My New Book is LIVE!
Bring out the bagpipes! The Devil Wears Tartan is officially LIVE! This new adult, sapphic enemies to lovers highland dance romance (yes, you read that right) released yesterday, and the reception from readers has already been incredible. TDWT hit three Amazon top ten lists and one top FIVE!
Grab your copy or borrow it in Kindle Unlimited here!
To celebrate all the awesomeness of release week, I've prepared a schedule of all the fun extras I'll be sharing here on the blog and around social media over the next few days:
On today's agenda, I'm sharing a sneak peek of the whole first chapter right here in this post! Grab your favourite cozy beverage and settle in for an introduction to Moira and Kenzie's sizzling shift from enemies to lovers.
I haven’t even finished my first cup of coffee, and I’m already chasing after a seven-year-old in a kilt with a hairbrush and an arsenal’s worth of bobby pins clutched in my hands.
“Deanna, come back!” I shout as I tear up the hallway, our footsteps squeaking on the polished floor and echoing off the lockers that line the walls.
The Scottish Dance Organization of Ottawa—SDOO, for those of us cool enough to use acronyms—has been hosting competitions at the same high school auditorium for longer than I’ve been alive, but I’ve barely stepped foot outside the few rooms we use for events. I’ve never been up to the second floor before today, and Deanna has been running for so long I’m not even sure what floor we’re on anymore.
“Deanna, come on,” I call in between panting breaths, scanning the hallway for any hint of how to get back to the lobby. “We just have to finish your hair, and then we’re done.”
“NO!” she screams back at me. “I am done with the bun!”
I have to give her credit; that would make an excellent t-shirt slogan for an ex-competitor-turned-dance-teacher like me. The thought is enough of a distraction to make me stumble over my own feet at full speed, sending the travel mug I’m clutching dangerously close to spraying the hallway with lukewarm, cheap coffee from the food and drink table in the lobby. My hands are starting to ache from balancing my grip on the mug, hairbrush, and fistful of pins.
We’re not even supposed to be up here at all; if I make a mess, I’m going to singlehandedly ensure SDOO loses their competition venue forevermore.
I go for a pleading tone this time. “Deanna, sweetie, just slow down, okay?”
The oversized blue Crocs she has on to protect her ghillies are going to send her sprawling on her face if she runs any faster. I don’t want a bloody nose adding to any potential coffee mess.
I also don’t want any children getting injured today.
“You can’t make me!” she shrieks.
Her thin, dirty blonde hair is bouncing against her back, the ponytail holder I managed to get on her slowly slipping down its length. Her black velvet vest is hanging crooked over one shoulder of the poofy white blouse underneath, and the thick wool socks that match her blue and white kilt are starting to bunch up around her ankles. It will be a miracle if I get her and all my other students ready for their first event today.
Thankfully, I’ve become a bit of a highland dance miracle worker after spending literally my entire life in this strange world of kilts, bagpipes, and tartan-patterned everything.
I turn a corner and find Deanna steps away from a set of double doors at the end of the hall.
“Deanna, please, let’s just talk about this, okay?” I wheeze as she hesitates with one hand on the door’s push bar. “You can tell me what’s going on. We’ll sit down right here, and we’ll talk about it.”
Her eyes lock on mine, and I see the defiance there morphing into something much more vulnerable. It’s just like I thought: she’s not acting up to be a brat. She’s acting up because she’s scared.
A lot of teachers go for the tough love approach, especially with kids this young, and I don’t always blame them. Sometimes there are days when you’ve just got to tap into your inner drill sergeant, get the kids in their kilts, get them on the stage, and leave it at that.
That’s not what makes kids grow, though. That’s not what teaches them. That’s not what makes them jump higher, dance harder, and love what they do so much that heading to the studio is the highlight of their week.
That’s what they get in moments like this, when someone takes the time to really see them and tell them they’re still enough.
“Okay, you little cheetah,” I joke as I put on the brakes and come to stand a few feet away from her, “what do you say we take a break from all this running?”
She chews on her bottom lip as she looks me up and down. “Miss Moira...”
“Yes, Deanna?” I prompt.
She takes a deep, shuddering breath. Then, before I can process what’s happening, she slams her hands against the push bar and whirls around to bolt through the doorway.
“Can’t catch me!” she screeches as she peels away.
“In the name of all that is holy,” I say with a groan, lunging for the door before it can slam shut.
I step forward and pause, blinking at the bright sun streaming through the school’s glass front doors as it replaces the fluorescent tube lighting in the windowless hallway. I could have sworn we were on the second floor, but I’m standing in the familiar main lobby now.
The vendor tables are filling up with merchants arranging dance and costume supplies. The refreshments station is bumping, crowded with parents filling up coffee cups from a couple of huge dispensers while their kids grab oranges and granola bars from the snack trays. One of my teenage students is working the cash box today, and she waves from behind the table when spots me looking.
I lift my hand, but I’ve already glanced away to scan the room for Deanna. Most of the dancers milling around are still in sweatpants and t-shirts, but there are just enough with kilts on to make Deanna disappear like a tartan chameleon. The lobby is filled with the din of voices, squeaking shoes, and crinkling garment bags as people make their way to the dressing room and warm-up gym. The September morning sun paints the whole room in a soft glow.
Normally, I’d take a moment to soak up the thrill and anticipation of the season’s first competition, but instead my eyes zero in on the flash of blue and white wool I catch disappearing behind one of the giant potted ferns lined up along the back wall.
“Deanna,” I call when I get close enough for her to hear me, “you don’t have to—”
I swallow the end of my sentence and replace it with a groan when Deanna shoots out from behind the fern and starts weaving her way through the crowd at breakneck speed.
I take off after her yet again, but I neglect to remember that I, a twenty-year-old woman with what I like to describe as a luscious physique, do not have the ability to squeeze through the same spaces as a seven-year-old with twigs for legs. Deanna bolts around a volunteer parent carrying an armload of folding chairs, but I realize a second too late that my own swerve is going to send me crashing into a group of chatting moms Deanna narrowly slinks past.
I come skidding to a stop, but the mom with the chairs switches paths at the last second when she swivels her head to stare after Deanna. I bang my shin against a hard metal leg, hobble a few steps as pain clouds my vision, twist to avoid the chatting moms, and end up losing my balance.
I land flat on my ass, the impact ricocheting up through my tail bone as the hairbrush and bobby pins scatter across the floor. The coffee mug I’ve managed to protect this whole time flies out of my hands to soar in a perfect arc that dislodges the lid and gives everyone within radius—including me—a baptism by caffeine and cream.
The room is filled with shrieking and gasps. I’m so busy answering the half dozen voices asking me if I’m okay and trying to assess if I’ve somehow broken my butt that I don’t notice the new additions to the crowd until they’ve all filed through the front doors to assemble like a highly trained army unit in matching tracksuits.
The sheer force of their presence alone takes the focus off me and my coffee spill victims as the crowd cranes their necks to look at every dancer’s worst nightmare: the students, staff, and parents of the Rebecca Stewart Highland Dance Academy—or Stewies, as I like to call them anywhere but to their faces.
The group that’s walked in is only a fraction of them, probably less than a dozen in total, but their reputation fills the lobby like a rock star walking on stage to command a crowd of thousands. The kids already have their hair gelled back and pinned up in brutally pristine buns, and the moms are unanimously clutching Starbucks cups and monogrammed garment bags.
If highland dance was an Olympic sport, the Rebecca Stewart Academy would be the Canadian training ground. They’ve sent more dancers to the world championships than any other school in the country, and they never miss a chance to let everyone know it.
“What is going on here?”
Catherine Stewart, daughter of Rebecca Stewart herself and the current reigning iron fist of management at the academy, steps forward with her own Starbucks cup in hand. The ends of her dark, silver-streaked bob brush her cheeks like the tips of two pointed blades. It’s the first time I’ve seen her since I’ve been back in Ottawa. She has a few extra lines creasing her face, but she still looks just as ready to jump into a world-class sword dance battle to the death.
My mom beat you.
It’s the thought I’d mutter to myself every time I saw her stalking around at competitions when I was a kid. Miss Catherine, as we all grew up calling her, definitely leaned on the tough love side of teaching, but I’d seen the pictures and the medals from the eighties. I knew my mom took home almost every trophy she and Catherine went head to head for, and I used that to make it hurt less the first time I overheard Catherine tell another teacher that ‘the Murray kids all turned out a little tubby.’
“Just a little slip, Catherine,” the mom with the chairs I had the misfortune of colliding with responds. “Everyone’s okay. You are okay, right, Moira?”
She turns to me with concern in her face, and I nod after deciding my tailbone will live to see another day. The room slips back into motion, the Stewies continuing on their way as the girl working the snack table comes over with a roll of paper towels she distributes to everyone who got sprayed with my coffee.
I get a dirty look from one of the moms who happens to be wearing white, but everyone else is sympathetic. I ignore the offers of help as I clutch some balled up paper towel in one hand and push myself to my feet with the other.
I’ve gotten much more confident about my weight over the years, but I do not want to be the ‘tubby’ girl who needs help getting up off the floor. My cheeks have already started to heat from all the attention.
“Looks like I need to work on my turns,” I joke, trying to laugh it all off as I dab at my shirt. “They were always my downfall on stage. Maybe Deanna—oh crap, Deanna!”
I whip my head from side to side, scanning the lobby for any sight of her, but there’s nothing, not even some telltale blue tartan behind the ferns.
“Did anyone see which way she went? The little blonde girl in a black vest and blue kilt?”
The parents all start looking around as frantically as me. A few of them call Deanna’s name.
“Crap, crap, crap,” I mutter as I dart over to peer down the closest hallway. “If she ran outside...”
She’s only seven, and she’s clearly terrified. I wouldn’t put it past her to run into the street.
Amidst all the upheaval, the sound of a hallway door opening nearby catches my attention. I turn to watch, my heart hammering in my chest and my mind swirling with horrific possibilities, as Deanna inches back into the room safe and sound, clutching the hand of the woman behind her.
My gaze shifts up from Deanna’s sheepish expression to get a good look at her rescuer, and my whole body goes rigid with shock.
I don’t even blink as her dark eyes find mine.
The Deanna debacle was a good distraction, but besides that, I’ve spent all morning—and most of last night—wondering when I’d run into Kenzie Andrianakis today.
The last time I saw her, I was eighteen and getting loaded onto a stretcher in Scotland after busting my ankle at the biggest highland dance competition in the world.
We locked eyes just like this. I thought she’d be smug. I thought she’d do that infuriating little chin tilt and lift of her eyebrows she’d always acknowledge her wins with.
She didn’t, though. She stared at me with a pale face and wide eyes. Her mouth dropped open like she wanted to say something, and I almost yelled for the medics to stop what they were doing just so I could hear what it was.
I’d never looked forward to anything Kenzie Andrianakis had to say, but in that moment, it was the only thing I wanted.
Then she did the chin-tilt-eyebrow-lift thing, and I let the searing pain in my ankle be my excuse for publicly flipping her off.
The thump of impact from Deanna throwing her arms around my waist is the only thing that drags my attention away from Kenzie. The din of the lobby fills my ears again, and I flash a thumbs-up sign to signal everyone in the lobby can go back to their lives as I tune into Deanna’s mumbled apologies.
“I didn’t mean to make you fall,” she says as she squeezes me. “I’m sorry, Miss Moira. I’m sorry. Are you mad at me?”
“No, Deanna,” I answer, fighting the pull to look at Kenzie again. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see she’s still standing in the doorway. “I’m not mad. I’m glad you’re okay, but maybe we can stop with the running thing now?”
She nods against my leg.
“Cool beans. Can I trust you to meet me in the dressing room? I promise we can talk before I do your hair.”
She nods again and then detaches herself from me before skipping off to the dressing room, her Crocs squeaking against the floor.
The ability of seven-year-olds to ricochet from one emotional extreme to the next will never cease to amaze me.
“So you’re back.”
I brace for my own emotional extreme as Kenzie takes a few steps closer. She’s wearing a full Stewie tracksuit, the navy blue fabric clinging to her body, which is still almost as willowy as it was when we were kids. Her dark hair is pulled back in a ponytail so tight it makes the angles of her face look even more severe: pristine arched brows, high cheekbones, and almond eyes so deep brown they’re almost black. The only thing soft about her is the spray of freckles over her nose, and you have to be pretty close to see those.
About as close as I am now.
For a moment, my breath catches. I realize my throat has gone dry, and I fight the sudden urge to move even closer.
“Yeah, I am,” I answer after forcing myself to swallow. “Been waiting around for me? I heard you’ve never left the scene.”
I try not to cringe at myself for calling it the scene, like this is some sort of ex-drug-lord showdown.
She takes another step towards me, and I feel my pulse flare. “I heard you left the country and became a college dropout.”
My face heats, and I know the top of my chest is going to start turning red any second now. She’s always had an uncanny ability to say exactly what I don’t want to hear.
“Well, you heard wrong,” I say through a clenched jaw. “I’m at Ottawa U now.”
“What I heard was that you couldn’t make it in...was it Australia?”
“South Africa,” I blurt before I can stop myself.
It’s really none of her business.
“Yeah, that was it. I heard you ended up back home after only a few months, and that that’s the reason your mom gave you this teaching job.”
I give up on witty comebacks and ball my hands into fists as I let my knee-jerk response slip out. “You know what, Kenzie? I do not need your shit. Everyone knows you have as big a stick up your ass as Catherine Stewart does and that that’s the only reason you got your teaching job.”
She folds her arms over her chest and tilts her head to the side. “Is that so?”
The cool disinterest in her tone makes me fume even harder, but I do my best to keep my voice even.
“Yes, it is so. Just stay out of my way today, Kenzie. Like I said, I don’t need this.”
I turn around and start marching off after Deanna, bracing for a final remark, but all she does is let out a short huff of laughter.
Somehow, that one sound takes all the satisfaction out of getting the last word.
I keep my fists clenched the whole way to the dressing room. I can hear my pulse thundering in my ears, and my jaw is starting to ache from being clenched so tight.
I knew Kenzie would be exactly the same. I just didn’t think I’d react exactly the same way, and I definitely didn’t think it would take all of two minutes to happen.
We’re adults. We’re twenty freaking years old. We’re here as teachers, for god’s sake, but instead of taking care of my students, all I want to do is march out there and scream in Kenzie’s face like I’m in the third grade again.
Call it force of habit. I’ve felt the perpetual urge to scream at her since we really were in the third grade and she told me my invitation to hang out during lunch at her first ever competition sounded ‘like a sabotage attempt.’
I push the memory away as I reach the classroom door with a sign that says ‘SDOO Dressing Room’ taped to the front and a few sheets of construction paper covering the window. A parent volunteer is stationed at a desk outside.
“I was starting to think you and Deanna decided to play hooky,” she jokes as I pull the door open enough to slip inside.
I do my best to return her smile and then turn to face the chaos in front of me. Most of the desks have been hauled out of the classroom, with a few left in place as hair stations. Some screens for changing spaces are set up along one of the back walls.
We use the school’s gym as a warm-up space where everyone stores their stuff, but that hasn’t stopped the change room from turning into its usual mess of hair product bottles, makeup bags, discarded clothes hangers, and emergency sewing kits. Dancers and teachers are bustling through the room, laughing and singing along to the pop playlist someone has playing on their phone.
I wave to the other teachers from my dance school. We all did our hair up in highland buns even though we’re not competing. We even tied tartan-patterned bows around them to look extra festive. Our matching t-shirts might not be as fancy as the Stewie tracksuits, but they’re comfy and cute, and they have our last names printed on the backs with a few rhinestone accents.
It’s a bit redundant to have ‘Murray’ written under ‘Murray School of Highland Dance,’ but that’s life when your whole family’s existence revolves around Scottish folk dance.
Deanna is waiting for me at one of the hair stations, swinging her feet and smiling serenely, like anyone would be crazy to suggest this little blonde angel just led me on a marathon-length recovery mission around the whole building.
“Change of heart, huh?” I ask, plastering on a grin to keep the resentment at bay when I realize I left the lobby without my coffee mug and Deanna’s hairbrush. I grab a comb I’ll have to clean after this and spread my free hand out in a dramatic swoop. “May I approach, Your Majesty?”
Deanna giggles and nods.
“You’re all smiley now,” I say as I start working out the tangles that have gathered in her hair. “Do you still want to tell me what’s up?”
She keeps kicking her feet, the heels of her Crocs drumming against the bottom rung of her chair. “I was scared, but Miss Kenzie said everyone gets scared when they go from Primary to Beginner. Did you know she didn’t even do her first competition until she was in grade three? That’s like, so old.”
I stifle a laugh as I reach for a hair elastic. It’s really not old at all, but Deanna is one of those kids who, like me, started competing at the tender age of six.
“Miss Kenzie is actually nice,” Deanna continues. She’s started swaying to the music, and I put my hand on her head to keep it still. “I used to think she was scary, but she said you wouldn’t be mad at me for making you fall, and she was right! Last year my mom said maybe we should switch schools so Miss Kenzie could be my teacher, but then you came back, and my mom says you beat Miss Kenzie more times than she beat you, so we should probably stay. Is that true? Did you beat her?”
She’s started speaking so fast it’s hard to keep up, but I catch enough to make my stomach twist with apprehension.
My rivalry with Kenzie isn’t exactly a secret in the highland dance community, but I didn’t think it would be enough to affect people’s decisions about where to send their kids, not when Kenzie and I have both been out of the competition circuit for a couple years now.
Deanna’s mom is wrong, anyway. By the time we made it all the way to Scotland for the culminating championship of our careers, Kenzie and I had the same number of trophies under our belt. We’d just graduated high school, and that final competition was supposed to end almost a decade of rivalry and determine which of us really was the best before I left to go backpack the world with my best friend.
Then I broke my ankle in a freaking mole hole and left the question unanswered forevermore.
“Well, we both beat each other a few times,” I answer as I start twisting Deanna’s ponytail into a bun, “but you know, that’s not really the point. The point is getting on stage to do your best while having fun. Winning is just a bonus.”
Deanna twists in her seat, her hair sliding out of my hands as she looks up to give me the sassiest eyebrow raise I’ve ever seen on a seven-year-old.
“Okay, it’s a pretty big bonus,” I admit with a chuckle, “but I mean it, kiddo. I don’t care what anyone else says. When you go up there today, I just want you to think about having fun—and pointing your toes, of course.”
She giggles and settles herself so I can finally finish the bun. I secure it in place with a combination of bobby pins, gel, and hairspray, just like I’ve manufactured hundreds of buns before. Deanna runs off to join her friends in the warm-up gym as soon as I’m done, and I take a minute to sit down in her chair and survey the room.
It’s still pandemonium in here, the chemical smell of hairspray filling my nose as I watch one of my fellow teachers perform emergency surgery on a tear in a girl’s blouse while another one chases after a stray button as it bounces across the floor.
It’s the kind of scene I’ve been watching unfold my entire life. The chaos of a dressing room is as comforting and familiar as curling up in my favourite chair at my parents’ house.
Instead of the reassurance I’m looking for, I only find more dread as I scan the room.
It’s been over two years since we’ve come face to face, but Kenzie’s still managed to find my weakest point in a matter of seconds. She still managed to hone in on what hurts most: the truth.
The truth is that I think I might only be back here because I couldn’t make it anywhere else.
Grab your copy and keep reading here!