O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock The meat it feeds on.
—William Shakespeare, Othello
She was stunning. Her glossy black hair was drawn back into a high ponytail that dropped in a shining cascade beneath her hat. The shade from the brim did nothing to dim either the sparkle of her blue eyes or the radiance of the perfect smile with which she greeted him.
“Good afternoon, Sergeant,” she said, in a soft voice delicately laced with an endearing lilt that might have drifted in from the Western Isles on the summer breeze. “Constable Dorothy McIver reporting for duty.”
Hamish Macbeth could scarcely believe his eyes. Was this really his new constable? She stood tall and slim in the sunshine outside his cottage police station in Lochdubh, her outline framed by a blush of purple heather on the hillside behind her. She was wearing a black Police Scotland uniform T-shirt, regulation black cargo trousers. and gleaming black boots. It was the sort of modern police uniform that never looks anything more than bulky, ungainly, and utterly inelegant on most police officers—the kind of uniform Hamish thought made policemen look more like binmen—yet on her it clung to the curves of her shapely, athletic figure as though she were on the catwalk of a high-class Paris fashion house. She even managed to make the ugly service belt at her waist, loaded with handcuffs, a collapsible baton, a torch, and various pouches, look like a designer accessory. He became suddenly aware that he was staring at her and he cast his eyes to the pavement, blushing as vividly as the mountain heather.
“Are you all right, Sergeant?” she asked. “Is there something wrong?”
“No, no. It’s chust I neffer . . . I mean I didn’t . . .” His Highland accent always grew more pronounced when he was flustered. “I didn’t expect. . .”
“You didn’t expect a woman?” She folded her arms and gave him a reproachful smile. “No, no . . . no that,” he said quickly. “I chust didn’t expect . . . yourself until tomorrow. Come away in and we’ll have a cup of tea.”
She took a step towards the front door of the police station.
“Ah, no that way,” Hamish said. “It’s jammed with the damp. I’ve been meaning to see to it. The kitchen door is round the side.”
Just as they turned the corner of the building, an odd-looking dog, an assortment of colours and clearly an assortment of breeds, burst through the large flap in the kitchen door and galloped towards them, its big floppy ears flapping like wings and its plume of a tail waving like a flag.
“Lugs!” cried Hamish, stooping to accept the dog’s enthusiastic welcome, then swiftly straightening his lanky frame again, laughing as Lugs dashed past him towards Dorothy. “Aye, well, I reckon he finds you a sight more attractive than me!”
“He’s adorable!” Dorothy smiled, crouching to make a fuss of the delighted Lugs. “And who might that be?”
Sonsie, Hamish’s pet wild cat, slunk through the flap and eyed Dorothy suspiciously.
“That’s Sonsie, my cat.”
“She’s some size,” Dorothy noted. “She looks like a …”
“A wild cat?” Hamish interrupted. “Folk often say that, but she’s just a big tabby.”
Hamish had the Highlanders’ relaxed relationship with the truth. Sometimes a sympathetic lie served the world far better than a savage truth, and being a proficient liar made it easier for him to tell when a witness or a suspect was trying to hoodwink him. You can’t kid a kidder. He had been knocked a little off balance when he first set eyes on Dorothy, but he was now feeling far steadier in his boots.
“She certainly has the look of a wild cat,” said Dorothy, keeping her distance from the beast, as Sonsie’s yellow eyes fixed her with a hypnotic gaze. The big cat narrowed her stare to a look of pure malice and then hissed loudly at Dorothy before sauntering off round the back of the cottage, closely followed by Lugs.
“Have you ever actually seen a wild cat? They’re as rare as haggis teeth.”
“Och, don’t, please,” she laughed. “That’s one to save for the tourists.”
She looked even more beautiful when she laughed. Hamish grinned in response. He’d never had much luck with women, or with his constables for that matter, but he was suddenly filled with a thrill of hope that his luck was about to change.
“Well, wild cats are no often spotted,” he said quickly, keen to maintain a babble of conversation to disguise the fact that he couldn’t keep his eyes off her, “even down at the wild cat sanctuary at Ardnamurchan.”
Hamish had once tried to release Sonsie on the Ardnamurchan peninsula but had been so miserable without her that the locals in Lochdubh were glad when he eventually retrieved her. Lugs and Sonsie were his constant companions, and it was an open secret in the village that Sonsie was more than just a large tabby.
“They’ll be off down the beach to terrorise the seagulls,” said Hamish. “Come ben and we’ll get the kettle on.”
Mary Blair stirred a low-calorie sweetener tablet into her tea and stared out of the tall window towards the River Clyde and the Glasgow cityscape. Tea didn’t taste the same without real sugar but she was watching her weight, determined to drop a dress size and fit more easily into the new clothes she had been buying. She had been amazed when her husband, Detective Chief Inspector Blair, had encouraged her to visit Glasgow’s “Style Mile” around Buchanan Street with a credit card that appeared to have no limit. But Mary hadn’t held back. Her drastically improved wardrobe reflected her drastically improved circumstances. When her husband had been slung out of Strathbane and banished to Glasgow, the best she had expected was a damp and decrepit bungalow in some suburban backwater. Yet this apartment in Hyndland was breathtaking.
Mary knew that her husband’s salary should always have provided a comfortable lifestyle, but his years of drinking and gambling had often left them struggling with the bills. The wife of a detective chief inspector should not have to worry about having her electricity and phone cut off. She knew that things could turn ugly when she complained, but she knew how to handle men like him. Once, when she told him she needed money to pay the gas bill, he had thrown a few notes at her.
“And if that’s not enough”—he had been reeking of cheap whisky and yelling in her face—“you can aye go back on the game!”
She had taken one step back and swung a right hook that laid him out on the living-room floor and blackened his eye. It was true that she had worked the streets. She was no angel, but Hamish Macbeth had saved her from all that and set her up to be married to Blair. That had been her escape from the gutter, but she was still forced to struggle through some hard years. She had seen Blair’s gentler side, but more often than not he kept it well hidden, and he loathed Hamish. Yet, often as not, it had been Hamish who had dug Blair out of whatever hole in which his own ineptitude had left him languishing. Hamish had let her husband take the credit for solving countless crimes where Blair had done more to hinder rather than help the investigation and Hamish was the one who had brought the villains to book. Mary owed a great deal to the big Highlander, yet Hamish wanted none of the glory and nothing for himself. His only ambition was to be allowed to get on with his life, the resident police officer in his beloved Lochdubh, looking after his weird dog and cat, his few chickens, and his handful of sheep up on the hillside.
Relaxing into a large armchair, Mary brushed her foot across the carpet where she had been standing, sweeping away the indentations her feet had left in the deep wool pile. New carpets, new furniture, all chosen to suit the large rooms of their new home. The apartment itself was not new but occupied the top floor of a sandstone tenement building that dated back to the end of the nineteenth century, benefiting from the opulence and grandeur through which the Victorian middle classes had declared their wealth. The rooms had high ceilings with elaborate plasterwork in the cornices and ceiling roses, deep skirting boards and elegant fireplaces. The bay in which Mary now sat extended proudly from the corner of the room, topping the bays on the three floors below to form a grand tower crowned with a slated spire. Its four windows looked out over avenues lined with trees—clean streets that had never known the dismal nocturnal trade that had once been Mary’s lot.
She settled her cup gently in its saucer on a side table. She was never going back to that life. Her husband appeared to have turned over a new leaf. He was working long hours, not only on duty but also at home, where he had taken one of their three bedrooms as an office. Now she seldom saw him without a glass of whisky in one hand and his phone in the other, renewing old contacts from previous years as a young police officer in Glasgow, talking quietly on long calls that rang back and forth throughout the night. She could never actually trust him, of course—past deceits and the wisdom of experience told her that—but for now there was money in the bank and the future looked rosy. She picked up a glossy brochure and began to browse holiday villas in Malaga.
“I’m afraid I haven’t had much of a chance to do any housework since I lost Freddy.” Hamish liked to keep things tidy, but the kitchen was not as clean as it might have been. He fanned a copy of last week’s Sunday Post over one of his kitchen chairs to scatter a little dust and a few crumbs. “Freddy . . . Constable Ross, that is . . . is now the chef at the Tommel Castle Hotel.”
“A chef?” said Dorothy, accepting the seat offered by Hamish. “It must have been nice having someone here to cook for you.”
“Aye, we ate well, no doubt about it.” Hamish filled the kettle, placing it on the stove. “Are you much of a cook yourself?”
“I can rustle up a few things, but cooking surely isn’t part of my duties, is it, Sergeant?”
“No, no, that’s not what I meant at all—and by all means call me Hamish when it’s just the two of us. We can share all of that kind of domestic stuff. There’s not much room around here, though, so you might find it a bit cramped at first.”
“That won’t be a problem. I will—”
“Sergeant Macbeth!” There was no mistaking the booming voice of Mrs. Wellington, the minister’s wife, which thundered through the open kitchen door just before she did so herself. A large woman, clad, as always, in the kind of coarse tweed that looked more like carpet backing than country clothing, Mrs. Wellington glowered at Dorothy. “Who is this?”
“Constable McIver,” Hamish explained, “my new assistant.”
“I see.” Mrs. Wellington exchanged a firm handshake with Dorothy, then turned straight back to Hamish. “We had someone skulking around in the churchyard again last night. After the lead off the church roof, no doubt. I hear they get a fine price for it from the scrap-metal men nowadays.”
“Had you called me straight away,” said Hamish, “I might have been able to catch them.”
“I doubt it. You were nowhere to be found. Perhaps now, however,” she said, looking at Dorothy, “female company might tempt you to spend more time here at your police station.”
“Oh, I won’t be living here,” said Dorothy. “Headquarters didn’t think that would be appropriate, so they have arranged for me to stay at Mrs. Mackenzie’s boardinghouse until I can make other arrangements.”
“That’s entirely as it should be.” Mrs. Wellington took note of Hamish’s crestfallen expression. “Now, what about these thieves, Macbeth?”
“How much did they strip from the roof?”
“Nothing. I chased them off into the dark and heard them drive away in a van.”
“It’ll be those scunners up from Strathbane again. I’ll have a word with the local police. They’ll make sure the lead burglars know we’re watching for them.”
“Please do. Good day, Miss McIver.” Mrs. Wellington departed in a rustle of tweed, and Hamish turned to Dorothy.
“So you’re staying at the Mackenzie place?”
“Yes, temporarily. Is it all right there?”
“Aye, it’s fine. She doesn’t have what you might call ‘top-class clientele’—mainly forestry workers and the like—but it should do you until we can sort something else out for you.”
“Right. Well, I’ll get back there now and finish getting my things out of my car, if that’s okay?”
“Aye, yes, of course, and . . . well, would you be needing any help with that?”
“No, I can manage, thanks.”
As she left, she flashed him another smile, and, had Hamish been a hopeless romantic, his heart would have melted. But part of him was, and part of it did.
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Hamish's new constable, Dorothy McIver, may be the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. Completely bewitched by her sparkling blue eyes, Hamish spends the summer traveling with her up and down Sutherland until finally, he can take it no longer. He gets down on one knee beside the Land Rover and begs her to marry him—and to his amazement and delight, she says yes.
But just as the town of Lochdubh gets ready to celebrate, Hamish finds himself with a new murder on his hands. If he doesn't find the killer fast, Hamish's dream wedding could become a nightmare.