As she tried to think of something, anything, to convince him, three children ran around the corner of the house; two with the black hair of the man in the doorway, and the smallest with a riot of bright red curls. All three skidded to a halt and stared at her. Then the tallest one, took off back around the way they’d come. “Muuum, there’s a lady here and Dad’s making her cry.”
The man winced and a minute later, the child reappeared, with Janet, her red hair caught up in a messy bun, striding behind them.
She stopped when she saw Psyche, then put her hands on her hips and glared at the dark-haired man. “Tam Lin, what do you think you’re doing upsetting one of my most promising students?”
He shifted uncomfortably but his glower remained. “She wants a flask of my scotch, supposedly for Aphrodite. I’m not buying the story, and nor am I selling her a drop.”
The air between the two of them seemed to shimmer in the heat of their glares. Psyche was startled by a tug at her hand, it was the red-haired child. “Mum and Dad are going to argue for ages, they always do. Come and have lunch with us till they’re done, it’s all laid out and will go yukky if we leave it.”
All three of them were beside her now, and the tallest one said. “It’ll be fine, and Mum’ll win, she always does.”
Somehow, Psyche found herself herded around to the side of the house, where tea and sandwiches had been laid out on a sturdy wooden table on the grass overlooking the lake.
Sure enough, it was at least half an hour before Janet and her husband, Tam joined them, during which time Alex, Jake and Mari kept Psyche entertained with stories of life in rural Scotland and peppered her with questions about London, and what their mother was like as a teacher.
Jake was in full flight when they finally appeared. “And so even though Mum said it was a daft place to dig, Mr Digger-man said he knew where the internet line was acos he’d laid it and within two digs he’d gone straight through the cable and Mum’s not been able to talk to her London people since!”
Psyche gasped, as was expected, and Jake sat back with a pleased grin. Alex leaned in reassuringly. “Our electricity and water’s fine though, so we’re all getting our baths and things. Dad set us up with a pump and generator off the waterwheel years ago.”
Tam frowned as he and Janet approached. “Are all the sandwiches gone?”
Mari grinned up at him, she was missing a front tooth. “Yes, we had to run around outside instead of playing video games, so we were extra hungry. And we drank all the juice too.”
Alex piped up. “If you give Psyche the flask of scotch she came for, I’ll make you some more, all for yourself.”
Tam crossed his arms. “So now my own children are battering at me. I’ll not give her any, but I will sell her one of our souvenir hip flasks, with a measure or two inside to warm it.”
Psyche felt her shoulders settle back to the level they were meant to sit at. “Thank you, so much –”
Tam cut her off. “And I will be charging it to the main Z Corp account. I don’t know what that woman’s up to, but I’ll be keeping my dealings through official channels.”
“I…of course, whatever you feel is right.” Psyche took a deep breath and forced herself to stop talking.
Tam grunted. “I’ll be getting it now, and sealing the box, so that woman can’t accuse you of stealing a nip on the way home.”
He turned away from the table and added over his shoulder. “And if there are no sandwiches waiting for a poor, starving dad by the time I’m back, I’ll be cancelling the cable-fixing lady.”
The children gasped in horror and raced for the house.
Which left Psyche with a curious Janet. It wasn’t long before the whole story was poured out and her photography teacher was shaking her head. “I’ll take a trip into the village tomorrow and try for a mobile signal at least. I have no idea what Eros thinks he’s doing, leaving you to his mother’s tender mercies but he’ll be hearing my opinion as soon as I can make contact with the outside world.”
The sandwiches beat Tam to the table by a matter of seconds. The corners of his mouth twitched but he said nothing, handing Psyche a small hip flask, black, with the two golden dragons of the Loch Styx logo emblazoned on the front. The top was wrapped with string and sealed with black wax and something inside it sloshed when she tipped it. He produced a box for her to put it in, then taped it shut with a security sticker.
Janet chuckled. “As you can see, my husband’s the trusting type, especially when it comes to Aphrodite.”
Psyche stood. “I can’t thank you enough, and it’s been so nice to meet your family. I should leave you in peace, and get back to Edinburgh but if there’s ever anything I can do…”
Tam nearly smiled. “You can take the kids round the Natural History Museum next time we’re in London.”
Psyche wasn’t quite sure why that sounded so terrifying, but she nodded and headed for the car in a chorus of goodbyes.
It was dark by the time she made it back to the hotel and she had to make herself eat something before sleeping.
The trip back to London was uneventful, although she needed three cups of train catering coffee to be able to work on the new batch of images in her job folder.
She walked into the PR office late in the afternoon and handed the sealed box to Harmonia. “The distillery owner said that no one other than Aphrodite was allowed to break the seal. He wasn’t very happy.”
Aphrodite’s assistant stared at the box, then at Psyche. “You got it. How? How much did it cost?”
Psyche said. “I don’t know, he insisted on the invoice going through his usual Z Corp channels.”
Harmonia winced. “It might be best not to mention that. Hopefully the Finance people will assume it’s something to do with Dionysus and just wave it through.”
She stared at it, then sighed. “Aphrodite’s in a strategy meeting, I don’t know when it will finish. I’m going to leave this on her desk and message her, so she knows it’s there, then go home. I suggest you do the same.”
Psyche nodded. “Thanks, I’ll, um, see you tomorrow?”
“See you then.”