Thank you for reading, I hope you have enjoyed this story so close to my heart.

Catch-up on the first installments here: Stay-Part 1, Stay-Part 2, Stay-Part 3.

Stay  – Part 4

“Ex-wife. You took all of the wedding gifts except my family heirlooms when we split.” The vein in his forehead pulsed. Michael bit the inside of his cheek to keep from ordering her out of his home.

Emma faltered for just a moment busying herself putting away the groceries. His ex was gorgeous and probably good at everything. Emma felt every one of her one hundred thirty….”Okay, one hundred forty pounds. YOU are not the intruder,” her inner voice reminded her. With a confidence she wasn’t sure she felt, Emma smiled and opened a beer.

“I’m Emma. Giesla? That’s beautiful. German?” She handed Michael the bottle, in a valiant attempt to occupy his mind with something other than the death daggers he was shooting at this woman. “Can I get you a glass of wine? Some sweet tea? It’s the house wine of the South you know.” She really was nervous.  Quoting Steel Magnolias??

“My mother claims I was conceived in Vienna.” Giesla had the air of someone used to impressing others with her family travels or money. “Everyone calls me Gee-Gee. The south of what exactly?” Michael bristled and she couldn’t hide the self-satisfied smirk. She could still get under his skin.

Emma smiled and chuckled, “Bless your heart.”  You bitch!  Despite her offer she poured only one glass of wine for herself. “Will you join US for dinner? I’m making pecan pie.”

She stepped in front of Michael, drawing his free arm around her waist, and leaned her head back against his chest. He was stunned to realize how easily she intentionally positioned herself between him and his ex-wife.

“No. Thank you,” Giesla said with a slight hesitation. She had expected a scene. Or at least for the short American to be intimidated into leaving her alone with Michael. It hadn’t taken long for the gossips to tell her about his companion on the boat and then again at his mother’s house for tea. “I was just looking for…”

“A silver platter.” Emma picked up a key off the table, labeled “other flat”. “It was nice of you to bring Michael his key back, too.”

Giesla’s blue eyes flashed. Michael could feel Emma’s heart pounding, and a strange calm washed over him. Geisla couldn’t touch him. She couldn’t seduce him with promises of reconciliation or break his heart again. He took a long drink of his beer.

“Was there anything else?” He tightened his hold on Emma.

Geisla was startled by the emptiness in his voice. No anger. No regret.  Her gaze ran over him. She didn’t remember him looking this good when they were married, even with the midge bites on his arms and neck. If she’d been able to get him alone, she certainly would have made herself more than available to him as she’d done in the months after the divorce, dangling the carrot of working things out when she was lonely or just sexually frustrated. When she finally looked back to his face, he was looking at Emma.

“No. Just the platter. It’s probably at my mother’s.”

“I’ll see you out then.” Three strides had his door open, ushering her out.

As soon as the door closed, Emma braced herself on the counter, gulping air into her lungs. Outside, Michael said little more than good-bye to his ex-wife. His mind was on the woman inside. Like all good Scots he could, when called upon, spin a tale worthy of his heritage. However, when the time came to speak his mind or his heart, he was cautious. Deliberate. Word and deed were one and the same. Watching Emma compose herself at his kitchen sink only three words came to mind. Three words, that would, if spoken, cut him to the bone and make her boarding the train in thirty-six hours as painful as any betrayal.

“I’m sorry about that.” He pushed her hair aside to kiss her neck.

“It’s Okay. She had to get a look at me,” leaning back, feeling a surge of strength from him.

“Save this. Let’s go out. Put on your red dress and let me take you dancing.”

“It will take me an hour to get ready.”

“Then you best get going.” He smacked her lightly on the rear end.

Forty-five minutes later she twirled out of the bedroom only to be struck dumb. The black sport coat was cut perfectly to his body, the crisp white of the shirt accentuating the deep honey color of his skin. Black jeans hugged the length of his thighs. She covered her mouth in a fit of giggles.

“Holy crap you’re beautiful!”

“Isn’t that my line?”

Still shaking her head in disbelief, “Not tonight.”

He took her to an American-style Chinese restaurant, then to a club with a live band. She suspected it was packed on the weekends, but tonight they were often alone on the dance floor. At last call the lead singer stepped to the microphone.

“This is for the pretty lady in the red dress.” Michael led her to the floor softly swaying to the cover of Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight”.

Her body hummed with wine and desire. She tried not to let the tears fall and her eyes shimmered when she looked up into his. “Michael I…I, this was wonderful.”

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She thought she saw something in his face. Some disappointment. Was he expecting her to say something else? It would be foolish to lose her heart so far from home and to someone she wasn’t sure felt the same. There wasn’t enough wine to make that mistake again.

Later, she lay spent in his arms listening to him drift to sleep. Her body still tingled with the memory of his, the way his hands had learned to caress her, his mouth devour her. She shivered, recalling his scruff against her skin and the way he watched her face in that moment of release.

Softly she whispered, “I love you Michael.”

He stared at the ceiling, her secret booming in his ears.

***

The next morning, he wrapped his arms around her, kissed the shell of her ear, nibbled the column of her neck. She sighed, lost in that state between dreams and wakefulness. Lying awake in the night he’d thought to spend the morning at work. The physical labor gave his mind the freedom to look beyond the present. However, the present was making soft sexy noises and pressing the soft curve of her bottom against him.

She mumbled his name, twisting her arm to feel his morning stubble on her palm. He cupped her breast, relishing the way she responded to his every touch. A part of him wondered if she had always been like this. His hand squeezed her possessively knowing instinctively the answer was no.

Emma felt like she was floating. The coarse hair on his thighs, tiny fingers caressing as they molded perfectly behind her. Heat pooled at her center, when his hand tightened over her already aching peak.

“I have to go to work for a bit, love.”

“Now?”

He chuckled. “I didn’t want to wake you but I couldn’t keep my hands to myself.”

She rolled onto her stomach and looked back at him, blinking sleep away from her eyes. “What a nice thing to say.” He leaned in to kiss her. “Wait. Let me brush first.”

She slipped a t-shirt over her head and walked to the bathroom, half-moon slivers of flesh peeking out from beneath the hem, tempting him. He rubbed his hand viciously over his head. I can’t think with her doing that.

He was buttoning the fly on his jeans when she returned. She tried and failed to hide her disappointment.

“I’ll be back in a few hours.”

“Okay. ” She tried to be casual while the clock in her head ticked off the hours she had left with him. “I’ll find something to do.” She began sorting through her suitcase.

He pulled her against him and kissed her hard, hoping she would feel what he couldn’t explain. That he needed time away from her in order to put her on that train to London. Instead, he felt her heart, there in her kiss, in her touch. He carried it with him as he drove to Loch Lomond.

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“DA! Ye owe me twenty pound!” Duncan yelled when Michael walked around the work shed to the boat restoration they were working on.

John looked over the railing. “Have you come to sell your third?”

“Sell? Why?” Michael asked.

“Ma thinks you’re going to America,” Duncan winked at him as he tinkered with a piece of the motor.

“No. I’m not leaving.”

“So she made her train then?” John said without raising his head from place he was scrubbing clean.
“Not until tomorrow,” Michael took the scrub brush from his father. “She’s still at my flat.”

Duncan jumped up. “What the hell are you doing here? We can do this.”

“Go home son. Take care of your business.”

“This is my business. I haven’t worked in five days.”

“Daft bugger. Da you should a drowned him at birth,” Duncan muttered.

“Have you told the lass?” John asked so low it was almost a whisper.

“Told her what?”

“I didn’t think dropping you once would have made you stupid thirty some odd years later.” Exasperation raised the volume with each word.

Duncan’s voice echoed inside the shell of the boat. “Have you told her you love her?”

“No.” Michael didn’t need to ask how they knew. He was almost certain the only one who didn’t know he loved her was Emma.

John took the cleaning brush out of his hand. “You’re rubbing the paint off that spot.” He put his arm around Michael and pushed him back the way he’d come. “Go take care of your business son.”

Out of view, he leaned against the shed, fishing a cigarette out of his coat pocket. As he tapped the package against his hand he realized he hadn’t had a light since he offered to give her a ride. Why? Did she ask you not too? No. He crumpled the pack, tossing it into a trash bin.

“He’s got it bad.” Duncan said over his shoulder, watching his younger brother kick a few rocks as he walked to his car. “You think he’ll tell her? Ask her to stay? Go over there?”

“Who knows? After that last one, I was surprised he even looked.” John nudged his eldest back to work with a final hopeful glance over his shoulder.

***

The aroma of cooked sugar and nuts reached him on the street. Her pie was cooling on the table. The pecan halves placed so it looked more like a sunflower than dessert. Flour still sprinkled her hair as she jumped into his arms.

They tried to pretend it wasn’t their last day. That afternoon, they went to an art gallery in her tourist book. She cooked him steak and potatoes for supper and giggled when he made a production out of eating her pecan pie.

They spent the next hours kissing, touching, exploring and playing with each other like they’d been given a new toy. In the hours before their last morning together, Michael made love to her slow and deep.

Emma lay awake, listening to his steady breathing, watching his mouth twitch with dreams. He opened his eyes to find her lost in thought.

“Where do ye go?”

“What?”

“Tilting windmills?”

“Sometimes.” She slid into the niche of his arm, “I was thinking about… never mind.”

He cuddled her tenderly. “Come on. Tell me.”

She heard the words from Duncan’s ferry, “…me and my true love will never meet again, on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”

I was thinking of that song. Softly she sang the lyric, slightly off key. Michael thought she had a voice for lullabies.

He pulled her up, kissing her so tenderly, she felt tears behind her closed lids.

“Oh, love.” Tilting her chin to capture her lips with his. She felt the slight quiver of his mouth on hers, tasted her own tears betraying the emotions raging inside. The clock ticked away her remaining hours. With limbs tangled in the morning light, they let their bodies speak words they were too afraid to say.

Michael woke to bright sunlight covering an empty bed. Again, he was surprised at how much that annoyed him. He saw her suitcases beside the sofa. A dark blue t-shirt and jeans laid over the top. Only her small cosmetic bag was missing. She was in the shower. Singing? He opened the bathroom door. Not singing, crying.

The hot water had turned cold. Emma gripped the temperature knobs just to stay on her feet. She didn’t feel the water only an overwhelming sadness. Alone, she had let the sorrow take over and sobs wracked her body. She screamed when he pulled the curtain back, then flew into his arms.

“Shhhh.” He held her dripping and crying. Wrapping a towel around her, he set her on top of the toilet seat. “What’s wrong?” She shook her head. “Emma. Talk to me.”

Through hic-ups and deep breaths she managed an awkward smile, “It’s stupid.”

He had to fold his body into thirds to kneel in front of her. But he did it, tilting her chin to meet his eyes. “It isn’t stupid. Those aren’t ‘I nicked myself shaving’ tears.”

Her bright blue-green eyes filled again. “I missed you.” She fought another sob. “Then I started thinking about tomorrow. And the day after.” She wiped her eyes on the towel. “I miss you so much.”

“I’m right here, love.” He knew exactly what she meant and hugged her close.

“You won’t be tonight or tomorrow.” She felt so juvenile. She should be more in control. More practical about this. They both knew she was leaving when they started this.

Blinking back his own emotions he kissed her damp hair, then her eyes, finally her mouth. Her lips trembled beneath his. His mouth moved, but the words weren’t there.
Sitting back, he cupped her face in his hands. Wet strands clung to her forehead, her eyes were red and puffy, her chin quivered holding back the next outburst. He had to tell her.

“I love you.” She looked startled. Unsure if she’d heard him correctly. His hands shook waiting for her reply. He kept talking. “I love you and want you to stay.”

“Michael, my job. My family.”

“Do you love me?” He searched her face, the pause as she took a breath stealing the air from his lungs.

“Yes. I love you.” She almost laughed at the smile on his face.

“Jobs and family can be managed.” He pulled her to her feet, kissed her hands. “Change the words to Loch Lomond. Stay.”

 

Epilogue

<File, Save As, Short Story “STAY”, Save>

Emma blows out the breath she’d been holding, and closes the laptop.

“Mommy!”

“Up here, Sweet Pea.”

She can tell by the heavy footfalls and excited giggling, their three year old is being air-planed up the stairs. Four years, a bit more salt in the scruff and at his temples, a touch fuller in his cheeks and Michael still takes her breath away. The wrinkled white button up shirt and faded black jeans only accentuate the sun-kissed color of his skin and legs she aches to feel entwined with hers every night.

Just as he does every time he enters or leaves their home, Michael leans over to kiss her, long and deep. And as she promised beneath the tree at Hermitige Castle, Emma kisses back. Every time. Whether learned or instinctual, their son waits his turn, then puckers his tiny mouth when Da’s lips leave hers.

Lately, they have created a new ritual, bending to kiss and gently caress the new bump of Emma’s belly. Michael’s hand, calloused, almost covering the span cocooning his next child, and a tiny version of it patting the sibling within. Their son’s high clear voice echoes the phrase he’s heard before.

“Wee bairn. I’m big bairn.”

“Aye, lad ye are that.” Michael kisses the close cropped fair hair. It killed the grandmothers when he insisted they cut his blonde curls in favor of a cut like Da’s at the tender age of two.

“The story finished, luv? Did ye use my real name?” Michael grinned.

“I did. No one would believe me if I didn’t,” Emma said.

“Wets go!” The toddler tugs her hand, tipping his body over Michael’s arm towards the door.

“Where are we going?” she asks, winking at her husband.

“Say-win Mommy. On bonnie bonnie banks.”

Michael air-planes him back to the ground floor, reaching back in time to give Emma his hand on the last few stairs.

Green eyes that match his father’s look over the broad shoulder carrying him and he reaches for Emma’s cheek. Another mimicked gesture of affection.

“Sing it Mommy.”

Michael begins, “Oh! Ye’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road, and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye.”

Emma finishes the line, slipping her hand into Michael’s, “For it’s here I found my true love and here I’ll always be. On the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”

Family-RFThe End