Her thoughts were interrupted when a man came up beside her and touched her elbow. “Are you all right? You were kind to make sure that woman didn’t hurt herself.”
“Oh, I’m fine,” she replied. “Growing up with three brothers teaches a little sister to always be ready for mischief.”
He grinned. “Do I detect a brogue? You wouldn’t be Irish, now, would you?” Maggie flashed a quick grin back and then, appearing as indignant as she could manage, retorted in her broadest brogue, “Nae, laddie! I’m as Scottish as the dee is lang!” She laughed.
“I-I am so s-sorry!” he stammered. “I hope I didn’t just deliver the worst insult imaginable.”
“Och, nae. Happens all the time. I dinna mind. Dinna fash yersel.” The man’s brow furrowed, so Maggie said, “And now I will revert back to the King’s English. Thank you for your concern.”
“I was just worried there was going to be a jumble of people at the bottom of the staircase,” replied the stranger. “I’m glad you didn’t get hurt.”
“You cannot be from New York,” she said, her lingering irritation with the rude couple filtering into her tone. “From what I have seen, manners and New York have been separated for a very long time.” She looked down and, with both hands, smoothed out her clothing.
The man grinned. “I was behind the three of you and saw the entire incident. No, I am not originally from New York, and no, not everyone in this city is as self-absorbed and rude as that couple was. Please don’t be too hard on the rest of us.”
Maggie turned and settled her gaze on this man, studying him a bit. He had a gentle and open face. He was a good six feet tall, of slender build, with straight brown hair, neatly trimmed, and brown eyes the color of hot chocolate. There seemed to be a layer of amusement behind those eyes and just a hint of a grin in his lips. He was casually dressed in a leather jacket over a button-down shirt, a pair of jeans, and a pair of brown leather laced-up short boots. His entire aura spoke comfortable: comfortable with people, comfortable with himself… just comfortable. Maggie could feel her irritation start to melt away.
“So, where did you grow up?” she asked and then abruptly caught herself. “I am so sorry. I shouldn’t be so direct.”
“I’m not offended,” replied the man. “Ann Arbor, Michigan. And you?”
“I grew up near St. Andrew’s in Fife,” she replied, extending her hand. “I’m Maggie.”
The man took her hand and shook it somewhat ceremoniously. “And I am Ben, fair lady. Very pleased to make your acquaintance.” His flirty affectation made Maggie grin. “How did you end up in New York?”
He’s just as direct as I am.
“Half from spite, I think,” she answered with a quirky grin. “It was either New York or London. My parents expected London, so here I am.”
Ben laughed. “Should I infer you might be just a tad bit headstrong?” he ventured.
“I don’t think I’d call it headstrong, exactly. Well, maybe,” she conceded. “I was shuttled to dance lessons and dressed in pink frills and lace. What I really wanted to do was go exploring Loch Leven with my brothers. I wanted to go with them, but that’s not what proper young ladies did. Boring.”
Ben could picture a little red-headed girl, arms crossed over her chest, making a stand. He grinned at the vision.
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