“I’m not going to marry Matthew,” Fiona blurted out.
“I know. Isabel told me. Will you come out from behind that sofa?”
She didn’t think she could.
Euan smiled a tender smile which made it feel as if her stomach was twisting into knots. He held out his hand, and she went to him, covering the short distance as if in a dream. His tanned, callused hand enveloped hers.
“Because I want to tell you that I love you, Fiona.”
She gazed into his eyes, and the world seemed to stop.
“You do?” she whispered.
“I do. I always have, and I always will.”
“Oh, Euan, I love you so much.”
Her tears did not have time to fall, for she was swept into his arms in a passionate embrace which left her breathless in a very new way. His kiss opened up a different world to her, a place where she finally understood all that Ella had said about love.
“I have been such an idiot not to see that what I wanted was under my very nose,” she said. “Will you ever forgive me?”
“There is nothing to forgive. I told you last November, I understood your reasons for leaving Heronsay,” Euan said, planting a kiss on her brow. “What we have to work out now is how to get married without you feeling as if I’ve clipped your wings.”
He wanted to marry her! Happiness was carrying her off in a blissful cloud. It was a moment before Fiona realised that he hadn’t actually asked her, and another before his words sank in.
“Clip my wings?”
“I know how much your nursing means to you.”
She hadn’t given it a thought. It was just as Ella said.
“I don’t care, as long as we are together,” she said.
Euan’s fingers tightened on hers.
“We will be, have no doubt about that,” he said roughly, “but I think you should finish your training first.”
Her mouth fell open in dismay.
“Finish my training! That’s more than a year away. Besides, I want to live on Heronsay with you.”
“I am delighted to hear you say it.” Euan ran his fingers through his hair. “Fiona, you left Heronsay not just because you lost your father, but because you wanted to make something of yourself, and to nurse the sick. I know how much you love your vocation.”
“I love you more.”
“And I love you, more than anything. Which is why we should be prepared to make sacrifices,” Euan said firmly. “Have you heard about my new role? I’m in a position to change things for the better, Fiona, to help take Heronsay into the twentieth century without compromising the old ways. But some of the old ways require changing. Medicine, for example. The island could sorely use a nurse.”
Finally she began to understand what he was saying. A quiver of excitement shook her.
“I’ve talked to the laird. It wasn’t easy to persuade him, but I remembered what you told me about how you went about showing that man Cunningham the cost to an employer of ill health among his workers.”
“You remembered that?” Fiona exclaimed in astonishment. “And you were successful?”
“He’s agreed to pay for you to be established and cover the ongoing costs. It will be a free service for the whole island, Fiona. What do you think?”
“You did this for me?”
“For our future. The future of the island, and of our bairns.” Euan dropped on to his knees before her. “I love you, Fiona Matheson. Will you marry me?”
“I love you with all my heart, Euan McLean. Of course I will.”
Fiona stood proudly outside the little whitewashed kirk which perched on the cliff above the harbour, her new husband by her side. It seemed like the entire population of the island had come to celebrate with them.
“Mrs McLean, you look radiant.” Ella beamed.
“You don’t look so bad yourself,” Fiona replied with a smile. “I take it things are going well.” She indicated John, who was shaking Euan warmly by the hand.
“I’ve never been happier. I’m loving teaching and I’m loving being married. I’ve realised you can have both, if you work at it.”
“I’m delighted to hear it, for that is what I intend for Euan and me. I’m so excited about the future. You know the old saying, Ella, the grass is always greener? Well, for some people it may well be. Morag and Donald, for example. They’re positively thriving in Canada, so much so that Isabel and Gavin are thinking of going out to join them. When I left for Glasgow I thought the grass would be greener there, too, but here I am, having come full circle. Back home.”
Ella kissed her cheek.
“I wish you luck and every happiness. Your parents would be so proud of you.”
“Do you mind if I borrow my wife for a moment?” Smiling at Ella, Euan took Fiona’s hand and led her over to look out over the harbour. On the distant horizon, the expanse of sparkling blue sea met the vast Hebridean sky. Below them, off to the left sat the simple little hut which would serve as her dispensary. A bicycle a wedding gift from Roddy Cunningham leaned against the door. Next to the harbour, the newly constructed fish-canning shed Euan’s latest initiative would soon be opening, providing employment for many.
Euan took Fiona in his arms.
“Happy, Mrs McLean?” he asked her, gazing into her eyes lovingly.
“Perfectly,” she replied, and tilted her head to receive his kiss.