still wet from the shower. He did NOT need to see that. He did not need to smell that either. "Yeah, Ice Queen wants you back ASAP. She didn’t believe you were really in one piece."
When Fraser didn’t reply, Ray finally glanced over his shoulder. The sight of damp and half naked Mountie didn’t have the expected result. Not when all he could see was how dejected Fraser looked. He knew what was coming even before Fraser spoke.
"I won't be going back, Ray."
And there it was. Out there. Hanging in the air between them. Ray's worst nightmare. Okay, maybe not his worst nightmare, but right up there with all the other wake-up-screaming-in-a-cold-sweat extravaganzas.
"I though maybe with DeMarco in jail, you might think twice about staying." Fraser had come here primarily to catch the bad guy. Mission accomplished, Ray had begun to hope that Fraser might be missing Chicago after all. He wasn’t aware that he'd been staring at the floor until Fraser's naked feet appeared in his field of vision.
"And I had hoped that your feelings for Keith might be enough to keep you here," Fraser whispered.
He couldn’t look up. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from Fraser's toes. They were damned sexy toes. He'd often fantasised about licking them and… What? Wait? Fraser had hoped he would stay here?
“Ray, I’m so sorry about Keith. I rather selfishly saw your relationship as a way of keeping you close, which was terribly wrong of me. You’ve been hurt, and I…”
“Wait a minute, Fraser. You wanted me to stay here? In Scotland? Why?”
Fraser knelt down and then Ray had no option but to look up into his worried face. So many emotions coursing over his features. “Because I love you, Ray.”
He knew Fraser loved him. There had never been any question about that. They were tight as thieves, him and Ben. But there was a world of difference between loving someone and being in love with them. “You figured that Keith would persuade me to up sticks and move here? Jesus, Fraser, I barely knew the guy.”
Fraser nodded sadly. “Like I said, it was a foolish fancy.”
Maybe it was the relief of surviving their ordeal, or maybe it was the note of defeat in Fraser’s voice that made Ray blurt out, “All you had to do was ask, Frase. I would have stayed. Willingly.”
Fraser’s look was one of bewilderment. “All the people you love are in Chicago, Ray.”
“No, not all of them,” Ray sighed, reaching out to caress Fraser’s cheek. He knew that Fraser wanted the best of both, worlds; his new life in a whole new country, and the continued companionship of his best friend, and hell, Ray wanted that too. But he couldn’t leave the truth untold. Fraser deserved to have all the facts. Tracing Fraser’s lower lip with his thumb, he looked into Fraser’s eyes and smiled. “Home is where the heart is, Frase. Remember?”
Fraser looked startled. “Are you… are you saying… What exactly are you saying?” he stuttered.
It was now or never.
“I'm saying, I love you,” Ray replied, licking his lips. “Madly, and very, very passionately.” This would be moment when Fraser finally ‘got it’ and pulled back. Ray was sure Fraser would be gentle in his rejection, but it still hurt like hell to know that this was how their duet would end.
Fraser gulped. “You do?” Ray nodded, watching him warily, still lightly stroking his face with a thumb. “I had no idea, Ray. You managed to conceal it very well. Until I saw the way you reacted to Keith, I had no inkling you were open to…” Fraser floundered over quite the right words to use and Ray sighed, finally letting his hand drop from Fraser’s face.
“Yeah, well, couldn’t risk spooking ya, buddy. You mean too much to me.”
Ray would have stood up; only Fraser’s hands were suddenly, and unexpectedly on his knees, keeping him in place.
“I thought… I was sure I’d made my own interest abundantly clear. You didn’t seem to notice, so I assumed you only wanted friendship. Dear God, Ray! All this time…”
“Your own interest?”
“You’re interested in me?”
Ray surged forward, slamming their lips together without finesse, and felt Fraser's indrawn breath, stolen from this own mouth. He’d meant it to be gentle, sweet even, but Fraser kissed him like a starving man. Within seconds, they were devouring each other, shoving aside towels and robes until fingers found flesh and Ray was hard and panting. This was not furtive groping session – this was Fraser kissing him and touching him everywhere. This was Fraser, and he wanted things to be right between them.
“Wait!” He shoved Fraser off him, and they landed on the floor with a thump. Fraser looked confused and more than a little embarrassed.
“If I’ve misinterpreted your intentions in any way…”
“No, no.” Ray tried to get his breath back, pulling his discarded robe over his legs. “It’s just, I wanna do this right. I wanna do it slow.”
Fraser blinked. “Ray, I’m afraid we don’t have the option of slow. You need to leave for your flight in less than an hour.”
It was Ray’s turn to blink. “What? Fraser! I’m not goin’ back. I’m staying with you. Did you not hear a word I was saying earlier?”
Did Fraser think all he wanted was a quick fuck, then bye-bye? Surely Fraser knew him better than that. When he was in love, he was in all the way. Forever.
Fraser seemed to slump against him. “I hoped as much Ray, and although I’m overjoyed to hear you say it, you still need to go back. You have a trial to attend. And then there’s your apartment and you need to work your notice.”
Damn, he hadn’t thought of that. Trust Fraser to be all ‘sensible’ when they were sitting on the floor, all but naked.
“Okay, okay, but the minute I get back – your ass is mine.”
“Understood.” Fraser kissed him again, but this time it was soft and gentle and full of promise.
On Ray's bed, Dief made three circles before settling down again with his back to the open bedroom door. Some things about human behaviour, he didn’t need to know.
Fraser was waiting for Ray at the airport in Aberdeen. He was smiling like a loon and wearing a damned kilt. Ray had been having dreams involving Fraser, a kilt and a gallon of baby oil, so he had to will his erection down just to make it out of the terminal without jumping him.
In the parking lot, Fraser took Ray’s cases and threw them into the back of the land rover. Dief made intimate with his ear, which made him feel right at home already. They made small talk all the way back to the castle. Ray did his best to be patient, wishing that for once in his life, Fraser would break a speed limit. He needed to get Fraser somewhere private. Fast.
“So, how was the trial?”
“Huh?” Ray had been wondering if a man could suffocate under the folds of a kilt, especially if he was breathing through his nose at the time. “Oh, uh, yeah. Went great. Carboni’s going down for a long time. Keith testified against him to get a lighter sentence, but we couldn’t guarantee anything on account of how he’s being extradited back to Scotland for trial.”
Fraser nodded. “Was it very difficult? Seeing him again I mean?”
Ray snorted. “He asked if I’d come visit him in prison. And when he said ‘visit’, I think he meant visit.”
“And will you?”
Ray reached over and placed his hand on Fraser’s bare knee. “Nah, Got everything I need right here. What about deMarco?”
“He’s being deported. I’m afraid I need to hire a new estate manager.”
“Make sure the next one’s not a felon?” Ray grinned, giving Fraser a sideways glance. “Or a hot Italian gigolo.”
The rest of the drive was concluded in silence. At the castle, Fraser gave instructions that no-one was to disturb him, dropped Dief off at the kitchen, and led Ray to the elevator. It was only once they were inside that Fraser dropped some of his iron control and shoved Ray against the wall, kissing him into a shivering, rock hard wreck.
“Missed you,” he breathed against Ray’s kiss swollen lips.
Ray wasn’t at all sure he was going to make it to the suite before testing out the whole breathing/kilt scenario. Especially if Fraser kept doing, oh… that with his hands.
To distract himself as much as Fraser, Ray sunk both hands into that wonderful, glossy black hair and tugged him in for another tonsil excavating kiss.
When Ray finally let Fraser speak, Fraser asked, “So you don’t mind the midges?”
It was such a weird change of subject that Ray had to wonder if Fraser was having to resort to a little bit of misdirection himself. “Bugs don’t scare me,” he grinned.
“Or the Sticky Willie?”
“I can cope with the plant life.”
“Or the language?”
“I can learn it, given time.”
“What about the haggis?”
Ray shoved Fraser back until he had him pinned to the other wall of the elevator. “Not if I live to be a hundred.”
Fortunately the ancient doors creaked open at that point, saving Ray the inconvenience of having to try to talk with Fraser’s tongue in his mouth. Grabbing a fistful of Fraser’s shirt, Ray dragged him to the suite and shoved him through the door.
They had made it to the room, but there was no way in hell they were making it onto a bed. Ray kicked the door closed then spun Fraser around, pinning him to the door before sinking very slowly to his knees.
Fraser gulped. He obviously knew what Ray had planned. His head fell back against the wood with a thud. Ray rubbed his face gently across the silky smooth fur on Fraser’s sporran, then nosed it aside to rub his face against the hard bulge beneath the folds of wool. He ran his hands up Fraser’s calves, hearing his partner scrabbling at the door with his nails when Rays hands continued to glide ever upwards, finally stopping only when they were cupping Fraser’s naked ass.
“True Scotsman, eh?” he mumbled into the scratchy woollen material. Fraser only made a grunt in response.
Moments later, Ray was enveloped in the folds of the kilt. It was dark and very hot in there, but heat and the delicious aroma of Fraser were more potent than alcohol to Ray as he sucked Fraser’s cock down again and again. It had been a long time since he’s given head, but going by the sounds Fraser was making, he hadn’t forgotten a thing.
Fraser’s knees gave and Ray helped him slide down the door, never taking his lips from Fraser’s cock. Once he had Fraser sprawled on the floor, he flipped the kilt off his head so that Fraser could see everything he was doing, and wrapping a fist around the base, he began working Fraser with both hand and mouth until Fraser yelled his name, convulsed, and came explosively down Ray’s throat.
They lay on the hard floor, panting for a while, before Ray could think of anything to say. “I need to find a job. No way I’m going to be a kept man.”
Beneath him, Fraser’s low rumbling laugh vibrated through his still twitching body. “I was hoping you would accept the position of Castle Security Manager. I need someone with your instincts to make sure everything runs smoothly.”
“Does it pay well?” Ray asked coyly. “Are there any incentives?”
Fraser moved so quickly that Ray never saw it coming. He was flipped onto his back, and pinned to the floor in less than two seconds. “Name your price?” Fraser growled, grinding his hip against Ray’s erection.
Ray groaned and for a few moments, speech was the last thing on his mind. When Fraser finally stopped with the distractions, Ray opened his eyes and gazed up into the stormy blue depths of Fraser’s eyes. “Just you.” he whispered. “That’s all I want.”
“Deal,” Fraser replied softly before leaning down to kiss him.
By the time Fraser let him up for air, Ray was half blind with lust. He fumbled at his belt and zipper, but in the end, Fraser had to help.
“Perhaps now you'll appreciate the benefits of the kilt, Ray?” Fraser asked huskily against Ray's throat as he finally, oh, God, finally got Ray's cock out and wrapped it in his big, hot hand.
“Oh, yeah!” Ray breathed, relaxing into the slow, almost teasing pace Fraser was setting. “Gotta get me one of those. Nice and airy in the summer months...”
Fraser shoved Ray's t-shirt up and began worrying his nipple to a peak. “Mmm,” he mumbled, sucking hard.
“Don't know about the... oh, God! The, um winter... The winds can be a bit... fuck, fuck, Oh! FUCK! CHILLY... “ Ray roared as Fraser abandoned his nipple to slide down over his belly and swallow his cock right down to the root.
Fraser, being all polite and Canadian, didn't reply. His mouth was full.
Ray watched in utter amazement. Fraser, buttoned up and battened down Fraser, the god dammed prefect Mountie, was going down on him like a pro.
“You been thinking about... this the whole time... I was away?” he panted.
Fraser slowly raised his head, releasing Ray's cock with a wet, pop. “I've been thinking about this since I first met you, Ray. In my fantasy, I have to admit, you talked a lot less, and groaned a lot more.”
Ray couldn't help snickering. Even during sex, Fraser had to get a jab in. Taking a deep breath, he lay back on the floor and let out a somewhat theatrical groan. Fraser took the hint and went back to doing what he was doing, and it wasn't long before Ray's groans were heartfelt and real. He almost knocked himself senseless on the floor when he came.
Later, lying in bed, finally naked and just about satiated, Ray stared out of the window at the rolling grasslands and hills surrounding their castle. His head rested on Fraser's chest, and he could hear his heart beating steadily beneath his ear.
He smiled, remembering what his mum always said. “Home is where the heart is, son. Always remember that.”
Turned out, his mum was right.