On Heronsay, Euan McLean opened the front door of his croft to let the old year out and the new one in. Sounds of laughter and the tuning of a fiddle were coming from his neighbour’s croft. No ceilidh until tomorrow, but since midnight brought in not only a new century but a new day – a Monday – then many of the islanders had decided that partying could be done.
Euan’s croft was spotless, as was every other on the island, for it was terrible bad luck to greet the New Year in a dirty house. Above the doorway he had tied rowan to ward off the bad spirits. Not that he believed in fairies. He believed you made your own luck, but he also believed in keeping with traditions if they were harmless enough. His mother had been a great one for rowan, and Euan saw no reason not to carry on with the practice, even though she’d been gone some years now.
He had promised to first foot his neighbours – being tall, dark, and the most handsome man on the island, according to Mrs MacFarlane. Though not according to Fiona, or surely she would have stayed. Picking up the whisky bottle he would take with him, Euan cursed himself for a fool. Fiona didn’t love him, and that was that, no point in wondering what Fiona was doing now or who she was with. No point in remembering her here, dancing with him last year.
He closed the door firmly on this memory as he strode out on to the cliff path. This was a new century. Against the odds, the new laird was making some of the right noises. It was he who was hosting the ceilidh tomorrow night. Most of the islanders were willing to give him a chance. So he’d enclosed a few bits of his land, and some of them had lost a wee bit of grazing, but as long as it stopped there, they said, they could handle it.
Euan wanted to believe them, but he couldn’t. There was change in the air, and it wasn’t for the good. But tonight it was a new century, and he must put a brave front on. Smiling, he chapped on the door of the MacFarlanes’ croft and stepped into the party, which looked as if it had been in full swing for some time.
* * * *
Back in Partick, another party was also in full swing. John and Ella were dancing. Fiona, still too much a Highland lass to be happy dancing with strangers, stood in the hallway, breathing in the cool air of the close, cradling her untouched glass of sherry. She was wondering if it would be rude to go home this early, when she saw him coming up the stairs.
“I hope you don’t mind, but it’s so dull over at my parents’ and I wanted to see a real Glasgow New Year.”
“You came all the way over from Pollockshaws?”
“It’s only the south side of the Clyde. You make it sound as if I’ve come from England. Aren’t you pleased to see me?”
“Of course I am.” A mite too glad, if truth be told, Fiona thought, smiling up at Matthew’s handsome face.
He was dressed, as usual, with careless grace, a bright blue polka-dot cravat tied round his neck, his sack coat and waistcoat a dashing burgundy, the ruffles of his shirt peeking out from his coat sleeves. He looked more like a poet or a writer than a doctor, very far from the other stuffy, stilted men of his profession, which was one of the many reasons Francis had taken to him. And one of the many reasons Fiona, too, liked him. She was glad she was wearing a new blouse in her favourite colour.
“I brought some black bun and a bottle,” Matthew said, “but I see you already have a drink.”
“Sherry.” Fiona made a face. “John, my cousin Ella’s fiancé, insisted. What did you bring?”
“A Jura malt.” Matthew smiled wickedly. “Can I tempt you?”
Laughing up at him, Fiona felt the strangest fluttering in her stomach.
“Oh, indeed, you can,” she said, then blushed wildly as she saw the effect her words had.
Matthew took a step towards her. His hand cupped her chin, tilting her face up. He gave her plenty of time to back away, but she didn’t. Her heart was thudding far too fast, making her breathless, but she knew perfectly well what he was doing, and she wanted him to. She wanted him to kiss her.
“Happy New Year,” Matthew whispered, just before his lips met hers.