Highland Fling is a rom-com set in Scotland. When Gaby’s engagement party goes badly wrong, she needs to get out of Great Yarmouth fast. Luckily, her friend has a solution – cat sitting where free lodging is offered in return for pussy cat care. And it just so happens her new location has an added attraction to a certain guy who bears more than a passing resemblance to Jamie Fraser…
Here’s the book’s first chapter…
“I didn’t mean to smash his heart into smithereens—and they were his words not mine—but if you want to make an omelette you have to break a few eggs, don’t you?”
“Stop right there!” My best friend excels at bossiness. She gets up from the sofa and holds a hand out, traffic cop style.
“Do NOT mix metaphors like that,” she begs. “Please. You’re hurting my ears.”
She’s a copywriter and very fussy about what people say in front of her. If you ever dare utter, you know? at the end of a sentence, she jumps down your throat. No, I don’t know. That’s why you’re telling me. I cut that habit out after about the hundredth time she said it.
“Katya!” I too am on the sofa in my soon to be vacated home. I love this sofa. It took me five visits to the SofasRUs (and all on the days when there were sofa sales so I wasted a lot of bank holidays) to find my perfect one. This is it. Dark red velvet, super squishy and big enough to fit four people, five if you know each other really well.
And tomorrow I say goodbye to this sofa. Just like I wave farewell to the coffee table I rescued from a junk yard, sanded down and varnished myself, the book shelves I built from flat packs accompanied by a lot of cursing, the laminated floorboards I laid one hot and sweaty weekend, the curtains…
Gabrielle Amelia Richardson! My mother’s voice. This moping will not do. Katya backs her up. Not in real life, but in my head; the two of them competing to see who can order me around the most.
Katya rummages through her handbag and her hand emerges with a large bar of chocolate that she waves triumphantly in front of me.
“Okay,” she says, “if you promise not to mix any more metaphors and refrain from terrible clichés, I will break this bar in two and give you half.” She inspects the bar, checking the label. It’s the Oreo cookie one, tiny bits of biscuit crumb encased in thick slabs of chocolate, and it snaps with a satisfying crack.
“The much smaller half.”
I am not having that. I lurch forward and grab the bigger bit from her hands, dancing away from her as she shrieks and tries to get it back. My fingers move fast, ripping through purple foil while Katya howls, “No, no, no!” I jam it into my mouth, bite off a quarter and hand it back to her, tooth marks and all.
All’s fair in love and war, or love and chocolate, right?
“You pig,” she says, but bites off her own bit anyway, and sinks back into the sofa. I do too, seeing as me and this comfy hunk of red velvet are on the brink of a split. Best I make the most of it.
We finish the bar between us. Katya holds chocolate-y fingers in the air and wiggles them. I raise my eyebrows and she lifts the cushion underneath her and wipes them clean on it.
Not my cleaning problem any more.
“It’s so selfish of you to move to the ends of the earth,” she pipes up.
“Hardly,” I say. “They do have public transport in Scotland, you kno- I mean, yes you can get there by train and bus. Plane if you want to.”
“Not the same,” she says, and she is right. We have lived not more than fifteen minutes from each other ever since we were kids. Even when we went to university, we chose the same city.
“You’re the one who cheered at the engagement party,” I add, sticking my ring-less hand out so I can place it on her knee. “Or rather, the not engagement.”
“And I would cheer again. Every single time. I just didn’t think you would do something this drastic.”
But I don’t have a choice. Not really. Ryan is still at his family’s place in France and he made it clear I was to be gone by the time he returned. He’s got a point too. Despite the lavish sofa and the hand sanded coffee table, this is his house. Ryan works in his family’s garage and car sales company. They had a few rough years during the recession, but car sales have peaked once more. He is fantastically rich, and he owns this house outright. I am a tenant the landlord now wants rid of. Fast.
Katya gets her phone out and scrolls through the pictures I sent her. She moans about what I am about to do, but it was her idea.
One week ago when I was still a teary, snotty mess, she marched round to the house, whipped out her iPad and put it in front of me.
“Cat sitting!” she announced. “I wrote some articles for a website some months ago. You live in a strange person’s house and look after their beloved cat in exchange for free bed and boarding.”
“But, but, but.” I had plenty of objections. One, you don’t get paid for it. Free lodgings are all well and good but not much fun if you can’t afford to eat. And two, I am, whisper it, not much of a cat fan. I know. Please don’t hate me. I know cat lovers make up a decent percentage of the population and they could tell me plenty of reasons why I’m wrong, misguided or deserve to die because of my misguided opinions.
Katya waved my concerns aside. If I spoke nicely to my boss, Katya said, she might let me work from home or remotely. I am a graphic designer, so I don’t ‘need’ an office only a iMac and an internet connection. And cats, Katya claims, are dead easy to care for. You just feed them twice a day and that’s it. At least you don’t need to take them for walks. Or do the dreaded pick up poo after them.
“And people really let you stay in their homes, total strangers, all because they can’t bear the thought of their cat being on its own?” I asked.
Katya nodded solemnly. She spoke to the people who run the cat sitting agency’s website. Cat owners, it seems, are a devoted bunch. Nothing is too much for dear kitty. They hate the thought of the little beast thinking it’s all on its lonesome. All I needed were references from reputable people—my boss and the minister from our local church who would add hers happily, even though I’m her least regular audience member.
Neither of us expected my first search to be so successful. I uploaded a pic, wrote a bit about myself and only told a few white lies. I love cats. I have been looking after cats all my life and bam! A few hours later, my phone beeps. You have a new message.
Hey Gaby, my name is Kirsty. I am 26 years old and I have just split up from my boyfriend and need to get away. The only thing that is stopping me leaving immediately is my wonderful little cat Mena. She loves our little home, so I don’t want to uproot her. Can you help?
“Fate,” I said to Katya. “She’s my age, and she’s also just split up from someone and needs to get away. It’s like my all-time favourite film, The Holiday, where Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet swap homes because they are desperate to escape their ex’s.”
My butterfly mind skips ahead to the Jude Law bit where the Cameron Diaz character realises her house swap’s brother is this delightful dude. Could Kirsty have such fabulous relations? Then, I tick myself off. Getting over Ryan, remember?
Katya rolled her eyes at The Holiday reference. She isn’t a fan of that movie. “Okay then,” she said, “where does Kirsty just split from my boyf live?” She zoomed in on Kirsty’s profile.
“Whaattt! I’ve never heard of this place—Lochalshie. It’s zillions of miles away!”
“Zillions,” I said. “That’s not a proper word is it?”
Actually, the idea of moving miles away excited me so much I didn’t bother with any of the other responses. Talk about a fresh start. I’ve lived in Norfolk all my life, and Katya and I proved what homebodies we are when we both ended up at uni in Norwich. My new ‘job’ would mean not only leaving my county, but my country. I was about to ask Katya if she thought I needed a passport to cross the border when I zipped it. I have a habit of letting my mouth work before my brain engages. If that question had ever seen the light of day, Katya would never have let me live it down.
When someone says Scotland to me, I imagine wild hills and mountains, lochs and out of the way beaches where waves crash against the shore. And I’m a quarter Scottish. Maybe I’ll find cousins up there, a mad, friendly bunch who drink tonnes of whisky and welcome me with open arms.
I am reluctant to leave my friend, but I promise her we’ll Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime and everything else that is available to the modern gal. Katya mutters I might be lucky to get internet access in the middle of nowhere, but I dismiss her fears. Blimey, you spot masts left, right and centre these days. We’ll be able to do our daily catch-ups no probs.
It. Will. Be. Fine.
She’s gone quiet now, her face focusing on her phone screen.
I snuggle up closer and check out what she’s looking at. It looks like the town’s website—stuff to do, places to eat and all that. She clicks on a link to the gallery and we scroll through pics of last year’s Highland Games.
“Stop!” I shout before she fingers one of the pictures out of the way. “That one!”She flicks the picture back and blows it up. Who IS this vision? The picture shows a young guy in a green, black and dark green kilt standing in a field next to a giant log, his hands on his hips and a huge grin on his face. He’s got dark red hair, curls that touch his shoulders and a broad torso expertly displayed in a black, tight tee shirt.
“That’s Jamie Fraser,” Katya twists her head so she can spot what my face is doing. The same as hers, I suspect—slack-jawed and wide-eyed in astonishment. We are big, no scrap that, we are Outlander’s number one fans. We’ve read all the books and watched seasons one, two and three together on Amazon Prime, pausing it every time Jamie’s bare chested. Ryan generally wasn’t around those evenings.
I take the phone from her and peer at it closely. “No, it’s not Jamie,” I say eventually, reluctantly. “But pretty darn close.” I squint at the caption. “Says here he’s local resident Jack McAllan, and he’s just won the annual tossing the caber competition.”
Katya’s eyebrows shoot so high at that I worry she’s about to experience the first non-surgical face lift. They revert to normal and a grin spreads its way across her face.
“So, my newly single friend. Off to the wilds of Scotland. Where Jamie Fraser’s doppelgänger happens to live, a dude who is a strong man too. Do you think Kirsty would prefer two cat sitters to look after her precious Mena?!”