~ Taking a Chance ~
Disclaimers: These characters are the realization of my own imagination. Any likeness to anyone else is purely coincidental. I like tall, dark and handsome and short, blonde and beautiful.
Sex/Violence: No violence, but if the thought of two women being together offends you it's time to move along. Be advised that there is also some heterosexual loving involved.
Others: Hope you enjoy this short story. Always enjoy feedback: email@example.com
The boat ran up onto the beach and a solitary figure jumped over the side into the foaming surf. The sky was a dark mass of clouds and the air was heavy with the scent of rain. A fierce storm was brewing but right now nature's elements were far from the lone intruders mind as he paused for a moment to glance at the steep headland that towered overhead.
In the daylight the narrow corridor up the imposing rock face was difficult but on such a black night it would be treacherous and a lesser mortal might have turned back, yet for this brave warrior the reward of success was worth tempting the fates.
"Nisi dominus frustra," the man's spoken words were carried back out over the churning seas and lost in the night.
Without another word the intruder peeled off a bulky woolen overcoat and placed it inside the boat. In its place, he retrieved a cord of rope and a small satchel which he tied securely around his slender waist. The wind blew as if issuing a warning but this lone invader ignored its haunting cry. In a few hours the tide would come back in and this small beach would disappear. There was no time to waste.
The climb up the face of the cliff was excruciatingly slow, draining the strength of the man. The rocks were cold and slippery, each step a gamble against fate but finally the darkly clothed intruder's stubbornness prevailed and he emerged the victor, standing at the peak like a heroic conqueror.
The castle, a cold stone monolith, sat a few hundred yards inland. It was like a monster lurking in the darkness and the stranger approached it boldly. The wind blew harder, tousling long dark hair around broad shoulders.
The figure moved stealthily through the night, entering the citadel through its unlocked gates to creep silently over the cobblestones of the courtyard towards the entry by the servant's quarters. The pantry door was open and the man slipped unmolested into the sleeping fortress.
He paused and listened, momentarily overwhelmed by an unpleasant wave of nostalgia that assailed his senses. It had been such a long time since he had last darkened the doorways of the castle and even now it was with foreboding that he stepped across its threshold.
All was quiet. Not even the old dog that lay dozing by the burning embers of the hearth stirred as the man crept through the cavernous hallways and up the wide sweeping stairwell to the second floor. He moved soundlessly towards the master's bedroom where he knew he would find the reason for his quest.
Quietly he pushed the creaking door open and slipped inside the bedchamber. The kindling in the fireplace had died leaving the suite in complete darkness but at that moment the moon broke through the clouds, flooding the room with its silvery light through the open window. In that same instant, the stranger saw the couple curled up on the bed, and the expression on the dour face hardened into a mask of stone.
The old man, his skin a waxy pale, had a large fleshy arm draped across the slender form of his young bride. His loud snores and laboured breathes punctuated the silent air with disgusting snorts and wheezes. The intruder was tempted to silence the man's voice forever but than a blue eye caught sight of the woman.
He stood motionless, staring, transfixed by her beauty. She looked small and delicate, her skin unblemished like a creamy English rose. Her long golden hair spilled across the large feather pillows. The expression on her face was innocent yet troubled and desire stirred in the thief's heart.
The man knew that nothing could be worse than stealing the Lord's prized English bride and so he moved swiftly across the room, extracting a damp cloth from the small satchel at his waist and clamping it over the sleeping man's large round face. Next it was the woman's turn and only once the invader was assured that she was truly unconscious did he gently toss the blankets aside. He lifted the limp woman into his strong arms and carried her out of the castle into the black night.
The shrill ring of the phone pierced the silence of the dimly lit room. Erin Macgregor absently glanced up from the papers on her desk to the clock on the far wall. It was nearing ten in the evening and it had been hours since she had first sat down to clear away some of the paperwork that had been awaiting her attention. A frown settled over her dark classical features. It was late for anyone to be calling. She hoped that it wasn't an emergency with one of her clients. She didn't relish going out on a night like this. Reluctantly she grabbed the receiver, silencing the insistent jangling.
"Macgregor here," she barked into the mouth piece wincing at her own abruptness, realizing she was more tired than she thought.
"Erin, this is George Ludden," a tentative voice replied and the woman grimaced, instantly feeling the need to apologize.
"Hello George, sorry for being so abrupt but the phone startled me," the dark haired woman made the excuse, running a weary hand through her long raven coloured hair even as she wondered what prompted this call.
George Ludden operated a small legal practice with his cousins in the North end of the city and they dealt with legal matters involving property law, wills and estates. Any contact they had was generally the result of one of the man's clients getting into more legal trouble than he could handle. He would than hand them over to Erin whose expertise was in criminal law. She hoped that was not the case on this evening. She hated the thought of having to go out into this miserable night to bail out someone who had gotten hauled into jail for some stupid misdemeanor.
"I'm sorry for calling so late, I wouldn't have if it wasn't important," the lawyer said in the same halting voice.
"That's okay," Erin sighed wishing the man would get to the point. "What's up?"
"It's Angus," the man replied nervously clearing his throat.
"What's he done now?" the dark haired woman interrupted as a mirage of thoughts raced through her brain. It had almost been a year since she had been called to bail him out of a legal situation that could have landed the man in jail.
It had taken all her skill as a barrister to keep him from doing time. She had managed to convince the court that it had been an honest mistake and the magistrate had gracefully agreed and settled the old man with a sizable fine and probation. They had argued over the decision and she had patiently tried to explain to Angus that what he had done was wrong. By the time she had finished she still wasn't certain he understood. It wasn't that he was a stupid man. It was just that he was stubborn, determined to make and abide by his own rules.
"He's dead," George finally managed to get out, interrupting her thoughts. Silence greeted the announcement. "Apparently, Michael, the man he keeps around to help tend the livestock found him this afternoon. They took him over to the surgery at Lammerrant but it was too late. The doctors think that it may have been a heart attack."
Erin was completely still, uncertain what to feel. Angus was going on eighty three years and though he had appeared healthy, she knew that there were secrets that he kept from everyone.
"Is there anything you need me to do?" she managed to ask, remembering that the other barrister was still on the line.
"No, Angus was quite clear with his instructions on what we were to do upon his death," George replied unable to decipher what the woman on the other end of the phone was thinking. Her voice remained as professional and emotionless as always. "His funeral will be in Lammerrant on Friday. I knew you'd want to be there."
"Yes, thank you, I appreciate the call," Erin replied and than took down the details of where the service was to be held before ringing off.
She leaned back in her leather chair, staring at the receiver which was now sitting in its cradle. She sat quietly dwelling on what she had just learned and not certain what she should feel. She put the pen in her hand down on the desk and stood up, moving across the room to the windows. It was raining and a fierce wind was blowing. The seas would be rough on this night and only the heartiest of souls would dare to venture out. It was a fitting night for the man to die.
Old Angus Macgregor was dead. An unamused smile came to her lips as she thought about how that news would be received. When word broke in the morning papers the whole of Scotland would breathe a collective sigh of relief and that realization brought about a mixture of emotions. Of everyone who knew the man, there would be few who would sincerely mourn his loss. It would be interesting to see who, if anybody took the time to attend the funeral.
She continued to stare out the window, watching as the rain lashed against the glass pane. Angus had been a tough son of a bitch, a fierce, cantankerous man who terrified even the most confident fellow. Few people were willing to confront the man aware of the power he could weld if crossed. But he had not always been that way as a few of the old timers in his local village could attest.
Once he had been a happy, contented lad, but than he had signed on to fight in the Second War World, serving in the infantry. He had returned from battle sporting a chestful of medals, but the experience had changed him.
She sighed. As the man's only child she stood by law to inherit everything he had accumulated in his long life. That included the island with its small village and stone castle and the various holdings in a vast portfolio that included everything from farm land to an investment in a shipping empire. But the old man was crafty and sometimes mean spirited. As a bastard child there were no assurances that she would inherit anything.
She glanced around the comfortable apartment. She did not need the man's wealth, for she was satisfied with her life. She had built a successful career and a thriving legal practice. She had argued important cases in front of the Highest Courts in the land and had established a name in her own right. There was nothing she needed and the only thing she wanted she would never get now. Any business she had with the man would remain unfinished.
She thought for a moment about her ancestral home. It was a cold remote place, perched alone in the middle of a small rocky island off the western coast. The castle itself was a crumbing old remnant of a more primitive time in the country's history. A tale of her ancestry, the prize of warring clans whose long deceased voices could still be heard in the fierce winds that came howling in off the ocean. Now its gentle rolling hills would be haunted by one more ghost.
It was strange how that realization caused a pang in her heart. She had never thought she would feel regret. She had not been close to the man but she had always treated Angus with the respect reserved for a father. That was in spite of the way the man had often behaved towards her. No one, not even her mother could understand why.
Her mother, Gladys McTavish, had waited years for the good Lord to exercise his justice on the man whom she blamed for all her troubles. According to her mother Angus had made promises that he later ignored and though Erin had tried to get the old man to tell the truth, he had steadfastly refused to answer any of her questions and she had been forced to accept her mothers biased version of events. She knew her mother would be pleased to know that the old man had finally gone to meet his maker.
Erin returned to her chair and picked up the phone, dialing the number from memory. It was her duty to inform the rest of the family though she wasn't certain any of them would care. As she had mentally predicted her mother was happy by this sudden turn of events.
"Good riddance, it's about time the old bastard died," Gladys McTavish spoke her thoughts out loud uncaring about how her daughter might be feeling. Erin winced at the tone of her parent's voice.
"I think the only reason he lived this long was that the good lord didn't want him on the other side stirring up trouble."
As harsh as the woman's sentiment was, Erin knew that it would be shared by a lot of people. Though he had lived in relative obscurity, a hermit in his own land, his presence was always felt. Even those in the highest reaches of the national government knew of Angus Macgregor.
"The funeral's on Friday at Lammerrant, do you want to come?" the younger woman asked even though she already knew the answer. She really didn't want her mother at the service.
"Are you kidding?" Gladys snorted without amusement. "The man never gave me respect in life so I'll not be giving him any respect in death."
So it was that Erin ended up making the trip to Lammerrant on her own. She cleared her calendar and drove up the night prior to the service. Though she had relatives in the district and could have spent the evening with them, she chose instead to sleep at the small Inn in town.
It was a small community and she was familiar with the townsfolk, many of whom were associated in some manner to Lord Macgregor. Everyone she met expressed their sympathy over her loss. She saw that it was genuine and she appreciated their concern. Thus it wasn't entirely a surprise when many of the locals turned out for the service the next morning at the local rectory. It was more than she could say about others who had claimed to be the man's friend.
She arrived at the church well before the appointed hour, thankful that the mortician had kindly agreed to set the casket out early. She had not had a chance to view the body and was appreciative now for the few quiet moments alone with her father before the rest of the congregation arrived.
She walked to the front of the church, her soft soled flat heeled shoes making no sound on the polished hard wood floor. The casket had been left open and she approached it now, seeing again the familiar lines of age that had so distinguished the man. Though his features had the waxy colour of death, she could still distinguish the leathery weather lines that spoke of the many hours the man had spent outdoors, roaming the island and sailing on the sea.
Though many of his comrades had rejoiced in the fact that they had survived the war, Angus had somehow resented the fact and as if to prove his point he had often risked life and limb on various adventures that had made him face the harshest of nature's elements. It was as if he was taunting those who had allowed him to live.
In a way many tended to believe she had inherited some of the man's defiance. Certainly she liked to push herself to the limits both personally and professionally, but she had a reverence for life and respected the forces that could determine whether she lived or died. She was not a fool and she knew when something was beyond her capabilities. It was just that she had not yet found a challenge that she had been unable to handle, whether it was in her adventures or in the courtroom.
She sighed, gently reaching out to touch the man's long coarse grey hair. Once it had been as dark as her own and no one seeing them together could have ever mistaken them for not being related. They were both tall with strong classical features, inherited from a long, pure blood line. Both had the same piercing blue eyes that were able to pin a person and stare into their very soul. A look that had unsettled many people, making them squirm. Both were stubborn and insisted on getting their own way. They had been so similar that many people found it hard to find any qualities that she had inherited from her mother.
But as similar as they had been, they had also been very different. While Angus would bully people, using force if necessary, she would find a more compassionate way of turning a situation in her favour. Unlike the old man she knew that the world had changed to the point where intimidation could no longer be used in dealing with the public. Though he was Lord of the Manor, the feudal system had long since died.
Erin wished she could cry, but too much business had been left unfinished. The old man had taken too many secrets to his grave and she knew that it would be a long time before she would be able to have closure. As little as they saw each other, the impact the man had in her life was enormous, more than anyone knew. More than she wanted anyone to know.
"It's nice to see you again Miss Macgregor, though I'm sorry that it has to be under such sad circumstances," the tall woman turned her head to see the young minister come out of a door at the side of the rectory.
"Yes Father," she greeted him respectfully though she was not a member of his congregation. The man had to look up to see her face clearly for he was quite a bit shorter than her. "I appreciate you allowing us to have the service here. I know my father was not a member of your congregation."
"The funeral generally isn't for the dead," the man smiled gently. "It's really an opportunity for the living to say goodbye and as most of my congregation is connected to Loch Loe and Lord Macgregor I thought it only fitting that the service be held here."
"Thank you, you are a gracious man," Erin was sincere, knowing that not many other ministers would have opened their church for a man who claimed not to believe in God. "I know Angus gave you a bit of a rough go."
"Yes," the man admitted with a genuine smile. It was as if he had savoured the arguments of religion that he had shared with the older man. "But I am not one to begrudge a man his opinion. The Lord our God made us all different for a purpose. Will the rest of your family be joining you here?"
"No," the tall woman shook her head. "I'm afraid not everyone can be as charitable as you are."
"Well, I'm sure the good Lord will have a word with them about that," the Minister said and than his attention was diverted by the arrival of the first of the guests.
Erin was pleased that the service was just as genuine as the man who conducted it. Reverent Masters was a truly Christian man, and though he was blunt and forthright with his service, he was also kind and compassionate. The tall woman wondered if Angus really deserved such respect.
After the service Angus Macgregor, the eighteenth Earl of Laydon and the Lord of Loch Loe, was buried on church property next to the graves of his long deceased mother and father and numerous other relatives. His title would automatically go to a distant cousin, but because the castle was not part of the title, it would be inherited by the one who Angus bequeathed it too.
"It will take some time for me to sort through all of Angus' affairs," George Ludden said almost apologetically when he came to offer his condolences after the service. He had driven up that morning for the funeral. "I expect it will be a few weeks before everything will be in order. Angus' last will is a bit confusing and I need some time to settle some issues."
"I am not in any rush," Erin replied with a stoic expression. "Contrary to what everyone thinks I am not my mother and I have no designs on obtaining my share of his wealth."
"I didn't mean to imply," the other barrister stuttered, flushing with embarrassment.
"I know you didn't George," the tall woman was quick to interject. In spite of the small size of his firm, George Ludden had a lot of influence in the legal profession. She had no intention of getting on his wrong side. She glanced around at the people who had gathered at the rectory for tea following the service. "It's been a rather long day and I'm not myself today."
"No, of course, it's to be expected," the man sympathized immediately, relaxing his posture as he too glanced around the room. "Angus was long in years but death, however expected, is never easy."
"No," Erin agreed. "I want to thank you again for handling all the arrangements."
"You're welcome," George replied graciously glad that he would be dealing with this woman in the future and not her mother. If there was one thing that he had learned in all the years of his dealing with Erin Macgregor was that she was fair and honest, never allowing her personal feelings to interfere with justice. He had to trust that in the coming months she would continue to behave in the same manner, for being privy to the old man's will, he knew that she would be called on to act in a way that few people would be able to handle.
Erin waited only until it was socially acceptable to leave before doing so. She wanted to drive back to Edinburgh that night and didn't fancy doing it in the dark. Not being the type of person to brood she dismissed the events of the past week and concentrated on the road ahead.
Kellie Macgregor received the package at work and its arrival elicited curiosity amongst her co-workers. It was delivered by special courier and she signed for the large envelope before eagerly ripping open the end. Its contents came as a complete surprise for it was a one way airline ticket to Scotland and it was attached to an official looking document. She glanced at the letterhead and it matched the address on the envelope. It was from a legal firm in Edinburgh.
She poured over the letter. It was from the law firm of Ludden, Gates and Mcfadden and in plain form it simply announced that Lord Angus Donald Macgregor had recently died. As executors of the estate it was their duty to inform her that as a beneficiary she was expected to present herself for the reading of the will. A frown marred her delicate features.
She had no recollections of a man named Angus Macgregor. The only connection she could make to Scotland itself was a trip she had made with her mother many years ago. They had gone to visit an old gentleman who lived on a remote island. He had been a war time friend of her grandfathers. She could think of no reason why she would be made a benefactor of a man to which she neither knew nor was related. It was a most perplexing situation.
"You're frowning," Tony Timmins said plunking himself down on a corner of her desk. Like the others in the editorial room he had witnessed the courier's arrival and had allowed his curiosity to get the better of him. "Have I done something to upset you?"
"No," Kellie shook her blonde head. "I got this strange letter from a solicitor in Scotland. It seems I was named in the will of someone I don't even know."
"No kidding let me see," the man snatched the document from her hand and scanned it as if he were an expert on such matters. "Lord Angus Macgregor, maybe he is some long lost relative and you are the last survivor of an old family line. Maybe you will inherit a title and a castle."
"For god sakes Tony, be sensible," she snapped grabbing the letter back. She stared at it for a moment, not quite believing it was real. Briefly she thought it might be some joke that someone was playing on her for she knew such a prank was not above her friends and colleagues. "Is this one of your jokes?"
"No way babe," the man replied defensively. "I would never be that cruel, besides that ticket is as genuine as they come."
"Yeah, I guess, you're right," Kellie blushed embarrassed by her distrust as she scrutinized the unexpected gift. She couldn't believe her luck. "I remember going with my mom to Scotland before my grandfather died. I was about nine years old at the time. We went to visit a war buddy of his. All I remember is that he was tall and quite forbidding. He scared the pants off me. But I hardly think that visit was worth any inheritance."
"Maybe he's your long lost father," the man suggested lightly and received a glare for his attempt at humour. The flashing green eyes that were pointed in his direction made him shift uncomfortably and the heat rise under his collar. Kellie was a genuinely nice person but he knew from experience that her innocent features masked an explosive temper. Not that she got mad often for it was rare that anything ever upset her.
"I hardly think that's likely, the man must have been more then thirty years older than my mom," she retorted sourly, suddenly realizing that this man knew far too much of her personal history.
"Than maybe your grandfather and he had some kind of wartime pact that would only be revealed to their heirs upon their deaths. Perhaps they stole millions of dollars from the Nazi's in the last days of the war," the man continued in an attempt to lighten the mood.
"Good Lord, Tony where do you come up with this stuff," Kellie rolled her eyes, her anger at him already dissipating. "You've been watching too many movies."
"Perhaps," the man shrugged indifferently, flashing a dazzling smile. "At least I'm not boring."
Kellie recognized the patented charming smile that he turned on her; it was the one he always used to cajole her out of a sour mood. She knew that he was interested in her and he wasn't unhandsome with his dark looks, yet she firmly held him at arms length.
Tony was a nice man but she wasn't interested in being anything more than friends. She wanted to establish her career before making a commitment to anyone. There were still so many things she wanted to do, places she wanted to go. She focused her attention back on the letter.
"I know grandfather and him fought together in several major military campaigns. Grandfather also talked about the various citations and medals they won. Perhaps he somehow found out about my interest in military history and wants to give me his medals and war diaries. It's all so mysterious."
"Whatever it is you have to look on the bright side kiddo."
"What's that?" emerald eyes looked up at the man.
"You get to have a free holiday," Tony said brightly picking up the airline ticket. "Maybe I should book off a week's holiday and join you."
"You just came back," she laughed not taking his suggestion seriously. His skin still glowed with the tan he had collected while on vacation in California. The smile on her lips faded as she stared at the airline ticket. "Besides I haven't even decided if I am going."
"You have to go," the man seemed stunned.
"I don't know," she hesitated. Admittedly the mystery of the situation made her curious, but there were other things she had to consider. She had certain responsibilities and it wasn't in her nature just to drop everything and run off on a whim. "It's only a one way ticket and besides I'm not sure Mr. Davis will give me any more time off. I have already had three weeks."
"Forget Davis, this is a chance in a life time for you," Tony sighed, his manner growing serious for a moment. "You have always been curious about your family history and this is your chance to find out about your roots."
She didn't say anything at first staring into the space in front of her. The idea of tracing her ancestry was appealing and something definitely worth considering. As adamantly as she might deny the claim, it was entirely possible this stranger could have been her father.
"Are we still on for Friday?" the man asked changing the subject as he hopped off the desk.
"I don't know," she was undecided. She studied the airline ticket absently. The date of departure was on Thursday. It was Monday now. "It depends on what I decide to do, I'll let you know."
The man nodded before hurrying off. He had spotted their boss moving around his office and didn't want to be accused of malingering. He wasn't worried for himself, but for Kellie. She had become the boss' favourite target lately and he didn't want to be responsible for bringing any more unwanted trouble her way.
Kellie tried to concentrate on her work after the man left, but she found it difficult to focus her attention on the article she was writing. Her thoughts were held by something more interesting than the latest nutritional program for good health. Her fingers suddenly stopped typing and she stared at the words on the screen of her computer.
For five years she had been doing the same thing, writing mundane articles and sparsely read items on subjects that dealt with food and health. Occasionally the editor would let her fill in for a vacationing features writer but mostly she was stuck doing the stories that no one else wanted.
In the beginning she had been eager to accept any challenge but as time went by and as she was continually passed over for promotion she began to feel discouraged. She was a good writer, everyone agreed on that fact; it was just that she was too soft in her criticism. At least that was what the editor said. She didn't have the passion that was needed to stoke controversy.
Normally the criticism didn't bother her but for the first time she saw it for what it was. It wasn't just her writing that the editor was criticizing, it was her own personality. In that instant she decided she would show them who was soft.
She didn't even bother pressing the save button before pushing her chair away from the desk. She would be turning twenty nine this year and was as far away from accomplishing her career goals as she had been when she started on this weekly magazine. In the interim she had watched others come and go while she stayed stagnant.
She squared her shoulders and marched towards the editor's office. She had always been willing to do whatever she was asked but now she wondered if she wasn't missing out everything by being complacent. She had seen more vocal individuals advance more quickly and decided it was time to take control of her life, instead of allowing it to control her. She knocked on the door and physically jumped when the editor barked for her to enter.
Samuel Davis had taken over as editor just after she had started with the magazine. He had taken an immediate dislike to her and had only kept her around because she was good at writing the fluff pieces that the readers enjoyed. He had often told her, she hadn't the guts to write the meatier articles that he handed to the other writers.
She stared at the man who sat behind the cluttered desk. His brush cut hair was completely grey and his face was weathered and lined from plenty of outdoor experience. He had been a staff writer in the army for the military paper and after his retirement he had worked for several daily newspapers and monthly magazines before becoming the editor of the local news magazine they published.
His style was abrasive and offended many people. Of the original staff of writers she was the only one remaining as all the others had long since gotten fed up and left. She had prided herself on sticking it out but now she wondered if it hadn't been a foolhardy thing.
"What do you want Macgregor?" the man barked. He never called anyone by their first name.
"Sir, I need some time off," she tried not to show her fear.
"Haven't you already had your holidays?" he asked not glancing up.
"But nothing, I am running a weekly magazine here. Have you finished your article yet?" This time he did look up, fixing her with that intense look he cast on everyone. It was meant to make everyone quiver with fear. It had that effect on her.
"No," she stammered.
"Than get the hell out of here and get back to work," he said and turned his attention back to the papers on his desk.
Kellie was automatically about to obey and found herself turning to go when something inside her snapped. This man had treated her badly for five years and the only reason she had put up with it was because she had been insecure about her abilities. But suddenly she was tired of being bullied.
"No," she slammed the door shut and turned to face the man, hands on her hips, green eyes flashing. "I will not write another word until I know whether I can have a week off. It is not a holiday. Some urgent personal business has come up that I need to deal with."
The man glanced up startled that such a powerful voice had come out of such a delicate woman. His eyes narrowed as he stared at her; there was a determination on her face that he had never seen before. He leaned back in his chair amused by this different side of character the woman was displaying.
"Why should I give you any more time off?" he asked, curious as to how she would respond.
"Because I have worked here for five years and done everything you asked," she paused for a brief instant. "And if you don't I will quit."
The man smirked. He didn't believe the woman had the guts to carry out her threat. He knew one of the reasons she stayed with the magazine was that she had family in the area and she liked the small city in which she lived. Besides he honestly didn't think she could get a job on a one of the other dailies. He didn't think she had the talent.
"I can't let you have any more time off," he said calling her bluff. "If I did than everyone would think I was playing favourites."
"Playing favourites!" Kellie gasped in disbelief. She felt indignant. "The last thing anyone on this paper would think was that you were playing favourites. For five years I have slaved for you, suffering through your criticisms and enduring the humiliation as younger, junior writers get promoted over me. In all that time I have never booked a day off sick or asked for a special favour. The one time I do, you don't even give me the courtesy of listening to what I have to say."
"Listen Macgregor I am running a paper here," he began but she cut him off, being rude for one of the few times in her life.
"Yes and you're running it without me," she interrupted unable to control her temper. "I resign effective this moment."
Without waiting to hear his response she stormed out of the office, pausing at her desk only long enough to collect the few personal belongings that she had brought from home. Tony watched with curiously from his desk, waiting until it was safe to do so before hurrying to her side.
"What's up babe?"
"I am not going to make our date on Friday, I'll be in Scotland," she announced bravely. She was still trembling from the earlier scene.
"He gave you the time off?" the man was surprised. He didn't think their boss had compassion for anyone.
"No," she shook her head.
"He fired you?"
"I quit," she said gathering up her personal stuff. "It was something I should have done a long time ago. I'll see you around."
She turned to go but as an after thought she remembered the article she had written for this week's edition. She turned back to the computer and with one deft stroke deleted everything on the disk inside the computer. Then without another word or a glance backwards she walked out of the room, her head held high and her shoulders straight back. It was only later that she had a chance to reconsider her hasty decision.
"Are you sure you know what your doing love?" Aunt Margaret asked later that evening after the girl told her what happened that afternoon at work.
"No," Kellie admitted reluctantly slipping onto the edge of the bed.
The first few hours she had been carried along by anger yet now that the emotion had dissipated she was left to consider the consequences of her actions with a rational mind. She glanced about her normally tidy bedroom. It was in disarray with clothes strewn about the furniture. A suitcase lay open on the bed. Aunt Margaret nodded with quiet understanding. She looked pensively at her niece for a long moment before settling her thin frame on the bed next to the girl.
"Perhaps if you apologized, Mr. Davis would take you back," she suggested a possibility.
"No," Kellie disagreed popping up to her feet and beginning to pace around the room. "I can't go back there, not after what I said besides he wouldn't take me back and even if he did I would be
miserable," she sighed and slumped into the small chair by the dresser.
"The truth is Auntie I don't want to go back there," she confessed. "I have been unhappy for such a long time but I have been too scared to do anything about it."
The older woman looked intently at the girl's face. She loved her niece like a daughter and only wanted her to be happy. She glanced at the air mail packet that was lying on the bed by the suitcase. She picked it up and studied the contents of the letter one more time.
"Perhaps than this is a good thing," she said at last, though the tone of her voice was anything but encouraging. "I don't know what your mother would think."
"I know it seems bizarre but I really do think this is a good idea," Kellie wanted her Aunt to be happy. "And I think mommy would have told me to go for it."
"Perhaps she would have," the older woman sighed giving into the inevitable yet unable to keep herself from fussing. "I just worry about you being alone. You won't know anyone over there. What if you get into trouble?"
The girl stared intently at her Aunt's wrinkled face. They had been together since the death of her Uncle five years earlier and in that time they had developed a special bond. She slipped out of the chair and knelt in front of the older woman gently picking up the frail hands and cradling them between her own.
"I will be all right," she assured with a tender smile. "I can take care of myself and I'm sure these lawyers, whoever they are, will be only to willing to help if I run into any trouble."
"Scotland is so far away," the woman continued.
"I will only be gone for a week," Kellie tried to be reassuring.
"I promised your mother when she died I would look after you," Margaret sighed.
"And you have done a wonderful job Auntie," she smiled. "But this is something I feel I have to do. It's time I took a chance."
"Yes, maybe it is," the older woman agreed. She said nothing more on the subject, gently patting the girls head as she rose to her feet. "I think it's time to start dinner."
Kellie leaned back on her heels, her green eyes thoughtfully following the old woman as she slowly wandered out of the room. Despite the acquiescing she couldn't help feeling that the woman was not entirely happy with the situation. Aunt Margaret and her cousin were the only family she had left. She waited for a few minutes before following the woman into the kitchen. She found her Aunt standing at the counter.
"Was Angus Macgregor my father?"
The old woman physically jumped at the sound of the girl's voice. She had not heard the girl follow her down the steps. She whirled around from the water basin to see her niece standing in the doorway. Her arms were folded across her chest. There was a solemn expression on her face.
"Your mother never told us who your father was," Margaret was honest. "Perhaps you don't believe that, but your mother was reluctant to talk about anything that dealt with how you came to be. She preferred to call it as an unfortunate accident that brought her a great joy."
Kellie did not doubt the woman's claim for even on her death bed her mother had refused to divulge the identity of her natural father. It had been a source of strain between them all their lives and she had never been able to understand the need for secrecy. In the end she had reasoned that it had perhaps been shame and humiliation that had made her mother take the truth to the grave.
"Perhaps it was Angus Macgregor, I'm not sure, the only thing I know for certain was that your mother did become pregnant that year she spent in Scotland," the woman sighed as if the whole matter was to disturbing to discuss.
"But he was almost thirty years older than her," Kellie grimaced at the idea.
"We don't always choose who we fall in love with," Margaret counseled eyeing the younger woman thoughtfully. "When I first met your Uncle Harry, I wanted nothing to do with him. He was loud, obnoxious and rough around the edges. It wasn't until I got to know him that I found out he had a heart of gold and that made everything else seem unimportant."
Kellie was quiet. It was true. Her Aunt and Uncle had been as different as night and day yet they had loved each other passionately until the day he had died of cancer. The man had been everything that her Aunt said and they had all loved him and his blunt honesty.
"I don't understand why she didn't tell me," she said softly.
"Perhaps she didn't think you would understand," the other woman guessed.
"I was twenty years old," Kellie disputed the claim.
"Your mother was a proud woman and maybe she was ashamed by what happened," Margaret said voicing her own thoughts. "When she left for Scotland she was filled with such dreams and ideas yet when she returned she was changed."
The woman paused. "No parent likes to admit to their child that they failed. No one likes to acknowledge the mistakes they make. Maybe it was easier for her to forget what happened. Maybe she was scared you would think differently of her. You always had a close relationship and she may have been afraid that you would resent her if you knew the truth."
Kellie did not argue the point. She had been close with her mother. There had always only ever been the two of them living in the house with her grandfather and in the beginning when she was younger it hadn't mattered. She had been close to her grandfather and he had been the only father figure she needed. It wasn't until after he had died that she had been possessed with the urgency to know the truth.
That night she was unable to sleep, her thoughts keeping slumber at bay. Finally she gave up trying and restlessly climbed out of bed. As she had done since childhood, she opened the window and crawled out onto the first floor roof.
She lay back against the rough shingles and stared up at the night sky. It was a warm evening with no clouds and she was able to stare up into infinity, her eyes entranced by the stars that glowed and glittered overhead.
She had never been able to convince her mother how important it was to her to know the truth about her heritage. She had been unable to clearly explain the void that she had in her heart. A void created by ignorance. Her mother hadn't understood and in retrospect perhaps the woman hadn't wanted to understand.
For years as a child she had invented her own stories of what had happened to her father. Once she had pretended that he was a soldier who had died in the war. Another time she had told a friend that he had died from a horrible sickness. It had gained her sympathy from those who had believed her yet it had done nothing to fill the hole in her heart.
She took a deep breathe filling her lungs with the clear crisp air of the night. In the distance she could hear the wail of a siren as an ambulance raced to some emergency. All her life she had been afraid to take chances. The fear had been instilled by her mother, a woman who had always been afraid that she would make the same mistakes.
"I had dreams, but I allowed my foolishness to destroy them, don't do the same," her mother used to say and she heard the words again as if the woman were sitting right there beside her.
They had been ingrained in her head and they automatically came to mind every time she had to make a decision. It was odd how she had not heard them this afternoon when she had quit her job. But than she had not given herself time to think. She had acted impulsively.
She smiled. As terrifying as it had been, it had also felt wonderful. She had done something unexpected, allowed her emotions to govern her actions, and now she was filled with a sense of fear and excitement.
She had never traveled anywhere on her own yet in a few days she would be flying across the ocean, sailing towards some unknown future. She tempered her thoughts. She had no reason to expect anything worthwhile from this trip. Yet she reasoned that her importance must be enough to warrant the expense of a first class ticket.
Her decision might have been impulsive and she may have needlessly thrown away a stable job, but she was determined to view it as an adventure. It was time that she started taking chances. She was a survivor and whatever happened she was certain she would land back on her feet. It was a curious situation and the more she thought about it the more her anticipation grew.
The next few days were spent in a whirlwind of activity as she rushed to make the necessary arrangements that needed to be taken care of before her trip. She purchased several new outfits on a whim ignoring the fact that she did not have a job to replenish the bank account from which she was withdrawing the money. She had determined not to worry about such things. On Wednesday she did all her packing and that evening she was surprised when her Aunt hosted a small farewell party.
"Auntie you shouldn't have," she hugged the elderly woman. She had just returned from a last minute dinner date with Tony unaware that it had been a part of the surprise. "This is all not necessary; I am only going to be gone for a week."
"Something tells me it will be a little longer than a week," the older woman mused wisely and moved away before Kellie could get her to explain the remark.
"You better not be gone longer than that," Tony chirped, grabbing her arm and twirling her around to face him. "It is awful at work without you and I will be positively lost if you don't hurry back."
"Well, we'll see. Who knows I might have inherited a grand castle and be needed to oversee all my land tenants," she quipped with a smile and he threw his head back and laughed.
"Now look whose been watching too many movies," he smiled. "If that happens will you allow me to come be your retainer?"
"I'd have to think about it," she replied in the same light tones.
"What will you have to think about?" her cousin Shaun asked as he ambled up to them.
"Tony was just saying that if I do inherit a castle and a title he would be willing to volunteer as my retainer," she replied.
"Alas, if that does happen I think you might forget about us lowly peasants," Shaun sighed in mock retreat.
"No," Kellie turned momentarily serious. "Whatever the outcome of this excursion I will never forget anybody. How can I forget the guy that stole my favourite teddy bear and put it up in a tree?"
Shaun laughed as he remembered the childhood stunt he had played on his cousin. At the time it had brought her to tears and he had been severely punished for the trick. Now it was one of the memories they savoured about their shared youth
"I think it's great," he said solemnly. He hadn't had a chance to tell her yet how he felt. "I hope you do inherit money, you deserve some good fortune."
"No," she shook her head though she appreciated his sentiments. "I am just grateful for the trip. I really don't expect anything more. I was thinking about it last night and I think the trip to Scotland is my inheritance."
"Why?" Her cousin was curious. She shrugged.
"I don't know, maybe because the country was so dear to mother. Maybe he wanted me to see it as mother did. When I was there as a child I couldn't appreciate the history."
"Well, there is no need for you to rush back so if you have the opportunity of staying longer do it," Shaun said with brotherly affection.
"I was considering that," she agreed. "I realize that it might be the perfect opportunity for me travel. This is my big chance to see Europe, something I have wanted to do for years. With no time limits I can spend as much time over there as my finances allow."
"Speaking of finances, do you need any money?"
"No, but thank you for the offer," she hugged the man impulsively.
Shaun had always been like a big brother and his offer warmed her heart. She knew that his wife and him were not rich yet he was always willing to help anyone in need. She had saved a small sum of money and if she was frugal it would be sufficient for her purposes.
"Promise me than, that you will have a good time," he said holding her at arms length. "Take a few chances."
"I will have a good time," she promised with a smile, "and I will take some chances."
Later that night after everyone had said their farewells and left, she climbed out onto the roof outside her bedroom. She made no pretense of trying to sleep, aware that she was too keyed up to find any rest. She sat hugging her knees and feeling teary eyed and not certain why.
She thought about what her cousin said. She had always been afraid to take a chance preferring to take the safe and comfortable way. She had always allowed reason to govern her actions. In that sense they had been very different. Shaun had always been a carefree individual, never allowing anything to intrude on his sense of fun and adventure. He had a way of looking at the brighter things in life, never fretting about what could happen. She had envied him all her life.
She took a deep breathe and stared out into the black night. For the first time in her life she was taking a page out of his book. She remembered her Aunt's words and her heart trembled. Though she could not admit it to anyone she too had the feeling that she was embarking on a trip that would change her forever and it was a terrifying yet exciting thought.
The seas had grown angry and they assaulted the small boat for its arrogance to traverse its depths on such a black night. The dark figure leaned heavily on the oars, propelling the delicate vessel through the churning foam. A cold rain had begun to fall, washing the salt spray from dark features.
The kidnapper glanced to the stern where the woman lay still, oblivious to the elements of nature that threatened to drown them. She slept on, yet unaware of her plight.
Though tense muscles ached, the lone invader continued to strain against the oars with all his strength. He was a powerful man and his stubbornness would not allow this triumphant to be denied. Strong arms pulled the huge wooden boat through the watery surf until its bottom scraped the sand. The tall figure jumped out and almost immediately another smaller shadow emerged from the safe shelter of a nearby cavern.
"Your cloak, my lord," a small man said handing his Master a dry robe while he clutched the reins of a powerful looking steed with his other hand.
The tall intruder nodded, fastening the proffered riding garment over broad shoulders before bending over the side of the boat and lifting out the damsel. For a moment the kidnapper paused to study the woman. Now that she was here, she would never be allowed to leave.
"I will see you back at the castle," the Lord said grabbing the reins after mounting the large steed, the young woman cradled in his strong arms.
With a click of the heels, the horse was off and soon they were galloping up the sandy slope through the small parish and out across the barren rolling hills that made up the small island kingdom.
They rode to the castle, perched at the centre of the island on a small rise. From the recently completed guard towers one could view the entire estate. They rode through the gates into the courtyard, the sound of the horses hoofs echoing loudly inside the stone walls. A stable hand rushed out from one of the dark archways that circled the enclosed square.
The Lord dismounted the prize of the evenings adventures still tightly secure in muscular arms. Without stopping he marched through an open door into the vestibule where a small cadre of servants waited.
"Heat water for a bath," the instructions came without formal greeting, "and warm the bed with coals."
The servants rushed off to do their Master's bidding and one hurried ahead, leading the way up the stairs to the second floor and down the long cavernous hallways towards the bedchamber that had been prepared. Only once inside the room, was the woman finally gently laid upon on the bed.
"I want you to take care of her," the Lord instructed in a husky voice, brilliant blue eyes gazing at the delicate flower that now looked damp and wilted. "I want no harm to be brought to the Lady."
"Yes, my Lord, now go or you will catch your death."
The tall Lord nodded, momentarily unwilling to leave the Lady's side but he knew the handmaiden to be right. Gently reaching down, the kidnapper picked up one hand of the sleeping beauty raising it to firm lips for a tender kiss before setting it back down on the bed.
"She is sleeping with the potion, but I will return to see how she fairs," the Master promised before rushing back out of the room.
Kellie opened her eyes and stared out of the small window but all she could see was the thick blanket of clouds that covered the earth. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. It was still hard to image what had happened in the last three days. It was as if a whirlwind had blown through her existence and changed the course of her life.
She took a deep breathe. It was hard to believe that she was on her way to Scotland. It was all a little overwhelming and her stomach trembled nervously. She had acted purely on impulse not allowing herself time to think about her actions.
She stared at the seat in front of her. She had no grand illusions. She wasn't flying to Scotland expecting to inherit millions, thinking instead of something more reasonable like a collection of war memorabilia. Either way, it would serve as a stepping off point. She would tour the United Kingdom and than head south to France and Central Europe. She would not limit herself to any set time table and travel as her heart desired.
She had some money in the bank and if prudent, it would last her a while. She spoke a little French and Spanish and was confident it was enough to get her around. She was also confident that she could get some part-time work to support herself.
The plan seemed very rational yet she was anxious. She had never before ventured far from her home town. She had attended the local university and had traveled out of province by car but never had she gone on such an extensive adventure.
She turned and stared out the window. She was terrified. Scotland was a completely different world. She was a typical North American, used to the comforts of Canadian society. She knew from books she had read that while the cities were very modern, the country villages and towns were old fashioned. She couldn't help but be a little tentative.
The plane landed at Heathrow Airport in London and after going through customs she had to hurry through the terminal to catch the connecting flight to Edinburgh. Though this plane was much smaller it was just as crowded. It was late afternoon when she finally arrived at her destination and she was thoroughly weary.
She collected the few pieces of luggage from the baggage carousel and than glanced thoughtfully about the arrival area. She had hoped that someone might be there to greet her but it was a false expectation. Following the crowds she made her way outside and lined up in the queue waiting for an available taxi.
"Where you be headin' lass?" the cab driver asked snatching her bags from the sidewalk and stowing them in the luggage compartment of his car.
The letter had stated that a room would be reserved for her at the Nottingham Inn and she gave the driver the address before settling into the backseat. She missed the puzzled look the man cast in her direction.
"You be sure about the Nottingham Inn, Miss?" the kindly driver inquired as he slid in behind the steering wheel.
"Yes," Kellie nodded quelling the anxiety that suddenly sprung up in her stomach. "Is there something wrong with the place?"
"Nay," the man shook his head as he started the car and pulled into traffic. "It's just that it be a little posh and out of the way. Are you certain you wouldn't be wanting to stay at a hotel more central?"
"No," she shook her head not knowing how to interpret the man's words. She remained quiet focusing her attention on the scenery outside. The driver glanced in the rear view mirror.
"Begging your pardon ma'am, I didn't mean to be disrespectful; it's just that it's unusual for any tourist to be going to the Inn. It's a place where the local gentry usually stay when they come to the city."
"I don't know anything about that," she shrugged helplessly. "I have just come here for the reading of a Will and the solicitors booked the room for me."
"Who died than?" the driver asked curiously.
"An Angus Macgregor," she said.
"Aye, than you will be staying at the Inn," the man nodded his head knowledgably and she stared at the back of his head, a frown decorating her features.
"Did you know Mr. Macgregor?"
"Not personally," the driver said. "But everyone in Scotland knows of him."
"Was he a rich man?" she wanted to know.
"Aye, there are some that say he be the richest in the country, maybe even in the whole Kingdom save the Queen, but he never showed it," the man replied and glanced in the mirror again. "How'd you know the man?"
"I don't," she admitted honestly.
She didn't say any more unwilling to go into any further detail about why she was here. It didn't help that she didn't even know the truth. She turned her head and stared out the window, grateful that the driver had fallen silent.
The Nottingham Inn was located on a quiet street in a residential area of the city. It had a nondescript facade and looked like any ordinary tavern but once she stepped through the doors she noticed the transformation.
It had a cozy, old world charm and she noticed that most of the elegant furnishings were antiques. The attached dining hall was renowned for its cuisine and its bedroom suites were small but exquisitely decorated. The atmosphere was warm and hospitable and she fell in love with the place, glad that these faceless barristers had secured a room here rather than at a newer more fashionable chain hotel.
"The room how much does it cost?" she inquired thinking of what the cabbie had said and aware that she had to start watching her pennies.
"The matter of payment has all been taken care of," the proprietor said with a smile. She did not know that the staff had been advised to treat her royally without consideration of expense. "This letter was left at the desk for you. If there is anything you need just ring us."
Kellie nodded and waited until the kind man had left before sitting down on the edge of the bed and opening the dispatch. It was a brief note from the solicitor inviting her for dinner. It said he would be around at eight to collect her. A quick glance at her watch told her that it was nearly six. There was just enough time for a bath.
Henry Ludden had volunteered to entertain the foreign woman for dinner that evening. No one at Ludden, Gates and Mcfadden knew what to expect of this stranger from Canada, yet all knew of her importance. Angus Macgregor had been very secretive, revealing only the most necessary details of their relationship. George Ludden had at first intended on meeting the woman himself, but Henry had persuaded his father otherwise. The woman was his age and more likely able to relate to him. The logical reasoning had won the argument.
He swung the car through the narrow streets of the city. At thirty years of age, he was still a bachelor with no interest in settling down unless the right woman came along. The right woman of course, meant she needed a healthy bank account from which he could draw an adequate lifestyle. He was a practicing solicitor like his father but did not have the ambition or drive to be as successful.
For a moment he thought of this unknown stranger. He wondered what she looked like and whether she had inherited any of the old man's personality. He had been willing to sacrifice an evening to find out what type of person they would be dealing with, aware that as a stranger in a foreign land she would need a friend. Besides he never knew were the liaison could go from there. It was quite possible she was the woman he was looking for.
Miraculously there was a parking spot in front of the pub next door to the Inn. He preferred the flashier more modern places in the city but supposed under the circumstances it was only appropriate the woman stay at the Inn. He locked up the car and than strolled purposefully into the Inn, bracing himself for the night ahead.
Kellie was ready and sitting in the downstairs lounge when a dapper young man came strolling through the door. His dark hair was neatly slicked back and there was a thin moustache over his upper lip. There was an air of arrogance that exuded from his presence and somehow she knew this was the solicitor for whom she was waiting. Her thoughts were confirmed when the young girl at the desk pointed in her direction.
Henry turned his head and stared. For an instant his jaw dropped in surprise. He had been preparing himself for a female version of the old man yet was completely bowled over by the blond beauty that sat waiting in the lounge. He recovered and the look of surprise was quickly replaced by a charming smile that spread over his lips as he hurried across the room to greet her.
"Miss Macgregor, my profuse apologies for making you wait," the man said extending his hand. Kellie rose and accepted the greeting.
"I was early," she smiled and it changed her entire face.
The man stared for a moment at the sparkling emerald eyes and the crown of golden hair. He didn't think he had ever met anyone as beautiful. It was his lucky day indeed. He remembered his manners.
"I am sorry I forgot to introduce myself," he bowed his head slightly. "Henry Ludden, junior partner in Ludden, Gates and Mcfadden."
"Pleased to meet you," Kellie replied politely though she was beginning to grow uncomfortable under the man's obvious admiration. She gently extracted her hand from his prolonged grasp. "It is very kind of you to escort me to dinner."
"It is my pleasure. Angus Macgregor was a greatly valued client of our firm and we wish to express our deepest condolences. He would want us to do whatever we could to make your stay in Scotland comfortable. Besides I couldn't let you spend your first night in the country alone."
"Thank you," Kellie murmured with some embarrassment. She felt like she was a fraud being gushed over and pampered by strangers who knew a man she did not.
"Shall we go to dinner than?" Henry suggested aware of her unease.
"Yes, please," she agreed, feeling famished.
She had not brought many clothes along on this trip, mindful of her decision to continue on around the world. One of the few things she had packed was an evening dress of black chiffon.
It was an off the shoulder number with short sleeves and a low bodice that revealed the creamy whiteness of her skin and the gentle swelling of her breasts. It was calf length with a gentle slit up the side, a cut just high enough to reveal the delicate shapeliness of her legs.
When she had unpacked the dress, she had found it in crumples and it had only been with the assistance of the receptionist in the Inn that she had managed to rid the garment of all its wrinkles. She was glad now that she had taken the trouble of ironing the creases instead of choosing another less formal outfit.
Henry had made reservations at several restaurants in anticipation of what he would find waiting for him. He took her to the most exclusive place he knew, a place where he would be seen by friends. It did not matter to him at all what he spent on the evening for his father would reimburse him from the old man's estate.
As hoped, several of his friends were at the restaurant and he silently acknowledged their presence as he walked with his companion to a quiet table in a secluded part of the room. The subdued intimacy of the atmosphere made Kellie uncomfortable. This man was treating her as if this were a date.
Her fears were immediately forgotten for her companion was charming and quickly put her at ease. He was funny and his humorous anecdotes made her laugh. It was such a pure, honest sound that bubbled up from deep inside, and gave Henry goose bumps. It was odd but he had never gone looking for love yet strangely looking across the table at his companion he felt as if it had found him.
The sweet taste of the wine and delicious meal loosened her tongue and Kellie found herself telling this man almost everything about her life back in Canada and he listened intently wondering if she suspected how much her quiet existence was about to change. He didn't think she knew the truth and strangely he was not eager to break the news.
After awhile he found himself telling her about his own life. He related the tribulations of public school and of his fledging career working in his father's law practice. He wanted her to know everything about him and could have carried on all night if it hadn't been for the yawns he saw her stifle.
"Please forgive me," he apologized sincerely. "I have been shamefully remiss in forgetting that you have had a long day. Let me drive you home."
Kellie did not dissuade him. She was tired and the affects of the small amount of wine she had consumed were adding to the weariness she felt. It had been a long and emotionally exhausting day.
"Thank you very much, Mr. Ludden," she said when he escorted her back to the Inn.
"Please, I would consider it an honour if you called me Henry," he said quietly with a smile.
"Henry," she agreed.
"Thank you," he sounded grateful. "If I may be so bold, I was wondering if I might impose myself upon your company once again tomorrow night. I know it shall be a busy day for you but perhaps by dinner you might need a friendly face to have a chat."
"Yes," she agreed.
She did not know anyone else in the city and he was a pleasant enough fellow. However, she was not interested in developing anything more than a friendship and when he leaned forward to kiss her, she politely turned her cheek. She had not come to Scotland looking for romance.
Henry was immediately conscious of her slight and was embarrassed, aware that he had been presumptuous. He knew that he would have to be more patient. He watched as the woman slowly mounted the steps to her second floor suite before returning to his car; his mind already plotting their courtship.
Lady Shannon was mortified. She had woken to find herself in a strange room in a strange place. She did not love her husband but he had sworn to protect her throughout their marriage and she did not understand how she could have been kidnapped from his bed in the middle of the night.
"Where am I?" she repeated her earlier question.
"You are on Loch Loe," the handmaiden replied and the younger woman was stunned to learn that she had been carried across the strait that separated the island from the mainland.
She could not understand how she could have been spirited away without anyone raising an alarm. She scrambled out of bed, but jumped back under the huge down goose feathered quilt once her feet touched the cold floor. It was only than that she realized she was naked.
"Where are my bedclothes?" she asked bravely expressing her disapproval. "I demand to speak to your Master."
"I am sorry my lady but your clothes have been taken to the wash. When the maids are done they will be returned. My Lord is out on the land and will visit thee later."
Lady Shannon was indignant and angry yet it was useless to vent her frustration on this servant. She stared for a moment at the old woman watching as she darned a pair of socks which no doubt belonged to the Master of the House. She decided a new tactic was in order.
"My husband has a great fortune," she said slowly choosing her words carefully. "He would be very appreciative and pay a great sum of money to any person who would return me to him."
The old handmaiden paused to look at the young mistress. The girl was beautiful and young and she could understand how the young Master had allowed his heart to be captured. She shook her head gravely.
"Lord Macgregor would be much anguished at any betrayal," the woman rose to her feet and picking up her basket, she moved towards the door. "The Master of Loch Loe is not an evil person, only someone who merely wants what was promised by your father."
There was silence as the old woman shuffled out of the room. Lady Shannon listened as the door thudded shut and than heard the clank of keys as the portal was locked. The deafening silence that followed made her feel lonelier than she had ever felt in her young life.
Lady Shannon drew her knees up and shuddered not from the cold but from the fear that burned as brightly in her heart as the fire in the grate. She turned her head and stared at the dancing flames, praying silently that her husband would mount a rescue to save her from this horrible fate.
Erin Macgregor took a seat next to her mother Gladys. The two senior lawyers were in conference behind the large oak desk that dominated the room. Behind her, seated in a single neat row, were the loyal servants who had maintained the castle and the grounds for the old man. She acknowledged them individually before glancing at her watch.
The appointment had specifically stated two p.m. and she wondered now what was keeping them from beginning. It had been necessary for her to cancel several appointments of her own to attend this meeting. She was just about to speak, annoyed by the delay, when the door to the office opened. A breathless young woman charged into the room.
Erin stared unabashedly at the girl, whose blonde hair was in disarray around her head and whose pale cheeks were flushed red. She caught sight of the bright green eyes that glanced around the room and for an instant her heart stopped beating.
"I am sorry," Kellie apologized in a husky voice, the flush of her skin deepening with embarrassment as she realized her absence had held up the proceedings. "I was out sightseeing and lost track of the time."
"No harm done," George Ludden assured her graciously with an indulgent smile that caused Gladys McTavish great irritation. She was annoyed by the inconvenience this woman's tardiness caused and was not about to be so kind. The lawyer seemed to sense her dark thoughts and hastily motioned the woman towards the vacant chair. "If you will please have a seat Miss Macgregor we can proceed."
Erin felt her mother stiffen and saw the stark glance she cast in the girl's direction. Thoughtfully she followed her gaze and wondered if she were some distant relative of the old man or some waif Angus had taken under his wing. The girl bore no immediate resemblance to the family and by the accent of her voice she knew that she was not from the Kingdom. She guessed that she was Canadian.
The lawyer took his seat and than methodically prepared himself to read the contents of the Will.
George Ludden picked up a pair of reading glasses and adjusted them properly on his face before collecting a sheaf of papers from his desk. He cleared his throat and than began to read.
Kellie sat at the edge of her chair in anticipation. She had never attended a reading of a Will before. When her grandfather and mother had died the lawyer had simply given her a copy of the document. Her beloved relatives did not have much so there had been no reason to make a big production. A fugitive glance around the room suggested this was not the case for Angus Macgregor.
She listened with genuine interest as the various treasured items were distributed to various members of the man's personal staff. She swallowed nervously at the vast sums of money that were donated to various organizations. Once again she wondered at the reason she was there and anticipation began to build in her stomach. She felt like a child at Christmas.
Finally the lawyer got to the main body of the text. He paused to glance up over his glasses at the two people who would be most affected by the contents. He could feel the tension in the room. He reached for his glass of water and took a sip.
"Finally, I bequeath the remainder of my estate including Loch Loe and all its possessions including my stocks and shares in various companies I hold and the cash sum of two hundred and twenty million pounds to my daughter and the granddaughter of my true friend John Franklyn Macgregor, Miss Kellie Shannon Macgregor."
There was a slight pause as the solicitor allowed his words to sink in for a moment before continuing. The room was deathly silent.
"All said properties are to be held in Trust until Miss Macgregor reaches the age of forty one years at which time it shall be turned over to her care. In between time she is to receive a generous sum of 700,000 pounds per year. The Trust is to be administered on her behalf by Erin Aubrey Macgregor at a sum of fifty thousand pounds per year. This is my final Will and Testament."
"This is an outrage," Gladys McTavish burst out in anger, jumping to her feet, barely waiting until the barrister had finishing speaking. The woman was incensed by the document. "Loch Loe belongs to my daughter."
George Ludden patiently put the papers down, removing his eyeglasses before addressing the spontaneous outburst. He gazed at the woman without emotion. He had mentally prepared himself for a confrontation with Angus Macgregor's former lover.
"I am sorry Mrs. McTavish but Mr. Macgregor was quite certain how he wanted his estate to be distributed."
"That is rubbish," the woman scoffed though her face had grown pale and some of the fire had gone out of her voice. "I will contest this travesty of justice. It was common knowledge through the entire country that Erin was his sole heir."
"If you find that a necessary course of action, please go ahead," the solicitor said quietly with dignity, having no desire to be pulled into any disagreement with the woman.
Kellie was in shock, numbed by the news that this man had been her father. She completely ignored the fact that she had just become a very rich woman. She slumped back in her chair overwhelmed by the whole state of affairs. She was so stunned it took her a moment to realize that the older woman was making a scene.
"What kind of sorcery did you use on the old man?" Gladys wanted to know, turning her wrath upon the innocent girl.
"I did nothing," she sputtered in reply, still in a daze. "Until I few minutes ago I never knew who my father was. I only ever remember meeting Mr. Macgregor once when I was a child. I certainly didn't coerce anyone into this."
"Nonsense," the other woman was scornful. "I have heard of women like you who ply their wiles on senile old men."
"No," Kellie defended herself against the accusations.
"I demand she take a blood test. I want proof that she is the daughter of Angus Macgregor."
"I have the birth certificate right here if you would like to see it," the solicitor responded in a firm voice becoming annoyed.
"It is a forgery," Gladys scoffed at the evidence.
"Mother, I want you to stop this display right now," Erin finally spoke up recovering from the shock of what had just been imparted. There had been rumours that the old man had other children but until now they had not been proven or acknowledged. She was determined to remain dignified.
"But dear, it rightfully all belongs to you," the woman complained. She was begging for her stubborn child to understand. "You deserve this for all the years you put up with that miserable old bastard."
"Enough!" the tall woman nearly shouted and the older woman clamped her mouth shut aware that she had gone too far. Erin stood up and as gracefully as she could, turned her attention to the foreign woman. "I apologize for my mother's behaviour. She had no right to say those things, but you must understand that this has come as bit of a shock to all of us."
"It has come as a shock to me as well," Kellie admitted candidly. She looked up at the bright blue penetrating eyes and a shiver raced down her spine. "If you are Mr. Macgregor's daughter than you should have at least half of the estate. There seems more than plenty for the both of us."
"Miss Macgregor!" George Ludden said hastily, alarmed that the young woman was not exercising more prudence. "I must strongly caution you that anything you say may be used against you if a civil action is to be pursued."
"There is no need," Erin Macgregor held up her hand to silence the older lawyer. She was not like her mother. She turned her attention back to the young woman.
"I will not contest the will," she said quietly, ignoring the disgruntled gasp that came from the older woman. "It is not in my nature to want anything that it not freely given. It was Angus' wish that everything go to you, than it shall be granted. I expect we shall be seeing each other again."
With that she moved to one side and motioned for her mother to precede her to the door. The older woman looked like she was about to protest but the stern look on her daughter's face suggested she not argue. There was silence as the pair departed. George Ludden looked at the young woman sympathetically.
"Ms. Erin Macgregor is a woman of the highest standard. I doubt you will have much trouble with her," the solicitor paused. "Her mother is a bit bothersome and high strung but she won't cause you a bit of trouble, Ms. Macgregor will see to that."
Kellie wasn't assured by the man's words of comfort. She could not dismiss the older woman's anger or the brief look of dismay on the younger woman's face. She could not ignore the knowledge that she had a blood sister.
Ewan Macgregor stepped into the castle and felt immediately the warmth that radiated from the fire in the kitchens hearth. He undid the clasp of his cloak and pulled off his high leather riding boots. He was cold and wet. The walk he had taken around the island to ensure his soldiers were in place had soaked his skin and chilled him to the bone.
He was worried that his half brother would mount an immediate attack in an attempt to recapture his bride. He was prepared for such an action and had all his battlements in place. He would fight before releasing his captive.
He heaved a sigh of weariness as he settled onto a chair by the fire. The cook scurried around the kitchen boiling water for hot tea. He was tired, worn out by his adventure yet unable to sleep with the knowledge that his dear heart was lying in a bed not far from his reach.
If there was one consolation it was that a fog had settled over the channel. A fog so thick that only a fool would attempt to journey across its narrow rocky Strait. His half brother would not venture from the warmth of his castle in such foul weather. For the time being they were safe.
"Has the lady woken?" he asked of the cook when she handed him a cup of tea with a generous helping of rum.
"Yes, my lord," the plump woman vigorously nodded her head. "She woke many hours ago and is frightfully spirited. Mary said she be a handful."
"Yes," the young Lord nodded his head, remembering a woman he had only seen from a far. Even across the distance her beauty and spirit had captured his heart. "Has she eaten?"
"Yes, my Lord. I sent a bowl of broth and bread up to her bedchamber and she finished off every morsel and crumb."
"Good," the Lord nodded with satisfaction, pleased that the woman seemed to have some common sense. It would do no one any good if the girl became ill. He swallowed the last of his tea and stood up.
"You will have Mary bring her down for supper. I wish to have the Lady dine with me tonight."
"Begging your pardon sir, she might use the chance to run away," the cook seemed worried. All the servants were concerned for the Master they served with loyalty and devotion. The Lord smiled.
"You forget Rose that we now live on an island. There is no place for the woman to run but into the sea. I hardly think I am a worse fate than drowning."
Kellie lay in bed that night still not able to absorb the magnitude of what had happened that afternoon. She thought of Tony's lightly spoken words. They had been joking yet it was no longer so funny. She had inherited a castle on an island and more money than she could spend in several lifetimes. But all that dimmed against the greater knowledge that Angus Macgregor had been her father. For the first time she understood the visit they had made here, yet she still could not understand why her mother had never divulged the truth.
A frown marred her face as she restlessly turned over on her side. It was all so overwhelming. She didn't remember everything the solicitor had said after everyone else was dismissed. He had attempted to explain the extent of her new holdings but none of it had registered for she had been truly dazed. He had ended the interview and made a further appointment for her the following week.
"It will give you the weekend to get used to the idea," he had suggested with an indulgent smile.
Kellie wasn't sure she would ever get used to the idea. As soon as she had left the solicitors office, she had rung up her Aunt and cousins to share her good fortune. They had been genuinely happy and she knew that she would share her wealth with them. They had always treated her good, welcoming her into their home. She would repay them now for their kindness.
She had tried to make a list of things she would do and people she would help. She had always been a generous person by nature and now she had the means to do so. Yet even that simple gesture had been overwhelming.
She sighed and stared through the darkness. A stream of light from the street lamp outside filtered through a crack in the curtains shedding light on the flowery wall paper that adorned the room. The only thing she could think about was how much her life had changed.
She had been so engrossed in her thoughts that she had completely forgotten about the dinner date she had made with Henry Ludden for that evening. He had understood, patiently waiting while she had gotten ready.
The man had been right. She had needed a friendly face with whom to chat and all her thoughts had bubbled and boiled right out of her mouth. Henry had sat silently listening, interjecting only the odd casual comment. He understood that she needed to adjust to this new development.
For a moment her thoughts darkened. She had grown up as an only child and the only other family she had was her Aunt and cousin. It was sobering to realize that she might have a half sister. A sibling, whose existence had been unknown until today.
Her offer to share the inheritance had been hasty yet genuine. She could only image the shock and disappointment the tall woman must have felt at the realization that she would receive nothing from their father. It was a cruel omission.
Unlike her mother, Erin Macgregor had behaved with dignity, accepting fate as it had been dealt. Mr. Ludden had nothing but praise for the other woman and had assured her that she would be honest and fair in all their dealings. Kellie certainly hoped so. The idea of having a big sister to look out for her gave her a measure of comfort. It was with this on her mind that she finally found sleep.
Erin Macgregor bore up well under the circumstances. She felt betrayal and anger towards the old man. She was not mourning the loss of the property and fortune but the realization that she had not been formally acknowledged by her father. She lifted her glass and swallowed another sip of scotch.
A frown marred her face. In the beginning Angus had treated her kindly and they had shared many weekend outings at the Castle on Loch Loe. There were holidays to which her mother had never been invited. The man had been gruff and cantankerous but they had forged a tremulous but solid relationship.
She couldn't exactly remember when everything changed but one day it had. She had been eighteen when the invitations to the Castle had ceased. It had been shortly after her mother had paid a visit to the old man. To this day she did not know what had occurred between her parents during the visit but it had affected her own relationship with the man.
She took another swallow of her drink. Her mother had always insisted she was Angus Macgregor's daughter and in the beginning the old man had never questioned that assumption. She wondered now if her mother had said something to make the old man doubt the truth.
Restlessly she stood up and strolled to the window, staring out into the dark night. She felt no resentment towards the young woman who had been the benefactor of Angus's generosity. The small blond had been genuinely shocked by the inheritance and the knowledge that the old man was her father. She thought of the way the delicate blonds feature had gone blank and dazed. Contrary to what her mother had said no one could have been such a convincing actress as to fake the surprise the girl had shown.
Kellie was a beautiful woman by anyone's standards with a fresh look that was bright and appealing. Her green eyes had dominated the small oval face and Erin had felt an immediate attraction. She cursed her thoughts. If what the solicitor had said were true than the young woman was her half sister. Certainly they had the proper evidence. She knew there was only one person whom she could truly believe.
"Did you know that Angus had another child?" she asked of her grandfather the next day when she drove out to Lockley to see him.
"Nay," the older man shook his feeble head as they strolled through the gardens. "There was a time when a young lass was staying with him and rumours that she had borne a child but she left and nothing more was said."
Erin swallowed the lump that gathered in her throat. Her mother had never mentioned the fact that she might have other siblings. Gladys had brought her up to believe that she was the man's only child and his sole descendent.
"Did mother know of these rumours?" she asked of her grandfather. The old man hesitated, taking an extra long moment to draw on the pipe that protruded from between his craggy lips.
"Aye," he finally sighed. "You were still a lass not more than eighteen when she learned that he might have more kin. She was rightly upset by the fact and confronted him on the matter."
Erin understood then what had caused the riff in her relationship with the old man. Her mother had interfered, drawing the man's wrath. She felt a huge measure of remorse, for their relationship had never been the same.
"Does she look like the old man?" the old man could not hide his curiosity.
"No," Erin shook her head. "She is a beauty granddad, with silky strands of blonde hair and eyes as green as the ocean."
"Takes after her mother than," the man nodded knowledgably.
"You knew the woman?"
"Nay," the old man shook his head. "But I heard tell of her. All the local lads said she was a bonny lass."
Erin didn't ask any more questions. She didn't need to have any more answers. She would have to come to terms with the fact that she had a half sister. She just wished the news had not come so unexpectedly.
"How do you feel than?" the old man wanted to know.
"About what granddad?"
"About not inheriting the old man's estate?"
"I would be lying if I said that I wasn't a wee bit hurt," Erin confessed. "But I think I was more angry that he died without formally acknowledging me as his blood."
"Aye, you have always been more prudent than your mother," the man sighed. "I expect she caused a scene."
"Aye granddad she did," this time it was the woman who sighed. "She said some horrible things to the girl."
"Than you know what you must do."
"Aye granddad, I apologized once but I will go see her again."
The pair stopped walking and the man gazed up at the young woman. He had always been proud of his grandchild grateful that she had inherited the good sense and intelligence that her mother seemed to lack. He had no worries that the girl would do the right thing.
Continued in Part 2