Like There’s No Tomorrow
by Camille Eide
Scottish widower Ian MacLean is plagued by a mischievous grannie, bitter regrets, and an ache for something he’ll never have again. His only hope for freedom is to bring his grannie’s sister home from America. But first, he’ll have to convince her young companion, Emily Chapman, to let the woman go.
Emily devotes herself to foster youth and her beloved Aunt Grace. Caring for others quiets a secret fear she keeps close to her heart. But when Ian appears, wanting to whisk Grace off to Scotland, everything Emily holds dear is at risk.
Like There’s No Tomorrow is an amusing yet heart-tugging love story about two kind, single caretakers, two quirky, old sisters bent on reuniting, and too many agendas. It’s a tale of family, fiery furnaces, faith, and the gift of each new da
Ian MacLean had spent the last two years feeding chickens, hiding the kitchen knives from his mule-headed grannie, and questioning his sanity.
But if his luck held out, all that was about to change.
Feeling lighter than he had in months, Ian crossed the street, climbed into the old farm truck, and looked back at the row of flats he’d just left. Beyond the building and to the west, the lights of Glasgow cast a golden glow against the night sky.
Ian slipped the key into the ignition, let his hand drop, and studied the windows of his sister’s flat. When had he last felt so free?
His talk with his absentee brother-in-law had succeeded. Davy had not only come home, but he was home to stay—he’d given Ian his word. Ian could still see the look on his sister’s face when her husband walked in the door. Claire’s stunned silence proved that she could actually hold her tongue when she fancied.
Ian started the truck and smiled. All in a day’s work.
Aye, he’d only meant to help Claire’s family, but in doing so, he’d also lifted a huge weight from his own shoulders. Not that Claire or her kids were a burden. Ian loved his nieces and nephews as if they were his own, and as long as he drew breath, they’d never go hungry. But more than food, those kids needed security and stability. They needed their da.
And now, Davy was home.
Ian tapped the pedal to bring the truck’s idle down to a low grumble. Only one obstacle to his freedom remained: Maggie MacLean. But if his luck held out and all went as planned, he would soon be free of his daft grannie and her mind-numbing nonsense. Free to explore a world of possibilities. Free to write that series of feature articles that would take him to remarkable, far-away places.
But then, any dull place would do—as long as it took him away from Kirkhaven.
Ian glanced at the envelope tucked in the cracked visor above him. Mailing the latest letter to Aunt Grace was all he had left to do. The sooner it arrived in Oregon, the sooner his great-aunt could move back home to Scotland and take charge of her errant sister, Maggie.
And the sooner Ian could get on with his life, shackle-free.
Juniper Ranch, Central Oregon
In spite of the never-ending drama and the occasional runaway, Emily Chapman couldn’t have designed a more perfect job for herself. The kids living at the Juniper Ranch group home were so starved for love that they weren’t picky about who supplied it, and she had plenty to give. Plus, they were so desperate for normalcy and stability that they didn’t have time to think about anyone else.
Which worked out great for Emily. The last thing she needed was anyone worrying about her.
The first of May appeared warm with its clear skies and dazzling sun, but in reality, even with the sun shining, the chill of Oregon’s high desert often kept the young teens inside when they weren’t doing chores or critter duty. Today’s sun had heated the sand and desert flora enough that pungent aromas of sage and juniper filled the air.
She tapped on the parlor window and got Chaz and Brandi’s attention. “Hey,” she hollered through the glass. “Who’s up for a game of volleyball?”
Chaz grimaced and poked his glasses higher on his nose. It would take something more complex than a ball to pull him away from the computer.
Brandi shot up from the couch. “I’m in,” she shouted. “As long as I’m captain.”
Emily smiled. Yeah, an outdoor game was definitely in order.
She rounded up all seven girls and five boys and led them down to the makeshift volleyball court—little more than a sand pit surrounded by sagebrush—and divided the kids into two teams. Eleven-year-old Hector opened with a serve while Emily worked the sidelines.
A few minutes into the game, her phone vibrated in the pocket of her jeans. She pulled it out and stole a peek at the screen.
Jaye. Naturally. Who else would it be?
Since Emily still had a half hour left of her shift, she tucked her phone away and kept her eye on the volleyball. Her hiking boots kicked up dust and sand as she moved along the sideline, reminding her to toss her old cross-trainers in the Jeep before her next shift.
Brandi lunged toward the net and nearly ate dust, but got beneath the ball just in time.
“Awesome dig, Brandi! Way to go!” Emily silently prayed that God would give Brandi a sense that she mattered and was loved, no matter how troubled her life was. Maybe a little pride in a game well played would add something positive to the older girl’s attitude.
Emily watched the game, counting the hits. As she clapped for a clean spike, her pocket hummed again. Getting two texts in a row wasn’t good, especially when Aunt Grace was home alone. Emily pulled out her cell phone.
Nope. Just another message from Jaye.
She shook her head.
Commandment Number One in the Jaye Benson Book of Love, Life, & Death: when Jaye had a new boyfriend, no one would rest. Especially not the Best Friend.
“Come on, guys. Don’t forget to set it up first, then hit.” Once the ball was back in play, she viewed the first text.
Just found out Wrangle has a friend! He’s totally hot! Probably!
The volleyball sailed out of bounds and disappeared into the sagebrush surrounding the makeshift court. While one of the boys retrieved the ball, Emily scrolled to the second text.
I told Wrangle 2 tell him u love line dancing & 4x4s. We’ll pick u up @8.
The ball sailed toward her. Emily caught it, stuffed it in the crook of her elbow, and double-checked the screen with a groan. “Please tell me you did not just set me up on a date,” she muttered. “Especially with some guy you haven’t even met.”
The phone buzzed yet again.
& it’s not a date. It’s group fun night. Note the word FUN. And NOT A DATE.
Fabulous. Jaye’s idea of a “group” consisted of Jaye and Wrangle, plus Emily and some “totally hot” stray cowboy.
Apparently Jaye had forgotten her promise to lay off the scheming after the last blind date. She didn’t understand. But then, it wasn’t her fault. Emily hadn’t tried very hard to make her friend understand why she had no intentions of marrying and, therefore, wasn’t interested in dating. After a lot of prayer and thought, Emily had decided to keep her reasons to herself.
At least for now. It was better for everyone that way. Easier.
It took a few seconds to register that the teens were hollering for the ball.
“Sorry, guys.” She lobbed the ball back into play, then powered off the phone and stuffed it into her pocket. Taking a deep breath, Emily refocused her attention on the game. She didn’t have time to battle demons that might not even exist.
Right now, these kids needed her.
Twenty minutes later, the afternoon heat had warmed her skin, stirring up an occasional whiff of her favorite honeysuckle scent as she paced the sidelines. The heat had also turned her long, brown curls into a dark, clingy mop. She pulled her hair back and secured it into a ponytail.
“Emily!” The call of her name drifted across the compound from the main house.
“Down here,” she yelled back.
But whatever the answer, it was lost as a red pickup barreled up the driveway, spitting gravel and stirring up clouds of dust in its wake.
The red Ford Ranger skidded to a halt at the edge of the staff parking lot. As Jaye climbed out, truck engine still running, someone near the house called Emily’s name again—her boss, who was hurrying down the path. Sue Quinn looked uptight, even more than usual.
“Emily!” Jaye huffed as she climbed the sandy trail to the volleyball court. “Your phone is off!”
“Weird, huh.” Emily grinned. “Maybe that’s because some days I actually work—”
“Em!” Jaye gripped Emily’s biceps. “You gotta go home. Your Aunt Grace—”
“What?” An icy current raced through Emily, numbing every nerve. “What happened? What’s wrong with Aunt Grace?”
“Your house is on fire!”
Kids came running, some of the girls squealing, others yelling at them to be quiet.
“Is she hurt?” Emily breathed. “What happened? What’s going on?”
Jaye shook her head, heaving as she caught her breath. “I don’t know. Your phone was off so I came straight—”
“Emily!” Her boss’s clipped voice cut through the commotion as she jogged up. “There’s been some kind of emergency. Fire and paramedic crews were sent to your house. I brought your keys.”
Molten fear ignited in her gut. Emily caught her car keys with a shaking hand, turned, and ran for her Jeep, sprinting down the dirt path as fast as her numb legs and stiff boots would allow.
Is Aunt Grace hurt? Is she in danger? Oh, God, let her be okay.
The prayer sent another wave of numbness through her limbs, but she sucked in a deep breath and forced her legs to move faster. All she could think of was her great-aunt trapped in the little blue house, perhaps now ablaze with crackling flames. As she reached the edge of the gravel lot, she could almost feel the flames licking at her heels. The crunch of her footfalls quickened across the gravel.
Let her be okay … Please, God, let her be okay …
Flashing red lights blinked like buoys in a sea of sand and sagebrush from half a mile away. When Emily turned onto Salt Flats Road, she spotted the sheriff’s car in front of the house along with the emergency rigs. But as she neared the house, the flashing stopped. Uniformed EMTs worked at the back of their ambulance, locking compartment doors. A couple of firefighters reattached something to the fire truck.
No crackling flames. No smoke. No sheet-covered stretcher.
Still, Emily couldn’t breathe. As she braked, the Jeep ground to a stop in the gravel, sending up a cloud of dust. She dashed up the steps and across the covered porch.
A thick, noxious blend of odors met her at the doorway, setting her heart pounding.
“Aunt Grace?” Inside, Emily took a quick glance around the front room and found her great-aunt snuggled up in her favorite corner chair.
A uniformed fireman stood nearby while the EMT on the loveseat beside Aunt Grace packed up a medic kit.
Grace’s soft, wrinkly face drew wide with a smile as Emily came near. “Ooh, here ye are dearie. Such a kind lass. Did ye bring the mail? We’ll be getting a letter from Maggie and Ian today.”
That was good for a partial sigh of relief. “Are you okay?” Emily touched her aunt’s thin shoulder, then bent over the little white-haired woman and kissed the top of her head. “What’s going on? Have you been baking?”
“Aye. Lemon cookies for tea to go with Maggie’s letter.” The old woman nodded, leaned closer, and whispered, “But I’m afraid I misplaced my spatula.”
Oh, Lord, not again. Emily glanced at the fireman, a guy from their church.
He greeted her with a nod and glanced down at Aunt Grace, his drawn brow deepening his look of uncertainty. “You … might want to start by looking in the kitchen.”
Emily let out a pent-up breath and forced a smile. “Good idea, Brad. Thanks.” She smiled into the old woman’s clouded eyes, once the color of autumn sky. “I’ll be right back.”
In the kitchen, another fireman with a clipboard tossed her a nod and kept writing.
She recognized him too, one of Jaye’s recent crushes.
The pungent smell of burnt cookie and melted plastic stung Emily’s nose.
On the counter, a few dozen lemon shortbread cookies stood stacked in tidy rows. The oven door hung open. Inside, a batch of charred cookies rested peacefully, including what was left of the missing spatula, partially melted at a weird angle in the middle like some kind of eclectic pop art. Though every window was open, a gray haze hovered near the ceiling. Aunt Grace’s favorite Nottingham lace curtains fanned the acrid odor with the help of a gentle breeze.
Emily rubbed her tingling nose. After a last glance around the kitchen, she returned to the front room.
“Did ye find it?” Grace asked, still whispering.
“Yes, I did.” Emily couldn’t help a faint smile at her great-aunt’s concern that someone might discover she’d lost a kitchen utensil. Never mind nearly burning down a house. “It’s right where you left it.”
“Ah, good. Thank ye, dearie.” Her soft Scottish brogue and cheerful smile returned.
No harm done.
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Emily’s phone had been oddly silent. Duh—she’d forgotten to turn it back on. She powered it up.
Thirteen messages and voicemails, mostly from Jaye.
Emily dialed her friend, but before the call went through, the red Ranger pulled up out front.
Seconds later, a breathless Jaye burst into the house with Emily’s tote bag and a string of questions that began with how Aunt Grace was doing and ended with which firemen had come out on the call.
Emily tossed her bag onto a chair. “I’m sure Wrangle will be glad to hear you got all the important details.”
“What? It’s a small town.” Jaye smoothed her magenta bangs aside. “That was a totally standard question. And by the way, chica, no answer on the double da—I mean group fun night—counts as a yes.”
“Yes?” Aunt Grace smiled up at Jaye. “Ye’ll stay for tea? I made lemon shortbread.”
“Scottish shortbread? Seriously? Of course I’m staying.” Jaye grinned and linked an arm with Aunt Grace as the old woman rose slowly to her feet.
As Emily fell into step beside them, she tried to catch Jaye’s eye, but her friend wasn’t taking the bait. Jaye was busted for the blind date and she knew it. They’d be having a talk later.
Aunt Grace smiled up at each of them. “Ooh, this is lovely. We’ll have tea and read Maggie’s letter together.”
Emily sucked in air between her teeth. “I’m not sure if there was a letter from Scotland today.” She darted to the chair for her tote bag and shuffled through the contents for the mail she’d tossed in on her way to work. She sorted through bills and junk and spotted it: the prized envelope, complete with extra postage and airmail stamps, a Scottish postmark, and addressed in Ian MacLean’s usual block print. Emily took it into the kitchen and waved it like a winning lottery ticket.
Aunt Grace was already making tea for “The Reading.”
“Amazing.” Emily aimed a smile at Jaye. “I have no idea how she knows.”
Grace heated water, while Emily set out a serving tray and collected cream, sugar, and spoons.
Jaye snatched up the envelope and studied it. “MacLean. Hmm. Such a good, strrrrong Scottish name,” she said in an exaggerated burr. “So what kind of property do they have in Scotland, these relatives of yours? A manor house? A castle? Ooh—a gothic castle with secret passageways.”
With a laugh, Emily tucked napkins under a saucer on the tray. “Well, first off, they’re Aunt Grace’s relatives, not mine. Secondly, it’s a small farm in the lowlands. And third—”
“Wait—you’re not part of the MacLean clan?”
“Nope, sorry.” She laughed again at the pouty look on Jaye’s face. In a small way, she shared her friend’s disappointment. Though Emily had no roots in Scotland, the idea of being part of a clan had always appealed to her. Clansmen—and women—must feel a deep sense of history, of family. Of belonging.
“Oh, dear—” Aunt Grace squeaked.
Emily dropped what she was doing and rushed to her aunt’s side.
The teakettle Grace held in her good hand had dribbled hot water.
Emily held her breath as the old woman slowly poured the rest of the boiling water into a teapot.
When Grace finished without mishap, she turned and beamed a smile up at Emily. “Did ye hear, Emmy? Ian sent a letter.”
“Yes, I heard.” Emily smiled down at her aunt’s wrinkly face. Even though her mind was sometimes a bit fuzzy, Aunt Grace was still a kind, gentle soul.
Jaye filled a rose-patterned plate with some of the pre-burn cookies. “Who’s Ian?”
“Maggie’s grandson.” Grace sighed. “Such a dear, kind mon. And so dependable, watching over my sister Maggie and her farm. Poor laddie.”
“Really? Why ‘poor laddie’?” Jaye’s eyes lit up. Typical drama junkie.
Emily carried cups and saucers to the tray. “She probably means because he’s widowed. But I think it happened a long time ago. In fact,” Emily said, turning to her aunt with a laugh, “I don’t think he would consider himself much of a laddie, Aunt Grace. He’s old enough to have traveled all over the world. And in one of his letters he called himself a hermit.”
Jaye’s eyes widened. “This could be seriously cool. Or …” She made a lizard-tongue face and shuddered.
Emily paused with a teacup in each hand. “What?”
“I mean, like what kind of hermit are we talking about? A fat, hairy, old Friar Tuck, or a gorgeous Johnny Depp The Writer in a cabin?”
Warring images from Robin Hood and The Secret Window sprang to Emily’s mind. “So those are our only options? Not that it matters—”
“Oh, it matters, Em. You need to know what you’re dealing with.”
Aunt Grace turned to Jaye. “Ian is a writer.” She nodded. “A very good one.”
“Hey, all right.” Jaye grinned. “Johnny Depp in a cabin.”
“I saw that movie, Jaye. He was a homicidal psycho.”
“Tsss.” She tossed the comment aside with a wave of her hand. “A gorgeous psycho.”
Emily shook her head.
“What?” Jaye threw her an innocent look. “I’m just sayin’. Are you sure Ian isn’t your third cousin twice removed or something?”
Checking to see if her aunt was listening, Emily lowered her voice. “Grace was my great-uncle Thomas’s second wife. I’m not related to her, her sister, or any of her relatives.”
Jaye shrugged a sigh. “Bummer. You could’ve at least gotten a haunted castle out of the deal.”
When tea was ready, Aunt Grace shuffled to the small front room and settled into her chair. Jaye carried in the teapot and placed it on the coffee table while Emily brought the tray of cups, cookies, cream, and sugar. She set Grace’s saucer with her cup and cookie on the end table.
The old woman slowly unfolded a napkin with her left hand and laid it across her lap. Her right hand remained curled against her abdomen in a permanent upward turn as though she carried an invisible handbag everywhere she went.
Jaye plopped down on the braided rug and sat cross-legged while Emily sank into the pillowy-soft loveseat and tucked her feet beneath her. As she pulled the band from her ponytail and shook out her hair, she caught Aunt Grace watching her. Emily kept a straight face and unfolded the letter. “Okay, Aunt Grace, are you ready?”
“Aye. Read it aloud, please, dearie.”
Emily chuckled. She always read the letters aloud. As she smoothed out the folded pages, Ian’s familiar handwriting broadened her smile. She looked forward to these letters from Grace’s sister almost as much as Grace did, especially now that Ian wrote them on Maggie’s behalf. His writing always conveyed a quiet sort of charm and subtle humor.
And Grace seemed pleased that Ian wrote the letters now because he gave a more accurate report of what Margaret Agnes Buchanan MacLean was really up to.
Sometimes a little too accurate.
Emily read the letter. “Dear Aunt Grace & Emily, we just read your last letter and Maggie insists I reply at once, as usual. She says you’re very welcome and she’s relieved to know you’ll now have a proper cup of Scottish tea. I imagine you have perfectly good tea in America, but Maggie won’t hear of you drinking it, so if you do, please don’t mention it.” Emily raised an eyebrow at the other two women.
“Ooh, no.” Grace shook her head. “We won’t mention that.”
Jaye lifted her teacup in a toast and followed with a loud slurp.
“In answer to your question,” Emily read on, “yes, Maggie approves of the new minister. She says he’s ‘a wee rickle o’ bones,’ but since the woman is nearly blind, I’m afraid to ask how she knows that.”
“Och, Maggie!” Grace dropped her cookie.
Emily bit her lip and focused on the page. “So to fatten him up, she bakes a pie for him every Saturday. Which means I stay close to the house and keep an eye on what might end up in the pie before it goes into the oven. But, what I miss, I miss, and if the minister is as godly a man as she claims he is, he won’t flinch at finding a chicken feather or a lock of Maggie’s hair in it.”
Jaye wrinkled her nose and mouthed ewww at Emily.
“Ooh, aye, Maggie loves to bake,” Aunt Grace said with a nod. “She’s happiest when there’s a full house to feed.”
“Yummy, I can just imagine.” Emily winced, then read on. “This year’s berry crop is off to a great start, maybe our best one ever. As long as Maggie doesn’t get any more ideas about hauling the berries down to the village in the old farm truck. I still don’t know—”
Emily skipped over “how she didn’t end up in the loch” with a peek at Grace and read the next line.
“Don’t worry, Aunt Grace. Since I was finally allowed to move up from the cottage to the farm house, your sister has found it harder to put her hands on things that get her into trouble. Things like truck keys and butcher knives. Do you remember the incident with the estate agent’s car?”
Aunt Grace nodded solemnly.
“Well, as far as Maggie knows,” Emily continued, “the axe has mysteriously gone missing too. All that to say Scotland is now a much safer place to visit.”
“Such a good, kind lad.” Grace sighed.
“Yeah. Good old Johnny.” Jaye’s eyebrows danced.
Emily answered with an eye-roll. “Speaking of visiting, Maggie is pleased that Grace has made such excellent progress after the stroke. Since she’s doing so well now, Maggie is in desperate need for Grace to come ho—”
Home? A gasp slipped out as Emily paused on the word. Holding her breath, she skimmed over the rest of the letter. Ian wrote that Maggie eagerly awaited Grace’s arrival in Scotland and that he would do whatever was needed to help Aunt Grace make the move.
“What? What else does it say?” Jaye asked.
Emily could only shake her head vaguely as she read the last paragraph to herself. There was plenty of room in the house for Grace, and Ian would gladly move out of the house and back into the old cottage. He repeated Maggie’s insistence that Grace come home soon—the sooner, the better. She looked up.
Grace seemed content to sip her tea, but Jaye frowned and held out a hand for the letter.
“We need more tea, Jaye. Come help me.” Emily rose and headed to the kitchen while Jaye scrambled up from the floor and followed.
Once they were in the kitchen and out of earshot, alarm deepened Jaye’s frown. “What’s wrong? What did he write?”
Emily shushed her and handed the letter over. As Jaye scanned the last lines on the page, Emily peeked around the doorway and checked on her great-aunt.
When Jaye finished, she locked eyes with Emily. “So?”
“So?” Emily spoke in a tight whisper. “Did you see what it said? Maggie wants Grace to move to Scotland.”
“Yeah, I saw that. So?” Jaye looked genuinely confused.
Which set off a little burst of panic in Emily. She shouldn’t have to explain it to Jaye, of all people. “Isn’t it obvious? She’s eighty-six. She can’t just pack up and go tearing off to another country.”
Frowning, Jaye looked at the letter again. “Sounds like Maggie really needs her. Maybe she should go. I mean, they’re sisters and they haven’t seen each other in a long time.”
Mouth agape, Emily stared at her friend.
“Come on, think about it, Em. The sooner Aunt Grace is back with her real family, the sooner you can pack up the selfless-caregiver routine and start thinking about yourself.”
“Real family?” Adrenaline forced her words into a hot whisper. “She’s my family too.”
“I thought you said she was like your step-aunt or something.”
“That’s not the point.” Her pulse kicked up a notch. “Family is about more than blood. She was there when I needed her. She’s been like a mom to me for the last thirteen years and I owe her. She depends on me now, and I’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe. Traveling halfway across the world is totally out of the question.”
Jaye pinned her with a wide-eyed stare.
“I don’t expect you to understand, Jaye. But trust me. I know what’s best.”
Her friend’s left brow arched. “Best for whom?”
Aunt Grace. Who else? A sudden tightening in her throat made swallowing hard. She frowned.
After another brief scan of the letter, Jaye handed it back. “I get it.”
“Yeah. Since your mom died and your dad will barely speak to you, Aunt Grace is all the family you have.”
It was hard enough to force visits on a dad who clearly didn’t want them. But for her best friend to point it out was like chucking salt in the wound. She hoped the rush of heat in her face didn’t look as red as it felt. “Jaye, that’s not—”
“Emmy?” Aunt Grace’s gentle, creaky voice carried from the other room.
“Listen, Em. I know you mean well and all, but she’s entitled to—”
“The absolute best possible care.” Stiffening, Emily sneaked another peek around the doorway. Grace was brushing cookie crumbs from her lap. Emily drew a deep breath and expelled it along with whatever Jaye was implying. “And that’s why traveling overseas is totally out of the question.”
“Jaye, she’s not strong enough to make a trip like that. Think about it. The risk of getting sick multiplies with travel, especially for the elderly. It’s dangerous. At her age, even a simple cold could be … you know … fatal.” Clearly Jaye didn’t know what it meant to hold someone’s life in her hands. The weight of being solely responsible for another person was something Jaye had never borne. But Aunt Grace’s health and welfare were things Emily didn’t take lightly.
Maybe one day Jaye would understand.
“Emmy?” Grace called out again. “Are ye getting paper so we can write back now?”
“Yes, I’m coming.” Emily leaned close to Jaye and whispered, “I really do feel sorry for Maggie, but there is no way Aunt Grace is moving to Scotland.”
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