With her ticket to London purchased for tomorrow, notice sent to Evan about the apartment, and one found almost exactly two miles away, Rory offered to accompany Grace and to drive them there so she could see it. At first she declined, but he seemed so willing to go that she felt it would be nice to have a second opinion, and someone who knew more about housing costs in Scotland than she did.
Rory was tense on the drive over and they didn’t talk, except for him to ask some questions about the apartment – did it have good water, was it in a good neighborhood, were there any hoodrats hanging out on corners ready to assault unsuspecting women.
Actually, he sounded kind of snippy when questioning her, which caught her off guard.
“Is something wrong?” she asked quietly, looking over at him from the passenger seat. He was staring ahead at the road, navigating the short drive from the right side of the SUV.
He glanced at her and then back at the road, his expression betraying nothing besides the sharp shake of his head.
“Are you able to give your deposit today?”
An odd question, but she answered truthfully nonetheless.
“No, I’d rather do a bank transfer or get a cashier’s check for that. Why?”
He shook his head, but she thought she saw some of the tension leaving his body at her answer.
“No reason,” he said softly, and was quiet for the rest of the ride.
The apartment turned out to be quite nice, in a neighborhood that looked as though it would almost be safe enough to leave her doors unlocked. They parked at the curb and waited for a woman with a double jogging stroller and what looked like twins to pass by, waving hello as she passed, before they walked up the walkway and to the front door of the building.
It was miles above the other apartment already, with a manicured lawn out front and flower beds up along the building. The man who greeted them was older but well dressed, and he directed Rory and Grace up the stairs to the second landing, giving her the key so she unlocked the door, but following them up.
“What do ye think of th’ building so far, young lady?” he asked, his accent thicker than Rory’s but still easy to understand. Grace smiled back at him as she unlocked the door, answering honestly.
“It’s a beautiful location, and the neighborhood seems nice. We passed a mom on the way in out jogging.”
They stepped into a small entryway as he answered, “Oh, aye, that’d be Mrs. Morris, just down the street. Them twins o’ hers are nearly a year now – lovely kids.”
He stepped inside and closed the door as Rory and Grace looked around from where they stood.
“Can’t say this apartment is conducive to families, mind ye, but depending on how many kids ye be wanting, it could work.”
He walked past them with that strange comment and showed her the kitchen, which had newer appliances but outdated everything else. He informed them the appliances had been upgraded but that the whole apartment was due for a renovation, which was why the rent was low.
“Come see the master bedroom.”
Grace glanced up at Rory as the man walked through a doorway, noting the unhappy look in his eyes. She didn’t understand it. The apartment was much nicer than the other one, and in an obviously safer neighborhood. She didn’t know what there was to not like about it.
She followed the older gentleman nevertheless, hearing Rory come up behind her in the small bedroom.
“Tis small, but again the rent is very reasonable.” He turned to look Rory up and down, raising bushy eyebrows as he continued, “Might be you’ll need an extra large bed for this one.”
He laughed at his own joke as he started for the door.
“Oh, no – we’re not together, sir,” Grace corrected him quickly, nervously sending a glance in Rory’s direction. He seemed irritated, but she didn’t know at what.
He made no move to correct the man, though nor did he smile, leading her to wonder why he had come in the first place if he was just going to be in a bad mood. She would rather he had stayed back at the yacht or gone and did something on his own, if he was just planning on being a sourpuss during the apartment showing.
The man showed them the rest of the place, pointing out the good sized bathroom and finishing with the view of a park where according to him, lots of families played with their kids. Again she pointed out that she and Rory were not a couple but the way the man looked back at her – a silly little grin on his face and humor in his eyes – told her for some reason he didn’t believe her.
When the tour ended he gave her a packet to fill out if she was interested, and to turn it in by the end of the following week, as that was when he would be making his decision. He still had several couples – again, she corrected him – who wished to see the apartment and he would like to get someone in there by month’s end.
It wasn’t until she had thanked him and her and Rory were back in his rented SUV that she finally turned to him.
“What is your problem?”
His lips were pressed firmly together as he threw the car into gear and drove off, having at least the common sense to not peel out and leave rubber marks on the asphalt.
“It’s nothing, Grace. The apartment is nice.”
“Then why the attitude? Why didn’t you give me any feedback? Help me ask questions? I thought that’s why you were there .”
She sat back against the seat, slipping on her seat belt before clasping her hands in her lap. But what she wanted to do was cross her arms over her chest and give him as good as he gave.
He didn’t answer for a minute, but when he did his tone was flat, emotionless.
“It’s a nice apartment, Grace. Will you also be buying a car?”
She deflated a bit, although she should have expected his offer to pay for cab fare to and from her home wouldn’t last. She decided not to let any disappointment show, and she shrugged as she looked out the window.
“I haven’t decided yet. I might get a… bike.”
In her peripheral vision she saw him look at her before turning back to the road.
“A bike,” he repeated.
Grace nodded, thinking that a bike would serve her well during the months it was warm enough to ride it. There were still a couple of those left, but during the winter she would have to think about what to do. Perhaps a short term lease, as she wouldn’t be putting many miles on it.
Rory mumbled something, and she caught his obstinate tone, glancing at him to see his lips pressed firmly together again, eyes on the road.
“What was that?” she asked, not sure if she wanted to know.
He looked at her, then at the road, and then at her and back to the road again.
“I said I don’t see why you need to get an apartment, anyways.”
He didn’t look at her again, but Grace stared at him.
So that’s what is bothering him. He doesn’t want me to move out.
She looked ahead at the road, feeling her irritation with him melt away, to be replaced by sadness. All day she had tried to be excited about finding a nice apartment, and Rory wasn’t looking forward to her moving away from the yacht. He was attached to her, she knew, but much in the same way she was attached to him. And the attachment wasn’t healthy, nor was it ethical as long as she needed her job.
A sadness washed over her, sadness for both of them.
“I can’t stay,” she said softly, looking out the window. “It’s just… too hard,” she admitted, and she didn’t bother to look at him.
She was certain he knew of her attraction to him, and she obviously knew of his for her. It was time for them to face the fact that at some point they would make love again if they remained in each other’s company.
“It’s not too hard,” he said, but his voice lacked conviction.
“We kissed a week ago,” she reasoned. “Living in such close quarters isn’t conducive to an employee, employer relationship.”
He was silent for a time, and she thought he was mulling over, perhaps agreeing with, what she had said. After all, it was the complete truth. Their mutual attraction would spell the ruination of the friendship they had built up, and she needed her distance to maintain that rapport. Grace didn’t want to lose Rory – they had spent five months building this up, and to see it crumble because they couldn’t control themselves would be heartbreaking.
Rory wanted to argue. He wanted to tell her he didn’t want an employer, employee relationship. He wanted to tell her she was fired, that she should quit, that he didn’t want to pay her to be on the yacht anymore because he wanted her to want to be there of her own volition, and not because her position dictated she be there.
But she wasn’t going to listen. She was stubborn; adamant that they needed to be apart, and he was panicking. He didn’t want to admit it even to himself, but the closer it got to her leaving after this month was up, the more he struggled with his feelings for her.
He loved her, there was no doubt about it. He could fairly easily admit it to himself now.
But she was resolved to move off the yacht and find her own place.
He should never have moved her onto the yacht. He knew that. His heart wouldn’t have claimed her, his mind wouldn’t have chosen her to fixate on, and they both could have moved on with their lives as her employer and his employee.
And yet, even as he thought those thoughts, he wondered if they were true. He wondered if he would have developed this strong attraction to her – fallen in love with her – even if she hadn’t lived on the yacht. He suspected that the answer to that would have been yes – that his body would have found hers, and his heart would have found hers, and his mind would have chosen her regardless of how much time they spent together.
They drove in silence after that, Rory having decided that Grace just needed to think he agreed with her, for the sake of no arguing. But he did want to argue – he wanted to declare his love, to hold her down and kiss her until she gave into the connection between them. And it was that thought that drove him to his bedroom once they were inside the yacht, closing the door behind him.
Throughout the day he heard her moving around, sometimes sitting out in the main cabin where she got out her guitar to pluck away at some songs. Her chords sounded jumbled, mixed up, as though she couldn’t concentrate, and she eventually put it away.
She made dinner for them and they ate in silence except for Rory thanking her for the meal. Then they both went to bed early, not spending their usual time together.
In the morning he went outside to sit on the deck while she used his shower and finished packing. Then he helped her load her bag into the SUV and they drove with the music on all the way into Glasgow.
The airport was busy and he pulled up to the curb next to Departures. Grace got out of the car and waited while he pulled her bag out of the back seat, then stood on the curb, hands clasped in front of her, as they stood facing one another.
“So, I’ll be back in a week.”
Rory nodded. He had her itinerary, and would be at the airport on the specified day to pick her up and bring her back to the yacht.
“Look, Rory…” Grace looked down at her feet and then back up, her expression fraught with disconcertion. “I think this is going to be a good week, a good – a good time away.”
He nodded, but looked out above her head at the people passing by. He knew he should keep his head down, not let people know he was there. It was only a matter of time before someone recognized him, and right now he wouldn’t turn away a fan, but he wasn’t exactly in the mood to be accosted by one, either.
“I’m going to take the yacht out to open water, but I’ll be here in a week to bring you back.”
She nodded and he finally looked down at her. He wanted to hug her but instead he took a step back, and then another.
“Have a safe trip, Grace,” he said, emotionless as he turned his back and walked around to the driver’s side of the SUV. As he drove away she stood at the curb, watching him.
The trip to London turned out to be a nice break from the stress Grace had been under for the last few months. Seeing Jillian and Scott and the kids – being able to meet little Dawn and to finally hug Thomas again after all these years was wonderful. He had grown so much that he was as tall as her, which wasn’t hard to accomplish. But he teased her now about it, at the same time she gently berated him for not telling her he had grown so much when they spoke over Skype.
They set her up in a guest bedroom and kept her busy during the day, which was easy because Jillian was now a stay at home mom. But from what Grace could see, she flourished in that role.
It wasn’t until five days had passed that Jillian sat her down after the kids and Scott had gone to bed, and settled them both with cups of tea. She turned to Grace and level a look that said they were about to have a conversation that might not be altogether pleasant.
“So, are you going to tell me what’s been going on? There’s something you’re not telling us when you talk about your job and your employer, but I can see it’s bothering you.”
She reached a hand out to cover Grace’s and gave it an affectionate pat.
Being ten years older than Grace, she was old enough to feel like a mother figure but young enough that Grace knew she was also a friend for life. She felt a little bad about not confiding in Jillian before this, but knew her friend would be open to hearing about her issues anytime Grace was comfortable talking about them.
And as it turned out, she was comfortable now. Jillian sat quietly while Grace told her of the new job, and of the yacht, how nice it was, how working there had fueled her desire to someday have one of her own. She told her friend of the apartment, the assault, and then how somehow feelings had gotten mixed up between her and her employer and how they had had sex.
Then she had to speak over Jillian’s gasp when she said her employer had asked her to move onto the yacht, but that he promised he would not touch her.
Grace was certain Jillian’s mother hen feathers were ruffled at that, but the woman was slightly mollified when Grace explained that not only had her employer promised not to touch her again, but that he had kept to his word – except for the gala. She did tell Jillian about the blue dress and how all evening it had felt like she was teasing him, and how the evening ended in a private dance and a kiss Grace had initiated.
“And then we cuddled on the couch. Also my idea,” she pointed out, not wanting to paint Rory in a bad light at all.
She went on to tell her about the previous week and how it had culminated in the tense visit to another apartment, and Jillian’s face split into a smile when Grace told her about her employer’s demeanor on that day.
“It sounds like someone has feelings for his employee,” said Jillian with a smile, but Grace nodded sadly.
“I think I agree.”
“And that’s a bad thing, why? A man who owns his own yacht, a woman who loves said yacht, and who quite obviously – ” she leaned over and nudged Grace’s shoulder, “ – returns the man’s feelings? What’s stopping you, Grace?”
Taking another drink of tea, Grace set it on the table in front of her and reclined against the couch.
“It’s my job. He’s my employer.” She ticked off reasons on her fingers. “We’ve already had sex. He’s also fourteen years older than me. And I’m an American citizen and he’s Scottish.”
“Okay,” Jillian said gently, “But you’re not telling me you don’t love him.”
Grace’s face shot up to her friends, realizing for the first time that that wasn’t something she had thought of before.
“But… I’m not. That’s not – I haven’t felt…”
Her stammering was making her look really bad, but the suggestion had caught her off guard. She wasn’t in love with Rory. That was absurd.
“Maybe you are, and you just don’t realize it.”
Jillian was smiling over the edge of her cup, but Grace was staring off into space, shaking her head.
“No, it’s not possible.” She looked back at the other woman, saying, “I would have known. We’ve spent a lot of time together, but Rory isn’t the type to just fall in love with someone like me.”
“Rory, hm? That’s a cute name.” Jillian was still smiling when she asked, “So, does your employer have a last name?”
Grace swallowed. She didn’t know why this felt embarrassing, but she was embarrassed to reveal to Jillian who her employer was.
“McCann,” she squeaked, knowing full well Jillian had stayed up later with her watching Game Of Thrones on plenty of nights while Grace had worked for them.
Jillian’s smile remained frozen in place as she sat for a moment, obviously digesting what Grace was saying.
“Rory McCann?” she asked, making it sound like her teeth were clenched together. Her smile was sort of silly since her eyes were registering shock that didn’t jive with the width of her smile. But then the smile faded, and Jillian was left with an open mouthed confusion as Grace spoke.
“The one and only,” she said simply, her eyes on Jillian’s. Then she shrugged. She didn’t know what else to say. Was Rory in love with her? Her mind was still focused on what Jillian had said earlier. Did Rory have feelings for her?
Grace nodded, thinking of Rory singing, “Shall I stay? Would it be a sin, if I can't help falling in love with you.”
Her heart flipped inside her chest as she stared unseeing at the coffee table in front of her.
“The six and a half foot tall Scottish actor who lives on a boat and who is notoriously reclusive? That Rory McCann?”
Grace nodded again. “Like a river flows surely to the sea.” And she had – flowed right to the sea where she had found him.
“Grace, why on earth didn’t you tell me?”
“Confidentiality,” she whispered slowly, then looked back at her friend. “Jillian, I… I think you’re right.”
Jillian sputtered, shaking her head as she, too, looked at the empty space in front of them.
Rory’s voice played in Grace’s mind, “ Take my hand, take my whole life too; for I can't help falling in love with you.”
She told Jillian of all the things Rory had done during their time together. How he stood close to her while she cooked, would let his hand drift over her skin in passing though not in a sexual way – ”Yeah, right,” Jillian responded sarcastically – and how he had opened his yacht to her when she didn’t have a safe place to stay. She told Jillian of the companionable silences they sat in, of her singing and playing for Rory and of him singing and playing for her.
Then she told Jillian of that last day where they had quietly argued over the apartment, and how Rory seemed in a bad mood up until the point she had watched him drive away from the airport.
“I think… I think Rory’s in love with me,” she said, shocked, looking back at Jillian.