A contemporary tale told with timeless Scottish romanticism and a knowing sense of humour, Bagpipes and Bullshot twists an everyday love story with a whole cast of village eccentrics into an entertaining play on rural life.
“Well done Janice Horton you have got the 5 star from me. What more can I ask for in a book than romance, light humour, descriptive writing and suspense.” Rea Book Reviews
“Bagpipes and Bullshot is an amusing, cleverly written, fun read with many moments that make you laugh out loud. Janice writes in such an expressive way in this romantic novel which I found very entertaining and an absolute pleasure to read.” Kim the Bookworm
“The plot is packed full of fun. Horton's great sense of humour shines through her skilfully drawn characters. A brilliantly entertaining read!” Talli Roland
“Scotland meets the Gulf coast of Texas in this enjoyable, light-hearted romance.” Kenneth Rosenberg
“This really is RomCom at its best in a rural setting.” Lou Graham
Bagpipes & Bullshot is available from Amazon for Kindle and also in paperback format
Excerpt: PrologueWhen the Greyhound bus pulled over in Baytown Texas, Innes Buchanan stepped off. He dropped his tartan backpack and bagpipes onto the boardwalk and inhaled deeply, feasting his eyes on the shimmering white sands and glittering blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. In a shaded spot called Jack’s Place, at a driftwood table, he gave serious attention to a chalkboard menu.
‘What’ll it be, cowboy?’ asked an old man with his pencil poised.Innes glanced again at the chalkboard and his stomach growled with hunger.
‘I’ll go for the burger, the fries and a cold beer, thanks.’He settled into a seat made comfortable by so many before him and stretched out his long legs. From behind dark sunshades he watched as small boats silently moved in and out of the harbour. Life seemed so easy here.
‘You any good at playin’ those?’ Jack gestured to where his bagpipes lay.‘Aye,’ he replied.
‘Then I’ll pay you a hundred bucks to play at my sister’s beach wedding tonight?’Innes considered the offer. With a hundred dollars he could sleep in a bed. The beach had lost its appeal once he noticed how many gulls were nesting there.
‘Do you have rooms here?’‘Sure, all with air con.’
‘Okay, I’ll do it, although I’m not exactly dressed for a wedding.’In his scuffed boots and dusty Stetson, he looked more Texas cowboy than Scottish piper.
‘Don’t worry’ bout that,’ Jack told him. ‘It won’t be a problem finding you the right clothes for the job. How long you plannin’ to stay in Baytown?’‘Just a couple of days.’
‘Then back to Scotland, eh?’‘Aye.’ Innes let slip a troubled frown.
‘Not much conversation in ya’ for a Scotch guy.’ Jack grumbled.Innes was glad of the clean room above the bar. He turned up the air-conditioning and took a shower, after which he found a bottle of cold water in the small fridge. Then, with his body clean and cool, his thirst quenched and his hunger satisfied, the last thing he was aware of as he lay exhausted across the bed was the huge expanse of glassy calm sea that sparkled just beyond his balcony.
Soon he was dreaming vividly of an emerald light reflecting through a gold and crimson horizon. He was home, flanked by fertile Scottish countryside and undulating scenery. To his right lay the valley where the River Nith flowed through farmland, past old stone bothies, simple cottages and magnificent castles, until it eventually surged into the Solway Firth. To his left the land soared upward to soft grassy mosslands and rough shooting grounds, all sheltering pheasant, grouse, and partridge, in verdant bracken and purple flowering heather. As he slept on, he soared like an eagle over Clan Buchanan lands.Two hours later, a loud bang at the door woke him.
He rubbed his eyes and tried to make sense of the strange surroundings and long shadows around him.‘Who is it?’
‘I got you some clothes for the wedding,’ said Jack, ‘and it’s time you got down to the beach.’Innes scrambled from the bed. ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘I’m coming.’
‘Do you, Robert MacKenna, take this woman for your beloved wife...?’
‘I now pronounce you husband and wife.’As the wedding party began to move towards the reception marquee, a distinctive sound rose up through the twilight and everyone stopped to listen to it. It was raw and rousing, sweet and yet unrefined. Orley’s heart began to race. It was the sound of bagpipes.
A piper appeared, walking towards them to the tune of Scotland the Brave.‘Ah, the pipes, the sound of the bonny homeland,’ her father sighed.
Orley had never seen this bonny homeland he often spoke of; to her Scotland was a place of childhood stories, like Narnia or Neverland.Her father came to stand by her side and embraced her with one sturdy arm.
When the piper’s rendition ended everyone applauded and her father was still heartily singing land of the shining river, land of my heart forever as the sun dipped below the horizon and guests made their way to the beach marquee.Orley took her glass of champagne to the shoreline and as pink tipped clouds tumbled over silver-crested waves and small boats scurried towards a darkening harbour, she contemplated the end of her rag-tag lifestyle and resolved to be brave and independent about leading a life of her own, when a voice startled her.
‘Would you like me to play again, just for you?’Orley spun round to see the handsome piper standing before her, his bagpipes poised. She dragged her eyes over the bare knees beneath the heavy kilt and the sporran he wore so low, and blushed. Not only did he look like a native Scot, he actually sounded like one too.
‘Oh, you’re really Scottish?’‘Aye, the last time I looked I was!’ He laughed and his black eyes sparkled at her from behind dark lashes. Then he sat down and placed his bagpipes across his knees before removing his heavy wool jacket. ‘It’s so hot,’ he said.
Orley found she was staring for far too long at the well-muscled body encased in a cotton shirt at least two sizes too small for it.‘It’s the humidity,’ she muttered. ‘Where in Scotland are you from?’
‘Nithshire,’ he replied.‘Oh,’ she said vaguely, ‘my folks originally came from Edinburgh.’
‘Nithshire’s about fifty miles from Edinburgh.’‘Oh,’ she said again, listening intently to his heavy accent.
Suddenly he leapt to his feet and with his left arm gripping the tartan bag, he brought the pipes back to life. In response to his lips and his long capable fingers on the chanter, they released a long, low moan. Staring at the piper’s arms as they bulged and flexed through his tight shirt, Orley almost let out a moan of her own. Playing the bagpipes must be something of a workout.‘You haven’t told me your name,’ he said between puffs.
‘It’s Orlene,’she said, ‘but everyone calls me Orley.’As he began to play, he closed his eyes and slowly tapped one foot to introduce the pace of the tune. His face was full of concentration. His dark lashes flickered on his sun-baked cheekbones and his hair, damp and tousled, hung forward over his forehead.
Orley recognised the tune immediately. It was the Skye Boat Song.Speed bonny boat, like a bird on the wing, onward the sailor’s cry. Her father had sung it to her when she was very young. All those years ago, yet she could still recall the lyrics. Carry the lad that’s born to be king, over the sea to Skye.
She clapped her hands and called out for Innes to play on. Then, as he settled down beside her to play the exquisite Mairi’s Wedding, she quietly gazed at him and couldn’t stop tears from forming in her eyes and spilling down her face.‘One of my favourites,’ he told her breathlessly. ‘By the way, I’m Innes. Innes Buchanan.’
‘Well thank you, Innes. You play so well.’He grinned. It was a wide grin that caused a ripple of ridiculous excitement to pitch in her breast and surge through her whole body.
He offered her a cotton handkerchief from his pocket. It smelt of heather and damp moorland, or at least Orley thought it did. She tried to explain herself.‘My life is moving on and that's no bad thing because now my father is happily married, I have my freedom.’
He looked into her eyes. ‘And what will you do with that freedom, Orley?’He was sitting so close that his arm was pressed hard against hers.
‘I’m gonna’travel,’ she said determinedly, drawling in an accent that revealed she had never been out of Texas in her whole life‘Well, they say travel expands horizons and broadens the mind,’ he said sincerely.
They were almost touching noses. Innes continued to chat and she observed the moisture on his upper lip and found herself wondering what it might be like to kiss him.‘So what brings you here from Scotland?’ she asked, keen to change her errant thoughts.
‘The cattle business. I’ve been looking into different cattle breeding programmes.’This took all other thoughts out of Orley’s head. ‘What differences did you find?’
Innes laughed.‘Oh they lay mostly in profitability. What about you?’‘Until a few weeks ago I was a cowgirl.’
He raised his dark eyebrows in astonishment. ‘You’re kidding me?’‘No, but don’t worry, you’re not the first guy to think a girl like me couldn’t ride a horse, rope mustang, and brand steer.’
Innes roared with laughter. ‘Heck, I found me a real-live Daisy Duke!’Orley almost looked offended.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘but please do explain to me what a cowgirl is doing in a place where people only sail and fish?’Before Orley could answer him, her father called her from the marquee.
‘It was nice to meet you, Innes.’‘You too.’
‘One day, I hope to see Scotland,’ she told him as he began to walk away.‘One day,’ he replied, ‘I hope to be the one to show it to you.’
But his voice had become a whisper amongst the waves and shrieking gulls.The next day, throughout her shift at the Golden Coral, Orley’s thoughts were preoccupied. They ricocheted from her own travel plans to Innes Buchanan’s untimely departure, and Innes, she decided, with his good looks, his Scottish accent and his bagpipes, had unsettled her at a time when she was feeling emotionally detached so it was a good thing she wasn’t likely to see him again.
She flitted from table to table clearing away plates and distributing drinks whilst scribbling on her notepad and trying to accommodate the demands of her customers.A big guy in dirty overalls was demanding fresh coffee. She meandered over to him, still fantasising about a summer spent in Scotland, where she might visit Edinburgh Castle only to find Innes Buchanan on the battlements with his bagpipes. Stop it! She told herself. Stop thinking about him! But with her thoughts a million miles away, she somehow managed to pour hot coffee straight down the customer’s leg. His screams yanked her out of her daydream.
‘Oh, I’m so sorry!’ She began mopping up but her apology went unheard.‘Look what ya’doin’. Ya’ stupid bitch!’
‘Excuse me – what did you just call me?’The guy had the expression of an incensed bull. ‘I called you a stupid bitch!’
Orley wanted to spank him with a molten branding iron. How dare he speak to her like that? She wasn’t stupid – and until a few weeks ago she wasn’t even a waitress.She slapped her notepad onto the table. The clatter in the diner stopped. Everyone seemed to hold their breath as the angry man stood up and towered over the slim, flame-haired waitress who stood pouring what was left of the boiling contents over the guy’s half-eaten meal.
‘I might be a bitch, Mister, but I sure ain’t stupid!’There was a collective shriek as a clenched fist rose into the air and then from nowhere, or so it seemed, Innes Buchanan appeared.
Orley did not recognise him at first without his kilt or his bagpipes but at second glance, she knew for sure it was him; she would have recognised those arms anywhere. In one swift movement, he had whipped off Orley’s apron and with one powerful knee in the guy’s spine, had trussed him up like a steer. The diner erupted into thunderous applause.Meanwhile Orley was being unceremoniously bundled out of the double swing doors.
‘I promise it won’t happen again!’ she protested, realising that losing her job would put her travel plans on hold until she could find another and in Baytown at the end of the tourist season, that was going to be impossible.‘No way, hit the highway. You’re the worst waitress we ever had.’
She stood outside the diner for a moment with the heat of the midday sun bouncing off the pavement in front of her. It was too hot to stand so she began to walk. All roads led to the harbour. She was in despair about losing her job and yet felt elated all at the same time because Innes Buchanan was still in town.Suddenly he was behind her.
‘Hey, Orley, where are you going so fast?’She turned, blinking into intense white light. He was dressed in baggy-style khaki shorts and a T-shirt and he was panting, either from the exertion of his fist-fight or from running to catch up with her.
‘I needed that job!’ she told him.‘Well you’re better off without it. It’s lucky I was passing by or you’d be on your way to the hospital right now or worse….’
‘You floored him with a simple cowboy move; nothing clever about that!’His eyes shone with amusement. ‘Oh, so next time I’ll mind my own business?’
‘What next time? I thought you were heading back to Scotland?’Innes grinned.‘I had to see you again, Orley.’
She suddenly realised he wasn’t speaking with such a strong Scottish accent anymore and was tempted to say something about that except the way he said her name caused her stomach to flutter and her anger to melt in the heat. ‘Come on, I think I owe you lunch. There’s a little place down the street…’
At the Crab Shack, they ordered crabs’ legs and Orley explained that she did not eat animal meat. ‘It’s from working on every ranch in Texas and meeting the meat, if you know what I mean, I don’t eat cows, sheep, birds or pigs.’She cracked a huge crab’s leg at its knuckle and effortlessly extracted the soft pink meat with a two-pronged fork. ‘Here, have some?’
‘No, it’s okay, I’ll have a go at this myself. It looks fun.’ But holding the foot-long leg in his grasp, snapping and pulling at it, the shell fractured and the meat eluded him. ‘A canny git ma’ meat!’ he exclaimed in embarrassment.Orley wiped her hands on a napkin and congratulated him on regaining his accent.
He looked sheepish. ‘Aye, I did put it on a wee bit for the benefit of my audience.’She smiled at him and changed the subject. ‘I was sure surprised to see you today.’
‘Well, like I said, I really wanted to see you again before I left for home.’‘And when are you leaving?’
‘In a couple of days.’‘Oh,’ she said, and at the sound of her own disappointment, her face turned the colour of her hair.
He looked bemused. ‘Tell me more about your ranching days, Orley.’She was more than glad to as it gave her an anchor – something interesting to say.
‘Well, I grew up on the biggest and the best. I tagged along with my father. It’s the only life I’ve ever known and it’s why I’m such a lousy waitress.’‘And your parents were from Edinburgh?’
She was amazed at how much of their first conversation he could recall. All she could remember of that emotional champagne-charged meeting was the liquid black eyes, the moist full lips, the powerful arms, and the lightness of his fingers on the chanter.‘Oh yeah, in Scotland my dad was a cattle farmer but without the cattle or a farm, so he and my mum left for Texas, where in those days there was plenty of both. Soon after that they had me and, sadly, my mum died when I was only six years old.’
As she told him about her life, Innes watched her from across the Formica table and when she had finished, she wondered if she had bored him rigid.But then he leaned forward across the tabletop and said, ‘I’d like to take you out tonight, if that’s okay…?’
She always refused dates, always and without exception, but as Innes was leaving in two days’ time and she would certainly never see him again, she allowed herself to explore the possibilities.‘Where would you like to go?’ he asked, not waiting for her answer.
‘The Pirate’s Cove is popular. It’s on the boardwalk and they have live music.’‘Sounds good. Let’s meet up at seven, at Jack’s Bar?’
‘Okay,’ she agreed. ‘Jack’s my uncle, if you didn’t know already.’‘Aye, he told me. In fact, that’s how I found out you were working at the diner.’
‘But hey, I thought you had just been passing by...?’In the Pirate’s Cove, a buccaneer-like character was playing a guitar. He had a gold tooth in his mouth and a parrot on his shoulder. He strummed soulful songs like Margaretville, Brown Eyed Girl and American Pie as Orley and Innes sat at a small table overlooking the bay eating Cajun food and drinking wine.
Orley had ordered fish and Innes had the chicken, which he described as hot and spicy. ‘A bit like yourself,’ he told her, a comment that had her blushing furiously and wondering if she had overdone her perfume. She dragged her eyes away from him and looked out of the open window at the blue-green colours of the Gulf of Mexico and tried to look relaxed. She was feeling far from it. Innes was a bad influence on her. He made her feel weak instead of strong, vulnerable rather than resolute.‘Let’s get some air,’ she said when their meal was over. ‘Let’s walk along the beach.’
Innes picked up the tab and they left the Cove, walking out into the half-light. It was only a short walk along the beach back to Jack’s place. Orley took off her shoes and paddled along the water's edge, her hair blowing against her neck and shoulders. Innes watched her carefully.‘You look just like a mermaid,’ he said with a look she recognised as lust.
She gave him a long look and linked his arm in hers. They walked together until eventually they climbed the stairs to the small room above Jack’s Bar, where the shadows were longer and the air cooler than of late.Innes opened the balcony doors to allow the fiery colours of the sky to flood the room. He drew her towards him and in one fluid movement he had pulled her so close their bodies were moulded together and his mouth was pressed against hers. His breath was quick and hot, his body hard. His hands slid down her body and a low groan escaped from his throat as his kisses deepened and his tongue flicked over hers.
It took all of her presence of mind to open her eyes and ask herself what on earth she was doing with a man she would never see again.‘No. Stop. I can’t do this…!’
The sound was high and shrill as if coming from somewhere else in the room; not from the lips that wanted to be kissed or the body that desired his touch.‘It’s okay –really, we don’t have to do anything.’ His voice was low and apologetic.
He moved away. She was already missing his warmth.Needing to distance herself, she walked out onto the balcony.
He followed her outside, wrapping his strong arms around her while they gazed outward towards the golden light that had all but fallen away from the edge of the world.‘We have sunsets in Scotland just as beautiful as this,’ he whispered.
Orley felt confused about everything except the way Innes Buchanan made her feel.The following morning, Innes was at breakfast when she walked into Jack’s Bar. Wearing a T-shirt, sawn-off denim shorts and flip-flops, she sat down opposite him, crossing her long golden legs. She looked at him purposefully from behind dark sunshades.
He seemed hardly able to drag his eyes from the T-shirt which defined the fullness of her breasts and the taut slimness of her body.‘You’re looking surprisingly good this morning,’ he said as she took off her sunshades and grimaced at him.
‘Well, I must look better than I feel.’‘Coffee?’ asked Jack, with a fresh pot in his hand.
‘And two aspirin, please,’ pleaded Orley.‘What on earth were you two drinking last night?’
‘Wine,’ they both said in unison.‘Ouch,’ said Jack, ‘I’ll be back in a moment…’
In that moment they didn’t speak. Orley felt awkward. She was embarrassed about her behaviour the night before and was still feeling a little unsteady.‘I wanted to thank you for last night,’ she eventually stammered, ‘because I had a lovely time.’
Jack returned with two glasses of a soupy concoction which had jalapeno peppers and ice floating in it.
Orley groaned.‘Oh please, tell me this does not have alcohol in it?’‘All you need to know is that it works. Isn’t that right, Innes?’
‘Aye, bottoms up!’Innes and Orley spent the rest of the day at the beach. They laughed together like old friends and, when the sun was setting, they became aware of the carefree mood of the day slipping away from them. They dwelled upon the morning, when Innes was to meet with his flight out of Galveston. They had their final meal together at the Crab Shack at Innes’s request, and Orley doubted after that night and saying goodbye to him, she could ever step inside its crustacean encrusted walls again. She was contemplating the unfairness of life, of finding someone who might have been able to restore her faith in love, only for him to go away too soon, when Innes said something so surprising it caused the crab claw in her grasp to suddenly escape and shoot across the table.
‘I have a job for you, if you want it?’ he said.‘A job?’
‘Yes. On my farm in Scotland....’He seemed not to notice her absolute astonishment.
‘You know all about Highland Cattle, you told me so.’‘Did I?’ She took a deep breath and a slug of wine whilst trying to recall what she did or didn’t say about the woolly beasts.
‘Yeah. You also said you wanted to see Scotland, although I have to tell you that Scottish farming is on its knees and when European subsidies are finally withdrawn, things are not going to be easy -.’‘And how is Scottish farming different from Texan ranching?’
‘In lots of ways but I intend to mix the two and establish a new herd. You could help me with that.’There was a pause between them. A great big silence.
‘And where would I stay?’‘With me.’
Her imagination brought to mind a bothy exactly like the one in the Braveheart movie.‘With you...?’
‘Aye, and my mother and my brother, but we have plenty of room at Glencorrie.’Glencorrie…
He was grinning at her, his eyes willing her to accept his offer.‘But I don’t even own a passport.’
‘Is that an excuse? Are you saying no?’‘No. I’m not saying no but...’
‘Then when you get your passport, I’ll send you a plane ticket. I’ll also offer you a decent salary and throw in your accommodation. Do we have a deal?’He moved in closer. The only thing between them on the shiny plastic-upholstered bench seat other than stray splatters of crabmeat was Innes’s outstretched hand.
Orley wanted to take it but her own hand was proving to be unpredictably clammy and wavering. She tried to say something but couldn’t find the words. Was she perhaps more interested in the man than the job – yet she needed a job more than she needed a man, didn’t she? Wincing, she looked up to find he was still waiting with his hand outstretched.‘I’m s-s-sorry...,’ she stuttered.
Innes stood up and took a fold of dollars from his jeans pocket. He left it on the table and without another word, he walked away.Orley fled to the ladies room. Away from his presence, she tried to make sense of her situation. She splashed cool water on her hot face and tried to rationalise her response. She was afraid. The last time she let her heart rule her head she got it broken into a million pieces. In the mirror opposite, a terrified girl stared back at her.
‘So much for being brave and independent,’ she told her reflection.When she eventually ventured outside, the sun was sitting low in the sky and it took a moment to see that he was still waiting for her.
Without a word, they walked towards the beach.Anguish played heavily on Orley’s mind.
‘Come and sit with me?’ he said as they strolled towards the sand dunes.The beach was quiet, almost deserted, except for the usual restless populace of nesting gulls. They sat together and stared out at the darkening horizon. A breeze blew across the coarse sand grasses making whispering sounds that Orley found strangely comforting.
‘I’m in need of a cattle manager and you have all the right experience,’ he reiterated.She nodded her head.
‘The night we met you said you wanted to travel. In particular, you mentioned that you would like to see Scotland.’‘Yes. It’s something I have dreamed of my whole life!’
‘So this,’ he said, waving his finger, ‘is fate. Do you believe in fate, Orley?’She thought hard. Yes, she believed. ‘I’ll let you have my decision in the morning, Innes.’
He studied her through half-lowered lids. ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘that’ll do.’He seemed satisfied that she had at least agreed to sleep on it, although she suspected she wouldn’t actually get much sleep that night.
For the second morning in a row, she found Innes sitting alone in Jack’s Bar eating breakfast.‘Pancakes,’ she told him, sliding into the seat opposite, ‘are unhealthy and full of fats and sugars.’
He gave her a tense smile. ‘Good job I ate yours then.’They stared at each other. Eyes narrowed. Mouths fixed.
Innes eventually broke the tension. ‘Well, what’s it to be?’She waited until the last piece of maple syrup-laced pancake had passed his lips before she spoke. ‘You have to know that I am a deeply suspicious and untrusting person. I never forgive people who do me wrong and I have a terrible temper. Do you think you can handle all of that?’
Innes thought seriously for a moment before he replied. ‘I think we can get on because, you see, I suspect nothing and no one until it is far too late. I trust too easily for my own good. I am forgiving to a fault and people think they can walk all over me. I think we could be good for each other. What do you think?’‘I think we are like opposites attracting.’
‘My thoughts exactly!’‘Okay. I will be your cattle manager.’