Marshall O'Neil waved down the minibus as it pulled into the quiet car park next to the picturesque little railway station. It was the first vehicle he'd seen since getting off the train ten minutes ago. First people, even. Altnabreac was a real out-of-the-way place. Marshall had been the only passenger left on the train and there was no one else about when he'd stepped out onto the platform and then followed the exit signs to this empty little car park.
"Are you heading up to Garradh-Sionnach?" he asked the driver.
"Och aye," the driver replied. "Are you O'Neil?"
"Yes," Marshall nodded in reply.
"I was told to expect you here," the driver said. "Welcome to bonnie Scotland."
He got out and helped Marshall place his heavy rucksack with the other luggage piled up on the front row of seats. Marshall saw the man was wearing a kilt and a real honest-to-god Tam o'Shanter. It was traditional, Marshall supposed, but it was about as expected as seeing gentlemen walking around London in top hat and tails.
"Don't mind the getup," the driver said with a fox-like grin. "It's for the Yanks. All they know about Scotland is Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons."
Marshall thought the driver meant the cluster of men sitting up in the back of the bus, but then he heard them speak and realised they had to be Londoners from their accents. There were five of them. They were dressed in expensive suits and spoke in loud, braying tones.
There was a sixth man, but he didn't appear to be a member of their party. He was skinny, wore spectacles and his face had a pinched look to it with thin, almost bloodless lips. He was dressed casually, but expensively. He sat on the other side of the bus and looked as though he didn't want to have anything to do with the other men. He was an American, Marshall learned later, an IT Systems Analyst all the way over from Washington State.
"That's the last pickup," the bus driver called out as he climbed back into his seat. "Next stop Garradh-Sionnach."
The men in suits whooped. They sounded glad to be free of the confines of their city jobs. Marshall took the open seat in front of the thin man.
"Have you visited Garradh-Sionnach before?" Marshall asked one of the Londoners, a chubby man with a wide face and thick lips. He looked the eldest of the group.
"Nah, first time," he replied. "You?"
"Nope, first time too," Marshall replied. "I'm Marshall." He offered his hand.
"Tom," the man replied. "Tom Figg. Where you from, Marshall? Manchester?"
"Not far," Marshall replied "Altrincham."
"We all work in the Square Mile," Figg said, nodding back to his companions. They were comparing pictures on iPads and laughing loudly. "So what is it, City or United?" he asked. "Would have to be City. No one within half an hour's drive of Manchester city centre supports the scum."
"Sale Sharks," Marshall said with a smile.
"Oh, a rugger bugger," Figg said. "I played a bit at university. Prop," he added. "Buggered up my shoulder." He rotated his left shoulder and grimaced.
"Lock," Marshall said. "I've lost a bit of weight since then," he added at Figg's surprised expression.
"A bit," Figg laughed. "A winger'd bring you down with a tap now, and they're all girls. What do you do in Altrincham then, Marshall?"
"Firefighter," Marshall replied. "Okay, former firefighter. I sit behind a desk and do the paperwork nowadays. Occasionally they let me out to teach safety classes to the local kids."
"Firefighter," Figg said, his eyes twinkling. "Hey, we've got a proper public servant here."
The other city types gave a loud boozy cheer.
"We're all parasites, if you believe the newspapers and BBC," Figg said with a sour expression. "Bankers," he elaborated.
"Fucking fat filthy-stinking-rich parasites," one of the group said with a laugh.
"They're happy enough to spend our taxes," Figg said. "I don't hear them complain about our money when they're pissing half of it up the wall in the public sector...
"Not you," Figg hastily amended. "You've got a proper job. I don't mind paying out for the boys in the fire service, and the boys in blue, and the boys out in the Middle East, and the doctors and nurses. It's the other bollocks I can't stand. Bereavement councillors for depressed lesbians, million-pound mansions so's fat breeders can have room to pop out another sprog or ten, fuck that shit.
"Not you. You boys are all right by us. Although I am a little worried where my hard-earned cash is going if a public sector bloke can afford to come up to Garradh-Sionnach," Figg chuckled.
"Afford?" Marshall wasn't sure what he meant.
"Garradh-Sionnach isn't cheap," Figg said. "But you must know that."
"No," Marshall said, "my therapist arranged it all. Said it would help me out."
Figg looked stunned. "Therapist? Blimey, he's an open-minded chappie."
"She," Marshall corrected. "And yeah, I know, she has some very strange ideas. Seems to know her stuff though."
"Wait, she arranged for you to come up here to Garradh-Sionnach?"
"Yes," Marshall replied. "I've got some self-confidence problems with my body image. She thought it would do me some good to spend a few days in the company of nudists."
Marshall gripped the bottom of his pullover. All he had to do was lift it up.
He willed his hands to lift up his top and reveal his naked flesh underneath. They didn't move.
Come on. Easy.
His therapist, Ms Inari Kitson, watched him dispassionately. It didn't help she was a fine-looking woman, an absolute fox. She could have been a model back in her youth, still could. She had an elegant, almost aristocratic face with high, finely-defined cheekbones. Long silky-smooth platinum-blonde hair flowed down onto her shoulders. She seemed neither embarrassed nor conceited about her beauty. It just was.
Marshall wished he could be so unconcerned about his appearance.
He took his hands away from the bottom of his pullover and looked down at the floor.
"Oh dear," Inari said. "I see the problem. I think what we need to do is place you in an environment where nakedness is more natural. Mmm, leave it with me."
"Hang about," Figg said. "You do know what Garradh-Sionnach is, right?"
"Yes," Marshall said, puzzled by where the conversation was heading. "It's a nudist resort, located up in a remote part of Scotland."
Figg looked at Marshall with an incredulous expression on his face. His face cracked up. He started to splutter with laughter. The laughter grew louder and louder until it seemed as though the wide man might cough up his own lung.
"Priceless," he spluttered with a smile on his face. "Absolutely priceless. Hey Chris, pass me your iPad." He turned back to Marshall. "I think your therapist is 'aving a laugh, or she needs a therapist herself."
He passed the iPad over to Marshall. The touch screen was displaying a web page. The logo at the top was for Garradh-Sionnach, the pictures appeared to show somewhere located in the wilds of Scotland, and the people in the pictures were not wearing any clothes.
The people in the pictures were not what Marshall expected of a nudist colony. In his dreams maybe, but real life ... no way. They were all tall, busty girls of Russian or East European extraction. They looked to be in their early twenties and were all--without exception--extremely gorgeous. Marshall navigated the site and saw each had their own profile page. He flicked through many many pictures of naked beauties lounging by the pool, leaning against the trees, standing in front of a pristine loch, supping cocktails in a night-time bar.
"Oh my," Marshall said.
"It's a sex resort," Figg said. "They fly the girls, model types, in from Russia, Latvia, Ukraine, those kinds of places. For a couple of grand one of them is yours for the weekend."
Chris, the owner of the iPad, looked over Marshall's shoulder. The browser was currently showing the profile of an amazonian blue-eyed blonde with an incredible pair of large round breasts. Were those even real? Marshall thought as he stared at the pictures. They couldn't be real.
"Ah Vasya, lovely Vasya," Chris said. "You can be mine for the weekend."
"She's not available," the prim man at the back said, revealing an American accent. "She's already booked."
Chris shrugged. "A man that plans ahead. Fair play."
He took the tablet back off Marshall and started leafing through the other profiles.
"I take it your therapist neglected to mention this aspect of Garradh-Sionnach," Figg said.
"I think she might have made a mistake," Marshall said.
"Oh well, you might as well enjoy it," Figg said. "I won't tell your missus if you don't tell mine," he guffawed with a wink.
Marshall sat back in his chair and looked out of the window as the bus trundled up into hills carpeted with dense firs. He was supposed to be going to a nudist camp not an international knocking shop. Inari must have cocked up somewhere. That seemed so unlike her.
The Londoners grew increasingly raucous and boastful as the journey continued. In contrast, the American sat quietly at the back, so pinched and tightly wound it seemed like the slightest knock would cause him to come apart with his body parts spronging in all directions.
The bus came over a slight rise and a breathtaking landscape came into view. A beautiful loch, the waters blue and as placid as a mirror, stretched out before them. Wild, tree-lined slopes ran along each side of the valley. Beneath them the road wound down to a picturesque collection of wooden huts on the shores of the loch.
The driver took the bus down, pulled up to a halt outside the largest building--a building Marshall recognised as the main bar from the website--and tooted the horn. There was a sudden flurry of activity as naked girls dashed out into the open space between the huts. Giggling and laughing, they formed a line. Their pink and exposed bits jiggled beneath the warm summer sun.
Marshall stared out of the window and gulped. He didn't think he'd ever seen a more beautiful collection of girls--in the flesh--in his life. They were mostly tall blue-eyed blonde sex goddesses.
And completely naked. All of them.
Even the bankers were briefly shushed.
"Welcome to Garradh-Sionnach on this glorious bonnie day," the driver said.
He left his seat, walked around the front and slid open the side door. The Londoners gave a loud cheer and charged out like boys arriving at summer camp.
Marshall stayed back. What now?
"There's been some kind of mistake," he said to the driver as the driver unloaded the bags from the front row of seats.
The driver was a slight man, little more than sinew and bone, yet he lifted the monstrous suitcases out of the bus with barely any effort. He looked up at Marshall and smiled that fox-like grin. There was a bit of feral wildness about the man--like the woods around them.
"There's no mistake," the man said. "Inari Kitson sent you."
Marshall lowered his voice.
"But isn't this place a ... brothel," Marshall said.
"Aye, and a fine one at that," the driver said as he continued to unload the bus.
"I don't think I have enough on me," Marshall said. "Money."
"No need to worry about that," the driver said. "Knowing Ms Kitson, she'll have sorted it out already."
The driver stopped what he was doing and glanced down at Marshall's hands.
"Are you married?"
"No," Marshall replied.
"Then what's your problem?" the driver laughed. He walked behind Marshall and steered his protesting form in the direction of the line of girls. "Go and have some fun."
It wasn't girls plural anymore. The other men were already walking off with a girl--in some cases two--on their arm. Marshall saw the thin American had his arm around Vasya, the model with the amazonian figure Marshall had seen pictures of on Chris's iPad. She was nearly a full head taller than the man walking next to her.
One girl remained. In contrast to the other leggy blonde bombshells she was short, maybe not more than five-two or five-three. Her ginger hair stood up in spikes. She was also ginger below, Marshall noticed with a flash of embarrassment. Unlike her wild hair, her muff was short and neatly trimmed. While not as amply endowed as the other girls, her figure was still slender and attractive in a more naturally proportioned way. She seemed nervous. She fidgeted--crossing and uncrossing her legs--as she stared at the floor. As Marshall approached she looked up and--
Wow! Those were the biggest, greenest eyes Marshall had ever seen.
"Hi, welcome to Garradh-Sionnach," she said in a lilting Scottish accent.
"Hi," Marshall replied.
If she was Russian she'd spent a very long time up in the Highlands.
"If I'm not what you're after, I can arrange something with the other girls. They're not supposed to take a second girl until everyone has had a pick," she said, motioning to the men walking away to the cabins.
"Well, actually, there's been a misunderstanding. My therapist sent me up here because she thought Garradh-Sionnach was a nudist camp."
"Oh!" the girl suddenly brightened up. "You must be O'Neil. Inari said to look out for you."
"Inari knows what this place is?"
"Oh aye," the girl said. "She comes up to visit two or three times a year. She likes hunting in the forests around the loch."
"Inari likes hunting?"
That was a surprise to Marshall. In the office Inari seemed so ... imperious. What interest could blood sports hold to a sophisticated woman like her? Marshall realised he didn't know his therapist as well as he thought he knew her.
"I'm Kath," the girl said. "Let me show you to your room."
She led him to one of the plain little wooden cabins.
"She doesn't entirely approve of our other activities, of course," Kath said.
She opened the door and Marshall's mouth dropped open. From the outside it might have looked like a plain little wooden hut, but on the inside it looked like a room from a luxurious five-star hotel. A massive double bed with fluffed up pillows and snug-looking duvet stood in the centre of a spacious bedroom. The walls were adorned with suggestive pieces of art and the lamps were dimmed to give the room an intimate level of illumination.
"I can't afford this," Marshall said.
Kath shrugged. "It's already covered," she said.
"I can't afford my therapist's bill for this," Marshall amended.
Kath laughed. "Inari and Garradh-Sionnach go way back. You get the special rate."
Marshall stepped into the room and looked around. This was certainly a lot better than his poky little bedroom down in Altrincham. What was Inari playing at?
"Relax," Kath said. "I'm sure Inari had a really good reason for sending you up here. She's good at spotting what people need."
Or, like Figg had said, she was in need of a therapist of her own, Marshall thought. He started to shrug off his backpack.
"Here, let me help you with that."
"Hey wait, it's ... heavy."
Despite her slight figure, Kath didn't seem bothered by the weight at all. She caught his surprised look.
"I'm a proper Highland lass," she said, "they make us out of iron girders and steel springs up here."
She put his bag down next to the bed.
"Well..." she said.
She mimed gripping a top and pulling it up over her head. Marshall understood what she meant. She wanted him to take off his clothes so he was naked like her. Marshall gripped the bottom of his hooded top.
Kath smiled and nodded. She really had the loveliest eyes.
Marshall couldn't do it. His knuckles went white as he clenched the bottom of his top, but his hands refused to obey his instructions to move upwards. His top might as well have been welded to his flesh. He gave Kath an apologetic smile and took his hands away.
"Maybe later," he said. "Got to build my confidence up first."
Kath cocked her head and gave him a questioning glance. Then a light binged in her eyes and understanding dawned.
"You dinnae have to worry about that at all," she said. "Garradh-Sionnach is for your pleasure. It's a lovely afternoon, how about some drinks by the loch?"
Kath took his arm and led him, still fully clothed, out of the luxurious cabin.
"I'll have you out of those clothes by the end of the weekend," Kath said to him.
They walked past another cabin and Marshall heard loud sighs and grunts coming from within. He blushed. A couple were having noisy, uninhibited sex.
"They didn't waste any time," Kath said.
"I guess not," Marshall said.
Inari, what have you gotten me into?
"That'll be Ludmila," Kath said. "He'll be regretting his choice come the end of the weekend, mark my words. She's totally insatiable. Most of the laddies can barely walk after a few days with her."
"I don't understand how this place can exist," Marshall said. "I thought..." he wanted to say brothel " ... these kinds of places were illegal in Britain."
"They are, technically," Kath said. "The local authorities turn a blind eye. None of the girls here are abused, coerced or trafficked. They're here out of their own choice and we're far enough out of the way not to bother anyone. The local church over in Caraid-Faol wasn't so happy about us, but then we paid to have the church building repaired after it was damaged in a storm. Folks in these parts are pragmatic. As long as we're contributing to the community and not disturbing the normal folk, they're happy to let us carry on doing what we do."
"Sounds sensible enough," Marshall said. "What people get up to behind closed doors is no one's business but their own."
"Oh good. So you'll have no objection to me fucking your brains out later then."
Marshall flared bright red.
Kath slapped him playfully on the ass.
"I'm only winding you up," she said. "I know Inari has sprung this on you out of the blue. You don't have to do anything you don't want to. Think of it as a relaxing weekend in picturesque surroundings..."
Picturesque was right. It was beautiful. They turned the corner around the main building and Marshall thought he'd stepped right into a picture postcard. The clear waters of the loch stretched off into the distance. Dark green fir trees covered the slopes leading up on each side of the lake. The view was completely unspoilt--no sign of any kind of human taint, not even a solitary telegraph pole.
" ... but I will have those clothes off you before the weekend is done," Kath said with a playful twinkle in her bright green eyes.
They stepped onto a stretch of pine decking that led to the water's edge. Sun loungers were laid on the wooden planks and gave a perfect view over the crystal waters. A sun lounger was not a piece of furniture Marshall would have normally associated with Scotland, but on a day like this it was perfect.
"What do you want to drink?" Kath asked.
"A beer is fine," Marshall replied.
He settled into one of the chairs. What a fabulous view, he thought.
The close-up scenery was pretty damn fine as well, Marshall thought as he looked at the perfectly sculpted and completely naked bodies of the other girls as they lounged in the sun or played in the water. The view was spoilt a little by the naked bodies of the other men. A couple of the bankers looked in reasonable shape--they had the hard compact bodies of men that trained regularly at the gym--but they were the exception and still nowhere near being in the same league as the girls. That was kind of the point, Marshall supposed.
Figg was corpulent, pasty-white and very hairy. The American looked like he'd been wired together out of stressed bones and taut sinews--gaunt and overwrought. If they could expose their unflattering bodies to the world, why couldn't he? Marshall thought.
He felt hot breath on his ear. Moist lips closed around his ear lobe and sucked. He thought it was Kath coming back until the girl spoke in a husky Russian accent.
"I didn't see you come off the bus."
The girl's hands gripped his shoulders and began to knead the flesh underneath. The soft flesh of her breasts pressed against the back of his head. There felt like an awful lot of it. Her hands rubbed down his front, searching for the bottom of his hooded top.
"It's not fair keeping yourself all wrapped up like this. It's a beautiful day."
Marshall pushed her arms off and jumped up out of the seat, surprising the girl behind him. She didn't take too kindly to it. Marshall turned and saw a gorgeous platinum blonde with a face and figure Marshall didn't think existed outside of the airbrushed pages of glamour magazines. Shock and anger flared in her blue eyes and her face wrinkled up with contempt.
Kath returned with two bottles of beer. The blonde turned and spat something at her in what Marshall presumed was Russian. He was even more surprised when Kath replied in the same language. Russian sounded very odd when spoken with a broad Scottish accent.
The blonde's face softened. She asked Kath something. Kath nodded. The blonde nodded back. She turned back to Marshall, all smiles now.
"I'm sorry, I didn't realise you were one of Miss Kitson's," she said. "I'm Maruska."
"I think it's my fault. I didn't mean to jump up and startle you like that," Marshall said. "I'm a little self-conscious about exposing my body. It's why Miss Kitson sent me up here. I think."
"Och aye," Kath said. "He needs to let the Highland wildness soak into him and flush out some of those inhibitions."
"I'd like very much to help with flushing out ... those inhibitions," Maruska said with a highly suggestive gleam in her eyes.
Marshall blushed. The girls were very direct in these parts.
Kath noisily cleared her throat. "Mine," she said.
"Don't be so territorial, Kisa," Maruska said. "That's his choice. Why should he restrict himself to playing with the runt of the litter, especially when we have so much more for him to play with?"
Marshall's Adam's apple bobbed up and down as Maruska cupped her hands under her breasts and smooshed them together. It was involuntary. Her boobs were natural and very large.
Kath sniffed. "I have my own talents. Some of us can get by just fine without having a pair of zeppelins attached to our chest."
"Ooh, she's so catty sometimes," Maruska said to Marshall with a wink.
"Shouldn't you be somewhere else," Kath said. "Like catering to the needs of your guest."
"My sister is keeping him occupied," Maruska said. "I doubt he's even noticed I'm not there."
The man was occupied, Marshall saw. He was lying on a sun lounger with a girl that was almost a carbon copy of Maruska lying on top of him. Even if Maruska was still with him, he wouldn't be able to see her as his face was currently buried deep in the equally generous cleavage of her sister.
Someone called out Kath's name. Marshall saw it was the tall girl with amazonian proportions, Vasya.
"Two vodka cranberries," she ordered.
"Right away," Kath said, placing the beers on a small table before rushing back to the bar.
Marshall was left alone with Maruska.
"You're lucky," Maruska said. "Most men are too stupid to give her a second glance," she glanced over to where Kath had disappeared in the direction of the bar. She leant forward and whispered in Marshall's ear. "She's a real wildcat in bed."
Marshall's blushed deepened.
Maruska's expression suddenly changed, became serious. "Stay close to her," she warned.
It was an odd moment--a strange bubble of gravity on an otherwise frivolous summer afternoon. Marshall felt like a cloud had passed in front of the sun, causing a sudden drop in temperature. The trees around the lake seemed to loom. No longer picturesque, it felt like he was alone, isolated; stranded in a wilderness far far away from any kind of human comfort.
Then it passed as quickly as a summer cloud scudding out from in front of the sun. Only there weren't any clouds, just a deep blue expanse stretching right up into the calm heavens. Marshall shivered. Where had that come from?
He watched as Maruska, all giggles now, rejoined her sister.
"Sorry about that," Kath said as she returned from her errand for Vasya. "I normally end up being the one who has to fetch all the drinks."
"How did you end up here?" Marshall asked. "You don't seem like the others.
"You're not Russian," he added hastily. He didn't want her to think he was disparaging her appearance. Which he wasn't. Couldn't. She might not have the big busts, silky blonde hair and long legs of the others, but she was beautiful in her own, different way.
That face for starters. So expressive. And her eyes. Marshall had never seen anything like them before.
"I turned up on the doorstep one day and they took me in," Kath answered. "A stray, that's me."
"Seems like an odd place to end up," Marshall said.
"Suits me perfectly," Kath said. "You don't need to worry about whether I enjoy the work or not. I'm a rabid nymphomaniac. If you don't defrost I'll be jumping the bones of one of the other men before the weekend is out."
Kath stared back at him with her big green eyes.
"Classic," she said.
Marshall laughed. "If you have an uncontrollable urge for sex I suppose it makes sense to get paid for it," he said.
"Of course," Kath said. "Like I said, we're a practical sort up here."
She clinked her bottle against Marshall's.
Marshall took a swallow. Good stuff. Rich. Strong flavour. He looked at the label and saw the picture of a medieval abbey.
"Belgian Trappist monks," Kath said. "No finer brewers on God's green earth."
"Amen to that," Marshall said, clinking his bottle back against hers.
They lay on the sun loungers and watched the other men and women splash around in the clear waters of the loch.
"Not interested in taking a dip? You'd have to take that off first," Kath said, referring to his hooded top.
Strip off here? In front of everyone? Not a chance, Marshall thought.
"Maybe later," he said.
"Don't blame you," Kath said. "I can't stand water. More beer?"
Kath came back with more beer. She told him stories of her youth in an out-of-the-way Highland village. She'd always been a wild child, she'd said, but once she hit puberty her sex drive went through the ceiling. Then had followed a whole series of misadventures--some funny, some not so funny--involving sex and boys. In return Marshall told her stories about some of his escapades while he'd been an active member of the fire service. Talking to her was easy. It didn't feel professional, even though he knew it was. It was like having a pleasant conversation with a nice girl down at his local pub, a girl--in Kath's case--who also happened to have an extremely saucy sense of humour.
Marshall had been here before. It always went well ... until he took off his top.
Which was why, apologetic, he left her at the door of his cabin when he retired for the night. Nymphomaniac or not, Kath didn't seem to take any offence.
"Don't worry. I'll have you out of those clothes before the weekend is out," she said, giving him a little wave and then padding off into the night.
Smiling, Marshall shook his head and closed the door behind him.
Inari, Inari, he thought as he looked around the room. What have you got me into? He took in all the luxurious fixtures. Oh well, he might as well enjoy it now he was here. He was unlikely to find himself in surroundings as opulent as this ever again in his lifetime. Heaven knows how Inari had wrangled it.
He was in the middle of undressing when he heard a soft bump from above him. It sounded like something was on the roof. Must be his imagination, or the wood settling. He slipped into the large and extremely comfortable bed and thought nothing more of it.
Sometime in the night he dreamt he heard a wolf howl.
Marshall was coming out of the shower the next morning when a tap on the small bathroom window made him jump. He hurriedly covered himself up with a bathrobe.
"Sorry, didn't mean to make you jump," Kath said, her face framed with her hands as she attempted to peer through the fogged up glass. "It's a beautiful morning. Do you want to join me for a walk up in the hills?"
"Sure. Let me get some clothes on first."
"Oh, you don't need those," Kath called out as he headed back to the main bedroom.
"Yes, I do," Marshall called back.
A few moments later, Marshall left the cabin and walked out into a lovely summer morning. Kath was waiting for him, naked of course. Without the other girls around, it was easier to notice what a good figure Kath had--athletic and well-proportioned rather than sluttily curvaceous. Her face, with its big green eyes and irrepressible smile, was what attracted Marshall most to her. The Russian blondes might have figures right out of the pages of Playboy or Penthouse, but Kath was the girl you turned to for a fun night on the town.
He noticed her nakedness extended to her feet. She wasn't wearing any footwear.
"Is that all right?" he asked, looking at her feet. "I thought we were off on a hike up in the hills."
"Oh, aye," Kath said. "Iron girders and steel springs, remember."
Marshall shook his head. Crazy girl.
They walked past the neighbouring cabin and again Marshall heard loud moans and sighs emanating from inside.
Kath shook her head.
"Insatiable, I told you," she said. "That's going to be one sore laddie by the end of the weekend."
She mimed a John Wayne bow-legged walk and Marshall laughed.
They left the camp and followed a path up through the trees and out onto a wide expanse of heath. The view was breath-taking. Marshall saw green hills dusted with pink clouds of heather rolling away into the distance. Below them, through the trees, lay the glittering waters of the loch, sparkling with reflected sunlight like the discarded mirror of some ancient Highland deity. Marshall couldn't see a single sign of human habitation. Even Garradh-Sionnach was hidden from view by the trees.
"Caraid-Faol is over there, somewhere," Kath said, pointing in the direction of the horizon.
"Isolated," Marshall said.
"That's how we like it," Kath said. "We don't bother anyone and they don't bother us. Really convenient considering our business requires regularly throwing some truly depraved parties."
"You can't annoy the neighbours if there aren't any," Marshall said. He thought back to his little box of a home, on a street packed with other similar boxes, and felt pangs of envy.
They stopped by a small tor of grey stone. Kath plucked a sprig of pink heather from one of the nearby bushes and ran it under her nose. She sighed.
"You need to join me for a frolic in the heather," she said, her green eyes glinting mischievously.
Marshall glanced over the lush vegetation carpeting the hills.
"Would that be a euphemism for something else?" he asked.
Kath smiled. "No trip to Garradh-Sionnach is complete without a good frolic in the heather. But--" she held up a finger "--frolicking is not permitted unless both parties are completely naked."
"Is that right," Marshall said, a wry smile on his lips.
"That's the rule," Kath said, putting on an expression of mock seriousness.
She cocked her head and glanced behind her at the open expanse of lush heath.
"So?" she said.
Fuck it, Marshall thought. Why not. He was single. She was attractive and--most importantly--he really liked her.
He reached down and gripped the bottom of his top. All he had to do was pull it up. Easy.
He looked at Kath's smiling face. He pictured it twisting up in an expression of pity and revulsion.
No, no, dammit!
His hands stopped moving.
He willed them to keep going, to grip the fabric and lift it up over his head. They disobeyed him. The top might as well have been bonded to his skin, as part of him as the shell of a tortoise, stuck to him forever and ever until he died, rotted and even then it would remain part of him, fused irresistibly to his mouldering bones. The fabric could have been weaved from iron and weighed a ton. His trembling hands couldn't move it at all.
Crestfallen, he looked at Kath.
She came up next to him, put an arm around him and rested her head against his chest. Marshall stood there, his ineffectual hands still clutched around the base of his top. He watched crows wheel through the upper branches of conifers lining the loch.
"Sorry," he said.
Kath gave him a tender squeeze.
"Tomorrow?" she said.
"Tomorrow," Marshall confirmed.
Kath looked up at him, her green eyes flecked with steely resolve.
"I mean it," she said. "Even if I have to get you really drunk and I really hate getting the laddies really drunk as you wouldn't believe how difficult that makes my job."
"Promise," Marshall laughed.
Instinctively, he picked her up and started to carry her back down the path. A relic from his old days. He regretted it immediately and had to put her back down after a few paces. His breath dried up to short gasps.
"Are you okay there?" Kath asked.
"Yeah," Marshall waved her away as he doubled over to get his breath back.
"I should be carrying you," Kath laughed.
Marshall laughed with her.
Once he'd got his breath back they resumed their walk back down to the camp. In the middle of the woods Marshall was startled as an orange streak dashed across the path in front of them.
"Hey Tom, what are you so skittish about?" Kath called out.
She crouched down and held out her hand.
"Get over here, you silly old moggy."
An orange face with green eyes popped up out of the undergrowth on the side of the path. It stepped back onto the path and Marshall saw the face belonged to a big ginger tomcat. The cat was a little larger than the average house cat and looked lean and wiry. It came up to Kath and, purring, rubbed its head up against her hand.
"You don't see many of them around nowadays," Kath said. "They normally like to keep away from folks."
Marshall was confused. "It's a cat."
"Scottish wildcat," Kath corrected. "They're a different species. The scientists think they're endangered--too much interbreeding with the domesticated cat. Misses the point. Real animals don't care what fancy Latin name they are. As long as they're fucking and making babies, they're winning."
She rubbed under the cat's chin.
"The scientists worry about the wildcat being replaced by the domesticated cat. I see it the other way around. It's putting a bit of wild back into the domestic."
The extra meaning wasn't lost on Marshall.
"You really have a one track mind," he smiled.
Kath winked. "I did tell you I was a nymphomaniac."
They left Tom to his secretive pursuits and walked back down to the camp.
"Still fully clothed, eh?" Figg said to Marshall as they sat out on one of the tables by the loch, drinking beer and enjoying the afternoon sunshine.
"I don't think I'm cut out for this nudism lark," Marshall said.
Figg shrugged. "You should let yourself relax and enjoy the view."
The fat banker leered at the naked girls splashing around in the clear waters of the loch in front of them.
"What a place," he said. "What girls."
The banker continued to ogle the naked girls. So did Marshall. He'd have needed to be gay, or castrated, not to.
"Hey, you don't have to spend the whole weekend with the waitress," Figg said. "You can borrow one of mine for a night if you want."
"Uh, thanks, but I'm okay." Marshall turned him down politely.
"Really? You'd be doing me a favour. They're insatiable in bed. Complete animals. I'm not even sure my heart will make it through the next two nights." He followed up with a deep belly laugh.
"That's what too many vindaloos and expensive German beer will do to you," Chris, sitting across the table from them, said.
A hush descended on the side of the loch. Vasya had arrived. She padded out across the boards like a queen, moving gracefully on long, rangy legs. The American followed on her heels like a faithful toy poodle.
Chris was entranced.
"You're not still thinking about that amazonian totty?" Figg said.
"Have you ever seen a body like that?" Chris whistled.
"Shame that Yank has already snaffled her up. Man who thinks ahead."
Chris looked at the skinny American.
"He's just a computer nerd," he said disdainfully. "I bet he barely breaks six figures."
Chris's lips turned up and his eyes went crafty.
"You know, I reckon she might be amenable to a trade-up. I think it's about time our American friend was introduced to the ancient English tradition of gazumping."
Later that afternoon Marshall saw Chris sitting in the Jacuzzi with his arm around Vasya. A broad smile was on his face. He looked like a big fat cat with the world's biggest bowl of cream. The American was lying on a sun lounger on the other side of the decking. He pointedly refused to look anywhere near the direction of the Jacuzzi.
"Oh dear," Kath said. "I think someone isn't too happy about losing the alpha. Never mind, I'm sure Yekaterina will help to take his mind off her."
Marshall wasn't so sure about that. Most men of the American's appearance would be overjoyed to find themselves lying next to the statuesque brunette he was, but not the American. His thin lips were twisted up in a scowl that indicated he wasn't accustomed to coming second in anything and didn't like it at all.
Marshall was happy enough to spend time in Kath's company. She was beautiful, sexy, fun and great to be around. He couldn't ask for more, not at all. As the sun set over the loch they shared more stories of past adventures and misdemeanours. Marshall had plenty of stories from his time on the fire service and it sounded like Kath had a cut a swathe of sexual impropriety across the whole of Scotland.
As they returned to his cabin, Marshall toyed again with asking her in. He wanted to, he really wanted to...
Kath stood there patiently and didn't attempt to force his decision either way.
... but he couldn't.
"Sorry," he said.