But this wasn’t a perfect world.
The small cottage she’d been sent to “tidy-up” stared at her with broken windows, exterior walls missing slats of wood and stone, and a thousand years of neglect. Uncontrolled grasses choked the once vibrant and sweet-smelling gardens. Her sanctuary, Nan had called it? Maybe sometime in the last century.
Rachel dropped her suitcases and flexed her fingers. She’d come to do a little dusting, a little washing and poof, she’d have the cottage ready for Nan’s return. But this...eyesore required extensive renovations. As a technical analyst for the International Protective Network, Rachel worked with computers and digital research. Manual labor was way out of her comfort zone.
Thunder crackled above, and Rachel squinted up to the sky. An impending storm prepared to drench her at any moment. Not that it would make much difference. She’d soaked herself through when she’d rowed out to this isolated, pathetic piece of dirt.
She shivered against the cursed wind, ran her fingers through her hair and blew out a slow breath. Now what?
She’d given up her seat in front of a flat screen and a keyboard back in Edinburgh to execute Nan’s fanciful ideas of returning to Sunderland. Rachel had agreed only because it was for Nan, but...
“This, I did not sign up for.” Tears pricked at the corners of her wind-burned eyes, threatening to rip her resolve to shreds. Getting here had been hard enough. It wasn’t fair that her island of paradise looked like the summer cottage from a teenage horror movie.
Rachel took a cleansing breath. She wouldn’t panic. Solving problems was her specialty, after all. “Well, computer problems, anyway,” she mumbled.
“A bit of a disappointment, I expect.” A rich, deep voice with a twinge of an English accent drifted from the trees behind her.
Rachel whirled around. Her hair whipped against her cheeks and made her wish for the hundredth time today she hadn’t packed all her hair clips.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
The stranger paused beside the edge of the clearing, and her heart stopped in her chest. Although no one would mistake him for a Hollywood leading man, this man could command attention by stepping into a room. Or onto an island.
“That’s okay. You didn’t.” She let her gaze wander over him.
He kept his hands stuffed into the front pockets of faded blue jeans. The gray long-sleeved shirt he wore blew in the wind, outlining the contours of a well-defined chest, while unruly light brown hair touched the collar of his shirt. High cheekbones accented his deep-set eyes. Not friendly eyes, but no threat lay behind them either, at least none she could uncover.
He pulled a hand from his pocket and held it out. “Aidan Camden of Dawson Tours, your neighbor from across the water.” He inclined his head back the way he’d come.
Camden. His name sounded familiar, but why? Rachel shook his hand with a hint of hesitation. “Rachel Grant.”
His fingers warmed her skin, his grip strong and confident. Awareness trailed along her arm.
Then again, it could be the accent that made her skin tingle. British accents never failed to stir her emotions.
A trace of a smile danced on his lips. “Aye, the American.”
Her eyes widened. “You know of me?”
A low rumble of laughter slipped from his mouth, the sound relaxing her from deep within. “Word travels fast here. I saw you paddling your way out.”
No, he’d seen her fighting with the oars. Until today she’d never set foot on a boat, much less held an oar. But Rachel would consider swimming across the Atlantic Ocean if it would make Nan happy. "
"Tell me, Mr. Camden, are you in the habit of following foreigners?”
“No, lass, but you’re all the talk of the Roker area, the mighty Grant descendant, come to see about selling the family cottage.”
Selling? Rachel lifted one eyebrow, pulled on the corner of her lower lip and turned to stare at the building. Nobody in his right mind would plunk down hard-earned British pounds for this place.
“I was beginning to wonder if your family would ever agree to sell it,” he continued as he moved past her toward the wreck. He set his hands on his hips and gazed over the cottage.
Rachel aimed her eyes lower, to study the back of him, until an uncomfortable knot began to form in her stomach.
Camden. Aidan Camden.
Alarms sounded off in her head. She folded her arms across her chest. “So you’re the one.”
“Eh?” Aidan turned back.
“My grandmother said someone’s been harassing her to sell.” Okay, harassing was Rachel’s word based on Nan’s ranting and raving, but still. “It’s been you, hasn’t it?”
He recoiled as if she’d slapped him. “I’ve done nothing of the sort. I’ve only enquired about purchasing the property since no one’s been here in years.”
The need to defend what belonged to Nan surged within her. She closed her fingers into fists. “Mr. Camden, I’m sorry you’ve been misinformed. I’m not here to sell my grandmother’s cottage. I’m here to get it ready for her. I’m bringing her back.”
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