Home > Grace Under Fire (Buchanan-Renard #14)

Grace Under Fire (Buchanan-Renard #14)
Author: Julie Garwood

 

 

ONE


   Isabel MacKenna had a hundred things to do today. Killing someone wasn’t one of them.

   She had such high hopes this morning when she dragged herself out of bed at the ungodly hour of five a.m. She had made detailed plans for the day that lay ahead, and she would have sailed through them if two unfortunate incidents hadn’t waylaid her. The first was an irritating inconvenience; the second, a terrifying nightmare.

   Scheduled to take an early flight on a no-frills, but supercheap airline to Boston, she arrived at the airport in plenty of time to go through security. She was dressed for comfort in a pair of snug jeans and a light pink T-shirt. Her long blond hair was up in a ponytail, and she wore a Red Sox baseball cap her brother-in-law, Dylan, had given her. She checked her luggage, which was packed for a trip to Scotland the following week, and carried her backpack that held everything she would need for the next few days. It was so stuffed she was pretty sure it weighed more than she did. The first time she attempted to swing it over her shoulder she nearly did a backflip. Fortunately, once she was on the plane, another passenger helped her lift it into the overhead compartment.

   She had been assigned a window seat, and she planned to go to sleep as soon as the plane took off. In hindsight, perhaps her expectations were naive. From past experience she had learned that there was never anything smooth or easy about flying, and today was no exception. Once she boarded, she was trapped, and a flight that should have taken a little under three hours ended up taking seven and a half, thanks to the fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants airline and the mechanical problems they were sure maintenance could fix in no time at all. The captain made the passengers sit on the plane for two full hours before they were allowed to go back into the terminal to continue their wait while repairs were completed. After another grueling hour passed, they were told a relief plane was being flown in to take them to Boston. Apparently, the fix-it-in-no-time-at-all plane couldn’t be fixed.

   It was a miserable flight. It began with Isabel plastered up against the window while two overly friendly college students in the seats next to her took turns hitting on her. They seemed to be in some sort of competition to hold her attention and get her phone number. One was in his seventh year at a college in Arizona. In the course of his monologue he sheepishly admitted he still didn’t have enough credits to graduate. The other one was in his third year at Colorado State and had changed his major so many times he couldn’t remember what it now was. Isabel thought maybe there was a little something extra baked into the cookies he was munching on. She was pretty sure he was stoned.

   Being polite to the nonstop talkers took effort, for exhaustion was pressing down on her . . . and no wonder. She had gotten only three hours of sleep the night before, and the last several weeks had been brutal, with papers due and finals to study for, not to mention packing up almost everything she owned and shipping it back home to Silver Springs, South Carolina, leaving only some of her clothes and personal items. Finally, graduation. She had hoped both of her sisters would be there for the ceremony, but Kiera, the older of the two, was in the middle of a demanding medical residency and couldn’t take time off from work to attend. Her other sister, Kate, and her husband, Dylan, were there to see her walk across the stage and get her diploma. She was on her way now to meet them at Nathan’s Bay, Dylan’s family home just outside Boston. Judge and Mrs. Buchanan, Dylan’s parents, were celebrating their anniversary, and their big family was gathering for the occasion. Isabel was happy to be invited to the festivities. The Buchanans were so warm and welcoming, and she looked forward to a week of fun and relaxation.

   Then she and Kate were off to Scotland to see Glen MacKenna, the property she would soon inherit from her crusty and—she had it on good authority—horribly mean great-uncle. The land was located in the Highlands, and Isabel was anxious to see it. Kate and Dylan had given her the trip as a graduation present.

   After she returned from Scotland, her plans were uncertain. Maybe the trip would give her some insight into what her future would be.

   Once the plane was in flight to Boston and the incessant chattering of her seatmates had died down, Isabel rested her head against the porthole window. She was feeling horrible. She had thrown up—a couple of times, as a matter of fact—as soon as she’d rolled out of bed, and now her head was pounding. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep, but the drummer banging away on the inside of her eyelids wouldn’t let up.

   She had no one but herself to blame for her misery. She shouldn’t have gotten hammered last night. It was unlike her to overindulge, and yet, if she was being completely honest, it had been totally worth her aches and pains today. Leaning back against the headrest with her eyes still closed, she thought about how much fun she’d had with her friends at Finnegan’s, their favorite hangout a couple of blocks from campus.

   It had been a fantastic night. Damon, her friend since freshman year, had banged on her door at nine o’clock, and for once in her life she was ready. Since this was the last time she and all of her friends would be together, she had decided to get dressed up, and because she was in the mood to look sexy, she wore her new royal blue, V-neck dress that showed a little cleavage. Her only jewelry was a bracelet of stacked multicolored beads and a pair of gold hoop earrings. Instead of using hair clips to hold the thick curls away from her face, she had let them fall around her shoulders. No muss, no fuss.

   She opened the door wide for Damon to enter. As usual he looked gorgeous. She often told him that he could be a model because of his perfect physique and profile. He was tall and lean with broad shoulders and enough muscles to fill out a T-shirt. When he smiled, women melted into pools of lust, and yet, as handsome as he was, Isabel had never felt a single spark of sexual attraction. As to that, she was beginning to think there might be an issue. In her four years at Winthrop College she had never gone head over heels for any of the men she’d dated. They were all fun to be with, and some were quite good-looking, but there was never any electricity. Without some kind of sexual connection, she had refused to go to bed with any of them, which earned her a couple of unflattering nicknames. None of them fazed her. Some, in fact, made her laugh.

   Damon gave Isabel the once-over and nodded his approval. “I can’t believe you’re on time.”

   Isabel grabbed her phone and keys, tucked them into her bag, and said, “I’m always on time. You’re just always early.”

   Laughing, he gently nudged her out the door. After making sure it was locked, he followed her outside to his car.

   “Are we going to pick up Lexi and Owen?” she asked, referring to two of their closest friends.

   “No, they’re already at the club.”

   Once they were on their way, she turned and put her hand on his arm. “We’re all going in different directions tomorrow. I’m really going to miss you, Damon. You’ve been such a good friend. I don’t want you to forget me.”

   He shook his head. “That’s not possible. You’re unforgettable, Isabel.”

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