We’ll Meet Again

by Dianne Price

Will Maggie’s fears stop Rob from following God’s call?

Each time Rob Savage responds to a sea rescue from their Scottish isle, his wife, Maggie, is haunted by nightmares of catastrophe. Could this call be his last? How would she and the children live without Rob? Through stormy rescues, an orphan boy in need of a home, and the mysterious bones of a forgotten child buried long ago, can Maggie and Rob trust God for their futures?

And a special bonus!

Maggie’s Dream—excerpts from the final book in the Thistle series. Dianne wrote these last words just before she left this earth, so not only does this bring Maggie’s dream for her large family to a close, but it also honor’s the author’s dream that these stories be available to anyone who enjoys a sweeping love story set in a life-changing part of history.

Just when it looks like life is finally settling into a natural rhythm, two strangers arrive on the isle of Innisbraw and send Rob back to a very dark place. Will the strangers’ plans threaten Maggie’s dream of a croftful of eight children with her dear Rob at her side?

Chapter 1

Isle of Innisbraw, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

June 1948

Rob Savage tromped through the girse, breathing deeply. Is it a sin to luve my Maggie so much?

The raucous caw of a crow mocked Rob Savage’s silent question, as though the cannie bird were a mindreader.

Shep, his Australian sheepdog, brushed his leg as though urging him to up his pace.

What a grand gift it was, having a dog who offered such unconditional luve. The thought triggered a forbidden switch in his mind, back to the past. Another Shep—a dynamo of mottled blue fur, puppy breath, and boundless energy, who chewed a lad’s toes, nipped at his bare heels, and slept the sleep of the innocent, cuddled tight to his young master’s chest. They’d given him the puppy, the couple who said they wanted him to be their son. He’d never had a dog, never known a furry bundle with a soft tongue could make him laugh aloud and lie in bed at night, marveling at the awakening of a luve so strong it sometimes took his breath. After years of praying, he finally had a family.

Six months later, it was all gone. They hustled him into their automobile to return him to the orphanage, offering no explanation to ease the heartbreak, the betrayal. His last sight of the first Shep had haunted him for years: overgrown paws splayed on the living room window, floppy ears cocked forward, blue eyes pleading. Aye, they cried, though he couldn’t—no’ for over twenty years. He vowed never again to trust his heart to another person.

And he hadn’t—until he met his Maggie.

It had taken her months to break down the wall he’d built around his heart. But ultimately, how could he resist the safe harbour of her luve?

He slowed his morning run to a trot and raised his face to the sky, its pearly-pink complexion a betraying blush at giving such a public birth to the sun. “’Tis only a sin when I forget to thank You for bringing us together, Heavenly Faither.”

A kaleidoscope of mind-pictures tumbled before his eyes: his first sight of Maggie’s bonnie face at the Edenoaks officer’s club; the fire in her violet-blue eyes when he voiced his fear he would never walk again; the luve in those same eyes melting his heart when they spoke their marriage vows; her exhausted, triumphant smile when she birthed each of their three bairnies; watching her brush her black, wavy hair that spilled down her slim back to below her waist.

He reached the turn in the island path that traced the shore of the mighty Atlantic Ocean.

Waves uttered victorious, deep-throated booms as they crashed upon the rocks lining the shore.

“You’ve reason to be proud,” he muttered to the ocean as his pace increased. “Surely, you’re one of our Lord’s most magnificent creations.”

*

Is it a sin to contemplate murder? Maggie Savage picked up the sharp surgical scissors and stared at her reflection in the bathing room mirror. Och, thinking like an eejit, she was. How could it be murder if the victim didn’t have a beating heart and a mind stored with all those yesterdays, if it didn’t bleed?

“I luve the sight of you with your black hair spilling down your back.” Rob’s voice, permanently etched into the folds of her memory.

But he didn’t have to put up with the constant tangles, how long it took to dry, having to pin it high atop her head every time she used the wringer on the washing machine, and those wee ones always pulling at it. ’Twas down to her hips now. Surely trimming off a few centimetres—or mebbe a wee bit more—wouldn’t send him into a fash.

The image in the mirror blurred, replaced by Rob’s face, the dimples beside his lips deep with a smile, flecks of green dancing a jig in his hazel eyes while he twisted his long fingers in her hair. The vision transformed to the look of awe on his face the first time she released the severe bun she wore to keep her hair off the collar of her RAF nurse’s uniform. He’d grasped a lock between two fingers and brushed it across his cheek, lost in a pleasant dream known only to him.

She closed her eyes as a flush of shame set fire to her cheeks.

Murder it would be. No’ of her hair, but of Rob’s joy. He’d never shared why, but those strands seemed to tether him to his memories of all their yesterdays and his dreams for their future.

A loud wail came from the bedroom.

She placed the scissors on the top shelf of the closet and pulled the towel from her shoulders. Beth, it was, demanding her first suckling of the day.

Thank Ye, Faither, for saving Rob from my selfishness.

Half an hour later, Beth suckled and back in her cradle, Maggie raised a corner of the lace curtain and peeked from the kitchen window.

Early summer wildflowers bent ’neath an onshore breeze and tiny whirls of dust tickled the top of the sandy path, mimicking the waves faery-dancing over the harbour below Innis Fell.

Rob suddenly appeared at the crest of the path, long legs making a mockery of the climb, the roll of his trim hips trapping a breath in her throat. Walking, he was, no’ running, with Shep fast at his heels. He’d finally heeded her advice about cooling down after running the seventeen-kilometre path around the island.

She checked to make sure she’d turned on the shower-water boiler and put the coffeepot to perk on the hottest part of the peat-burning stove. Tightening the belt of her blue dressing gown, she dashed out onto the entry to greet him.

He leaped the dry-stone dyke and bolted up the stairs. “There’s my Maggie.”

How she luved that deep-throated purr.

After swiping the sweat from his forehead with a sleeve, he grabbed her up and seated her on the entry railing, drawing her close. She winced inwardly at his groan when he fisted his hands in her hair. Such long, hard hours he worked, building rescue and fishing boats, casting peats, helping the island’s crofters when a need arose, and all without a whinge of complaint. An incomer would think he had generations of Innisbraw blood feeding muscle and bone, making him one of this close family of islanders, inuring him to the winter gales, the hardships of living on such an isolated island, the unrelenting labour each day demanded.

How could she have considered depriving him of something that pleasured him so?

His lips brushed hers, soft as a bee seeking pollen, then pressed deeper into the petals of her mouth, speaking luve more eloquently than words.

When he raised his head, she rested her cheek against his damp shirt. “Welcome home, luve. You had a guid run.”

“What makes you think that?” he asked, dimples deep.

“We women have our ways …”

He cupped her chin in his large palm and gazed into her eyes. “Are the bairnies still abed? And have you suckled Beth?”

“Aye, the wee piggy.” The rapid beat of his heart thrummed in her ear. “She’s gone back to sleep and nobody else is stirring.”

“Then we’ll have some time alone.” He picked her up and carried her to his rocker, cradling her on his lap.

Shep plonked down beside the door, flanks heaving, tongue lolling from the side of his mouth.

Maggie squirmed to escape. “Shep needs water and his breakfast, your shower water’s hot, and I have to see to the coffee.”

“No’ till I tell you how much I luve you.”

“But that could take hours.” He looked so braw, she had to stroke his cheek. “Besides, I already know how much you luve me. ’Tis the same luve I feel for you. Now let me go before your coffee biles all over the top of the stove.”

He glanced at his watch and helped her up. “’Tis 0500, so we’ve an hour before I have to be at the boatshed. I’ll meet you oot here on the entry in ten minutes. Pray nobody wakes.”

“Ten minutes for a shower and shave? You’ll cut your face to pieces with that straight-edged razor.”

He was already pulling his shirt over his head when he opened the front door. “On you go. Time me.” He raced for the bathing room.

Maggie shook her head. No use trying to slow that one down.

While he showered, she watered and fed Shep, placed the coffeepot at the back of the stove, took a plate of scones from the cupboard, and checked on Beth. Sound asleep the wee lassie was, on her back in her cradle, rosy lips sooking as though she still hungered for one more taste of sweet, warm milk.

Maggie removed her dressing gown and slipped into her underclothes and a light woolen skirt and sweater. Time was slipping away. Hands trembling, mind racing, she ran a brush through her long hair and pulled it off her face with a celluloid barrette. This could be their last peaceful morning for a week. Och, why did Rob’s radar expert have to arrive the day?

After stepping into her sandals, she raced into the kitchen and poured a large mug of coffee for Rob and a cup of tea with honey and milk for herself. Mug and cup rattled on the tray while she dashed for the front door and swung it shut awkwardly behind her. She placed the tray on the table between their rockers, seated herself, and fanned her face. Made it.

Seconds later, Rob opened the front door and came out, eyes wide. “You’ve been busy,” he said, tucking his shirt into his denims. “And, as usual, I can’t lace this sark.” He bent over so she could reach the laces.

“And you never will.” Smile teasing, she laced and tied the neck of his Jacobite shirt. “Your fingers are too big for such wee laces.”

“I can tie my shoes. Don’t see any difference.”

“Your chin gets in the way, luve. And speaking of shoes, I don’t see any on your feet, nor what you call ‘socks,’ for that matter.”

“Ran oot of time.” He sat in his rocker, reached for his coffee mug, took a healthy swallow, and laid his head back, smiling.

She looked over at him. After almost six years of marriage, his dear face still thrilled her. His brown hair shone as the rapidly rising sun struck the entryway. His straight nose, full eyebrows, sensitive lips, and strong chin brought a surge of joy to her heart.

He glanced at her. “Looking for razor nicks? You won’t find any.” He grabbed a scone and ate half in one bite.

“I was thinking how braw you are.” She steeled herself for his usual reaction.

“Maggie Savage, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times to stop saying that. I’m too tall, too thin—according to you—and the verra last thing I am is braw.”

“Mebbe you’re a wee bit thin, though I’m still hoping to put some weight on you this summer.” She stifled a sigh. “I know ’tis merely a dream. If only you’d take time to eat when you’re launching the new boats.”

“Enough blether.” He finished the scone and took a long drink of coffee. “On you come, luve. I want to hold you before I have to leave.”

She settled onto his lap with a contented sigh. This was the way they belonged, breath to breath, heart to heart.

Cheek resting on the top of her head, he said, “Certain you don’t want to meet the ferry with me this mornin?”

“I’ve reeky laundry piled high … and I don’t know Dale Taylor.” She ducked her head to hide a frown. “I’m shamed to admit it, but I’m relieved he’ll be biding with Den and Fern, no’ us.”

“Taylor’s Den’s friend, no’ ours. And we don’t have room with Ellie and Richie staying here.”

Ah, Ellie. “Has Calum said owt about asking Ellie to marry him?”

A chuckle rumbled in his chest. “You know your brother better than that. Calum’s as likely to confide something personal as Flora MacPhee is to no’ spread the latest gossip.”

“Aye. He’s still shy at times, but no’ as often as when he was a wee lad.” A sudden thought sent her bolting upright. “But Ellie’s holiday will end soon and she’ll have to return to America.”

“Well, we can’t let that happen. Ellie and Richie need to be here among those who knew and loved Rich.” He groaned. “I never got to say guidbye to Rich, but the Lord’s given me a chance to watch his son grow to manhood. We have to convince Ellie to stay.”

Would Rob never get over losing his tail gunner in that same bombing mission that almost cost him his own life? She buried her face against his chest. “Och, luve, when I think of all the pain you’ve suffered … in the war and since.” She traced a fingertip over the jagged scar on his forehead.

Soft fingers caressed her shoulder. “Do you …?” Softer lips brushed her forehead. “You seem to be handling the shouts better lately.”

“I haven’t had that dreadful image of you drowning for months.” The truth. But she still feared, especially during in-water rescues. “I’ve Fern to keep me company, and if she’s busy at the infirmary, I call somebody on that list of mothers and wives that Hugh gave me. We pray and share scriptures.” Blessed Hugh. Minister, comforter, counsellor, and friend.

“Then it helps them too. Hugh did a grand job bringing family members of the rescue crew together.”

She played with the laces on his shirt. “Do you ever think how different our lives would be if you’d taken me to America after the war?”

His sharp breath shrilled in her ear. “Don’t even think that. Innisbraw’s my home now. I could never live anywhere else.”

Och, he was coiled tighter than a wet mooring rope. Was he worried about the new radar arriving the day? Careful, Maggie Savage, before you ruin your mornin. “I didn’t mean to fash you.”

“You scared me is all. All my auld friends are here, anyway. Den, now here for Fern and Katie too. The surprise of Stu and Jill settling here. And Ellie, come all the way from America to make certain the Red Cross hadn’t made a mistake in telling her I survived that last crash.”

She nestled closer. “Faither’s finally retired from his work in Edinburgh and practicing here at his infirmary, and Calum’s home too, fishing on a trawler.” A laugh burst in her throat. “Don’t forget to number in our bairns. Robbie, Annie, and wee Beth bring me more joy than I ever dreamed possible. And there’s still five more to go before we have our eight bairns.”

His body stiffened. “Are you trying to tell me something?”

“Beth’s only six months auld. ’Twill be a while before we add another lad or lass to this family. You did a wonderful turn helping them greet the world.”

“I’m no’ a doctor, luve. So far, there haven’t been any problems, and I thank the Lord for that, but …” He looked at his watch. “Och, I have to give heels to or I’ll be late to the shed. I’ve a heap of work to do before the ferry docks.”

She leaped from his lap. “I’ll pour you a thermos of coffee and send some butteries. Promise me you’ll eat them and no’ give them to Graham. Now he’s merrit, Rinait can make him a piece to tide him over till dinner.”

“I promise, but first my shoes and socks. Den’ll be here in a tick.”

Chapter 2

Rob replaced the telephone receiver and sat at his desk, rubbing his forehead. Exhausted, he was. No’ from physical labour, but from spending almost a week with Dale Taylor. Being confined in the trawler’s wheelhouse with Den and Dale was like sitting through a vaudeville show featuring half-wit comedians. They fired one-liners as rapidly as a waist gunner knocked a German FW-190 out of the sky.

Den was one thing—they’d been best friends since West Point—and he’d settled down since coming to Innisbraw. But enduring hours of that warped sense of humour from another man made Rob’s head ache. Only the superior radar system Taylor had delivered made it bearable.

Now this call from Alec. Rob couldn’t work any harder drawing those remodels of existing cottages, no matter the need. Twenty-four hours in a day was one of God’s laws even prayer couldn’t change.

And there was the basket supper this een.

He broke a pencil and threw the pieces across the room.

*

“With all Rob eats, a salad and some shortbread isn’t enough for me to bring,” Maggie said, looking over Fern’s list of food for the basket supper. “And there’s me, Robbie, Annie, Ellie, Rich—”

“Wheesht.” Fern put a finger to her lips. “We’d best keep our voices down. Dale’s upstairs packing.” She bent over the list.

“We can eat on the sandy strand below the fell,” Maggie whispered.

“’Twill be a celebration, though Dale will never guess ’tis because he’s leaving.” Fern muffled a laugh with her palm. “Calum’s bringing twa salmon caught this mornin—he’ll cook them over an open fire—Jill promised a basket of Scotch eggs, and I’m making a sticky toffee pudding. Den’s request, of course. With your salad and shortbread, that’s more than enough.”

“With all the sweetenins Rob eats, we always run oot of coupons.” Maggie twisted her hair up off her neck and fanned her face. “I can’t believe how long rationing’s lasted. The war’s been over almost three years, and here we are, still fighting to get enough paraffin for our Tilley lamps, and always hoping we’ll have enough milled wheat flour for bread.”

Fern glanced toward the stairs and lowered her voice. “I’m sorry to have to put you and Rob through another supper with that man, but at least he’s no’ staying in your house. If I didn’t work at the infirmary all day, I’d be a blethering eejit.”

“Thank the Lord Katie spends the days at our house.”

“As if I’d leave my lass with that man.” After stalking into the living room, Fern grabbed the poker and scattered the flaming peat embers across the inside of the hearth, showering sparks into the air. “‘’Tis too cold in here,’” she growled, mimicking Dale’s gravelly voice. “We’re about to burn up from Dale adding peats every few minutes and shivering like ’tis winter, no’ summer. Our peat pile’s shrinking.”

“How does Den react to all this? Surely he knew what Dale was like before he asked him to come.”

“That’s just it,” Fern said, voice a hiss. “Den pretends there’s nowt wrong with a man who never stops talking or eating or complaining about the cold. Dale acts like this is some fancy hotel with maid service. I’m ready to strangle De—”

The rescue siren wailed outside, ululating through the air like the cry of a banshee.

Maggie scooped Beth up from the hearth rug and pressed Fern’s hand. “Come over and monitor the radio with me,” she shouted over the noise. “’Tis so much better when we wait and pray together.”

*

Dale Taylor insisted on accompanying them. He changed his mind three times about which sweater to wear, making them miss the conversation between Rob and Control that always clued the women in to the nature of the emergency. He also put the peter on their usual routine. Instead of prayers and reciting Bible verses to calm their fears, they were forced to answer his questions about their radio system, why they called a rescue call a “shout,” and why they didn’t know more about what was going on.

Thankfully, Katie, though surely worried about her own faither, comforted Annie while Ellie kept Beth entertained, and Robbie and Richie played outside with Shep.

Maggie tuned out the constant drone of Dale’s voice and prayed silently. But as the hours passed, her fear turned to panic. She dropped to her knees, pulled Fern down beside her, and they bowed their heads.

A tap on her shoulder interrupted her prayers for Rob and Den’s safety.

“I asked how long these shouts usually last.”

Dale’s raspy voice raised the hair on her arms. She froze. How dare he interrupt at a time like this?

Fern saved Maggie from a rare show of temper. “No’ this long. They’re having trouble.”

“I’ll find out.” He reached for the radio.

Maggie leaped up and batted his hand away. “I told you. We’re no’ allowed to broadcast, only recei—”

The radio crackled.

“This is the Maggie to Innisbraw Control. Over.”

Neil’s voice, no’ Rob’s or Den’s.

A sharp pain knifed Maggie’s stomach as Fern’s nails dug into her arm.

“Innisbraw Control to Maggie. Are you ready to come in? Over.”

“Aye, Control. We have twa injured crewmen and four near-drowning victims, including another crewman, and six victims with hypothermia. We need John, Fern, and Maggie at the dock, and five cairts. Over.”

“Roger that, Maggie. When will you make port?”

“Twenty minutes. Maggie oot.”

“We’ll be ready. Control oot.”

Maggie and Fern pushed Dale aside and raced into the living room.

“Ellie, can you and Katie watch the bairns?” Maggie asked as she put on a sweater. “When Beth needs to suckle, take her over to the infirmary.”

“I’m going with you.” Dale’s growl.

Maggie shuddered, then started after Fern down the path to the infirmary, followed by Dale, who huffed like a steam engine climbing a ben.

Maggie’s father, Doctor John McGrath, was putting supplies into a large medical bag. His salt-and-pepper hair and short beard were mussed, face drawn, but his voice was calm. “I’ve called Flora and Alice to come and keep watch on the patients here. None are critical.”

The women filled a canvas satchel with saline and plasma. John took it from Maggie as they rushed out the door and down to the dock. Maggie and Fern held hands as they waited. Dale sat on a bollard, still panting from the run, face red, forehead dripping sweat.

John ran a hand through his beard as he paced. “After this, they need to broadcast the names of injured crew members. This waiting is no’ pleasant.”

Minutes later, the Maggie’ssiren wailed three times as she cleared the harbour mouth.

Extreme emergency.

Maggie fought for breath. Please, Lord, no’ Rob. No’ Rob or Den. Please! One of Jesus’s promises echoed in her mind. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.

The Maggie came into her berth too fast and overshot, but Neil quickly backed her into place. Stu Proctor and Graham MacDonald, both Rob’s business partners, ran from the boatshed and made the ropes fast while John scaled the railing. Two of the rescue lads raised the hinged railing and pushed the gangplank into place. Maggie, Fern, Graham, and Stu hurried aboard, ignoring Dale’s mumbled offer to help.

In the cabin, Rob sat in the commander’s seat, head back, eyes closed, face so pale.

Maggie made her way through the crowded cabin and knelt before him. “Rob,” she cried, hugging him.

He groaned. “I’m … all right. Help others.” His left arm hung at his side.

“Och, luve, you’ve hurt your shoulder again.”

He opened his eyes. Bloodshot, they were, and dark with pain. “It’s no’ bad, lass. Please help the others.”

She heard her name being called.

Fern held a blood-soaked towel to Den’s face. “His nob is broken.”

Den tried to smile. “Hit a hard elbow. I’m all right. Help James. We came near to losing him oot there.”

Maggie looked around for her faither. John was triaging the near-drowning victims. Matthew Campbell, the Maggie’sbattle-trained medic, had started saline drips on all of them.

Her faither grabbed her arm. “We’re ready to transport. How’s Rob?”

“’Tis his shoulder again, but I don’t think ’tis broken or oot of place.”

“Den?”

“A broken nose.”

“Then these near-drownings go first. Put James and that lad over there in the first cairt. I’ll go with them. The other twa can go in the second cairt.” He hurried out as the rescue crew lifted stretchers.

Swallowing her distaste, Maggie said, “Christopher, call that man in from the dock. His name’s Dale. He can help Stu carry a stretcher.” She and Fern checked the hypothermia victims.

All were shivering and conscious beneath their blankets.

Maggie ran back to Rob’s side. He hadn’t moved. “I need to know where you hurt, Rob.”

“Just strained that … shoulder again.”

“Then let me help you to your feet. Can you walk?”

He shook his head and blinked his eyes. “Don’t know. I’ll try.”

“No, you won’t.” She motioned to two crew members. “Put him on a stretcher.”

Rob tried to get up but collapsed with a groan.

Neil, the second ,coxswain and Paddy, another member of the rescue crew, helped Rob onto a stretcher. “Take it aisy, Commander,” Paddy said in his musical Irish brogue. “We’ll soon have you out of here and up the fell.”

“Put Rob and Den in the third cairt,” Maggie ordered. “Stu and Dale can ride with them. Then get back here to help the rest oot to the path.” She shivered. Be with them, Lord.

Fern pressed a clean towel to Den’s face, nodding at the remaining crew members. “Get oot all the blankets you can find and add to the ones already on the hypothermia victims. Then help them oot to the path. They go in the last twa cairts. Stay and monitor them closely. Graham, you can help them to the path, but stay with Maggie and me till the last victim’s gone.”

*

By the time Fern, Maggie, and Graham made the long climb to the infirmary, Rob was nowhere in sight. Maggie ran to Stu, who was placing a warmed blanket around the shoulders of a hypothermia victim. “Do you know where Rob is?”

“In the third examining room. He’s going to be all right, Maggie. He kept telling me to help the others.”

“He would,” she said as she ran down the hall.

Dale was struggling to remove Rob’s wet suit. “This thing’s so tight!” he growled when he saw Maggie.

She pushed him aside and soon had Rob stripped and covered with two blankets.

“Everything’s going to be all right, lass,” Rob said through clenched teeth. “Go help John.”

“No’ now.” She took his blood pressure.

Low.

“How’s Den?”

“A broken nose, but that’s all I know.”

“James?”

“They transported him first. He was conscious, but I think he still had water in his stomach. Your blood pressure’s too low. Lay you down and rest. Faither needs to look at your shoulder.”

Dale touched her arm, eyes averted. “I’ll stay with him if they need you.”

She bit her lip, then whirled around and opened the door. “Graham,” she shouted. “I need you in examining room three.”

Graham appeared seconds later.

Maggie squeezed his arm. “Don’t leave Rob’s side for owt.”

In the foyer, Flora and Alice passed out steaming mugs of tea, liberally sweetened with honey, to the hypothermia victims, who still shivered beneath the warmed blankets wrapped around their shoulders.

Maggie, Fern, and the rescue crew worked with John far into the afternoon. When the last near-drowning victim was conscious and breathing easily, the doctor asked to see Rob and Den.

“Den’s nob is broken,” Fern said, “but he has no other complaints, other than being spent from all that time in the water.”

John nodded. “Maggie, I’m going to want a picture of Rob’s shoulder. Is he hurt anyplace else?”

“I don’t know. Like Den, he’s spent.”

“Put them in the same room. Fern, go monitor James’s vitals. He’s oot of danger, but I’ll keep him overnight.”

Matthew led Den to examining room two.

He could walk, but his legs trembled, and his swollen eyes were already turning colours.

Graham pulled a gurney in from the hall and helped Den lie down, covering him with blankets.

Maggie took Rob’s blood pressure again. “A little shocky but no’ too bad.”

Rob groped for her hand. “I’m all right. I keep telling you, luve.”

“I’ve heard that from you before, Rob Savage.” She leaned over him. “Faither wants an X-ray of your shoulder. Can you walk?”

“No’ in the scud.”

“I’ll get you a gown.”

“You’ll get me a robe, or I’m no’ going anywhere.”

“Och, you’re feeling better. All right, a robe it is. I’ll be back in a tick.”

His grip tightened on her hand. “Tell me how James is first.”

“He’s conscious and he’s vomited up enough seawater to fill a basin. His vitals are much better.”

“And the victims?”

“They should be fine in a day or twa.”

“Guid.” Rob lay back and closed his eyes.

*

Rob’s X-rays showed no permanent damage.

“You’ll have to go back to the sling, of course,” John told him.

“I figured as much. Is this going to happen with every rescue, John?”

“How long were you in the water?”

“I disremember. ’Twas a collision between a trawler and a sailboat. Felt like hours.”

John’s gaze bored into his. “How many people did you pull oot of the sea?”

All these questions. “Three or four, mebbe.”

“Well, was it three or four?”

What nevermind did it make? “Aye. After a while ’tis like being on autopilot. Four, I guess.”

Gaze unrelenting, arms crossed over his chest, John said, “Then every time you stay in the water that long and rescue that many souls, your shoulder’s going to give you trouble.”

*

After Den’s swollen nose and black eyes made him the new brunt of Dale’s jokes, Den couldn’t help but feel relieved when Fern made him stay abed as Dale said goodbye before catching the ferry.

“I saw all those scars on Rob’s body,” Dale growled, “and the way you two acted like almost dying was nothing to worry about.” He poked Den’s chest. “You need a full-time nursemaid, not an electronics expert. You look like a raccoon, old buddy. Those are two of the blackest eyes I’ve ever seen.”

Den blinked.

Dale whirled away from the bed, stopped, and turned. “And don’t call me for another ‘favor.’ It’ll be a cold day in the Mojave before I spend over thirty hours in cramped airplane seats, and another five hours on a ferry, for the ‘privilege’ of visiting a piece of freezing rock in the ocean.” Then he blew out of the room.

Den had never seen the man away from his home turf. Aye, Dale turned oot a fine product, and he’d always been a joker, but he’d gone way too far this time, ordering Fern around like she was his serving lass and besmirching Innisbraw.

Och, it would take hours—mebbe days—to mend fences after this fiasco.

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