Lake of Destiny
Copyright © 2017 by Martina Boone
All rights reserved.
712 H Street NE, Suite 1014, Washington, DC 20002
First Mayfair Publishing edition April 2017
Lake of Destiny is a work of fiction, and the characters, events, and places depicted in it are products of the author’s imagination. Where actual events, places, organizations, or persons, living or dead, are included, they are used fictitiously and not intended to be taken otherwise.
No part of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part in any form whatsoever without written permission, excepting only brief quotations included in critical reviews and articles. For permissions or information about special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact Mayfair Publishing at [email protected] For more information or to book an author event, visit us on the web at www.MayfairPub.com
Cover design by Kalen O’Donnell
Interior design & formatting by Type A Formatting
Published in the United States of America
ISBN 978–1-946773–03–6 (hardback)
ISBN 978–1-946773–00–5 (paperback)
ISBN 978–1-946773–01–2 (eBook)
Lake of Destiny
BAND-AIDS AND CHOCOLATE
ALSO BY MARTINA BOONE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE FOR MARTINA BOONE’S COMPULSION
BAND-AIDS AND CHOCOLATE
Let us go, lassie go tae the braes o’ Balquhidder
Where the blaeberries grow ‘mang the bonnie Highland heather
Robert Tannahill, “Braes of Balquhidder”
ANNA CAMERON HAD spent too many hours in an airline seat tighter than a respectable dress, and that had done nothing to improve her mood. All too used to being impeccably groomed, she felt crumpled, grubby, and even more like a failure as she stepped off the jetway with a wine-stained blouse and naked face. But flying business class was not in her future anymore. As an unemployed lawyer—aka fired with no hope of ever practicing law again—she needed to learn to manage on a pinch-penny budget.
Honestly, she was lucky to be in Scotland now at all. If her Aunt Elspeth hadn’t been desperate for help and willing to pay her way, she would have been stuck in the Cincinnati suburbs instead, hiding out in the kitchen she’d worked so hard to escape, while her mother delivered yet another lecture on the topic of her middle daughter’s many failings. With two broken engagements and a colossal screw-up behind her, Anna was officially a “disappointment.”
Mostly to herself.
But enough. Anna was determined to leave all that behind her.
Her old life in Washington, D.C., the ever-present news media—and Mike and his new fianceé—were three thousand miles away on a different continent. Anna had a month in the gorgeous Scottish Highlands to look forward to, time to catch up with her favorite aunt and, hopefully, a chance to use her love of organizing parties to try a career as an event planner. Things were looking up.
Shrugging the straps of her five-year-old Louis Vuitton Keepall into a more secure position, she set off on long, slim legs toward baggage claim, and wound through the slower passengers with her dark tumble of curls bouncing around her shoulders. She even refrained from stopping at the duty-free shop to buy a Toblerone.
But then it happened. Anna was an ocean away, and she still could not escape.
The television at the United Airlines gate beside her cut over to a White House briefing, and there was the press secretary, the woman who had just announced her engagement to Anna’s ex-fiancé less than four months after he’d walked out on Anna. The beautiful and successful woman who, unlike Anna, could apparently juggle planning a society wedding and a high-pressure career without managing to sink both in disaster.
To heck with budgets. And to heck with calories.
Anna plowed a U-turn in the middle of the terminal and waded back to the duty-free shop to buy that candy bar, almost mowing down a pair of British Airways flight attendants who were walking side-by-side. Bypassing the Baileys Truffles and the over-priced Godiva Connoisseur collections, she snatched up the single candy bar—small size instead of large—and queued up at the cash register behind a woman arguing into her cell phone.
Which reminded Anna that she needed to let her Aunt Elspeth know that she had landed safely. Switching on her own cell, she ignored the three additional voice mails from her mother, pulled up the cheap-phone app she’d installed before leaving D.C. and dialed Elspeth’s number.
“Hello?” Elspeth Murray picked up breathlessly after six or seven rings and spoke with her lilting Scottish accent. “Is that you, Anna love?”
Anna smiled just hearing Elspeth’s voice. “Yes. I’m just heading over to collect my luggage. With a little luck, I’ll be there in plenty of time to fix your dinner.”
“Och, don’t you worry about that now. Take your time. I’ve had help today, and I’ve had my feet up. You’re the one who’s likely to be exhausted. I don’t suppose you’ve managed to get any sleep since London, either, have you?”
It was so like Elspeth to worry about everybody but herself. She had always been that way whenever she came on her annual Christmas visits, wrapping Anna in love and acceptance like a well-worn blanket, offering up the perfect word of comfort or a delicious baked treat and a cup of tea as she took charge of the kitchen for the duration of her stay.
“You can’t possibly know how excited I am to see you,” Anna said.
“Likewise, but mind you take your time and be careful on the road now. You’re sure you’ll be all right driving on the wrong side? I could still send someone to come and get you.”
“No, no. That’s too much trouble. I’ll be fine.”
As she hung up, though, Anna had to squash down a twinge of doubt. The idea of driving on the left in rush-hour traffic on the outskirts of Edinburgh was more daunting than she’d let on. Then, according to the online map, there was a long trek through the countryside to the remote glen where Elspeth lived, and all of that after four straight nights of little sleep. She should at least have asked Elspeth which of the two main routes she recommended.
When her phone rang as she sidled up to the cash register, Anna answered it with relief and tucked it between her cheek and shoulder. “I’m glad you called back, Aunt Elspeth,” she said, plunking a couple of two-pound coins onto the counter. “I forgot I wanted to ask if you thought I should take the M8 instead of the M9?”
“Why on earth would you want to take the long way ’round?” Anna’s mother asked from the other side of the Atlantic.
Mentally, Anna groaned.
“Not that I understand why you’re going to Balwhither in the first place instead of coming home,” Ailsa Murray Cameron continued. “You’ll be bored to tears an hour after you get there, and don’t get me started on that ridiculous excuse Elspeth gave you. Since when does the village need help to organize the Beltane bonfire and the Sighting? They’ve been doing it a thousand years. Anyway, that stupid superstition has caused more damage than anyone knows, and you don’t want to get mixed up in it, believe me.”
If there’d been a wall beside her, Anna would have banged her head against it. Instead, she accepted the plastic sack with her candy bar from the cashier and peeled away from the counter. “Aunt Elspeth is behind with the festival because of her knee surgery, and I’m glad to go out and visit. I’ve missed her the last three times she went to Ohio. Plus, it’s an opportunity to finally see where you grew up.”
“There’s nothing there worth seeing, believe you me. But suit yourself. It’s not like you ever listen to a thing I say anyway. If you had, you’d be married and gainfully employed like your sisters. And what has your so-called independence and following in your father’s footsteps ever got you, can I ask you that? Two broken engagements and a Harvard law degree you may never use again. Now, on top of that, you’re running away to the end of nowhere to take care of the last person on the planet who will ever talk sense into you. Come home, Anna.” Her mother’s voice softened, and the faintly Scottish cadence left over after thirty-odd years as an American lawyer’s wife grew more pronounced. “Let me help you fix this, honey. We can work out a plan for you to get Mike back. That new girl, what does she have that you don’t? I’ve no doubt at all he’s marrying her on the rebound because you hurt him. Meet him partway, compromise a wee little bit, set a wedding date. You can win him back.”
“First of all, I didn’t hurt Mike. I delayed him,” Anna said, “which is different. Second, I don’t want him back.”
In the brief ensuing silence, she was shocked to discover that the words were true.
She missed Mike—but she didn’t want him back.
She missed his company. She missed his acid wit and sharp intelligence, and the way he smelled of coffee and vanilla and spicy soap. The way his arms wrapped around her and made her warm. She missed the way he’d filled their Watergate apartment with friends on the weekends. The way the two of them had used to cook together then settle down to watch a movie after an exhausting, high-pressure week. The way they used to laugh together. But she’d honestly thought that his leaving was temporary. That they would work things out in the end once her monster of a case had ended.
And now? Obviously, with his whirlwind engagement, she knew now that he wasn’t coming back, but she hadn’t yet taken stock of how that made her feel. The shock and humiliation of hearing the news at work had been too raw. Then there’d been the aching, stomach-clenching sense of rejection that had led to her meltdown and the fatal mistake that had gotten her fired.
Where, though, was the heartbreak and longing that she’d felt after Henry . . . after her first engagement? The sense that her life—the whole world—had lost some of its sparkle, and become, like the first gasp of darkness after the sun had gone but before the beauty of the stars emerged, a place she couldn’t navigate?
Confused, Anna shook her head. Outside in the terminal, the long white corridor was crowded with passengers disembarking another flight, and she slowed to let a young mother rush past, trailing a child and two carry-on rolling bags behind her. The child, a tousle-headed girl of about four or five, wobbled beneath the weight of an overloaded pink backpack patterned with kittens and an oversized stuffed rabbit that she was half-dragging by one ear as she ran to keep up.
“Anna Cameron, are you listening to me at all?” On the other end of the phone, Ailsa Cameron’s voice had grown louder and shriller.
“What?” said Anna, who—out of habit and self-defense had succeeded in tuning her mother out—“Of course, yes. I am.”
Her mother huffed a long-suffering sigh. “I asked when you plan to stop trying to run from your problems. You do this every time. Something gets difficult or awkward, and you give up.”
The outrage of that statement formed a hard lump in Anna’s throat. She never gave up. She wouldn’t have gotten through law school if she gave up.
“Helping Aunt Elspeth isn’t running away,” she said. “It’s fulfilling a family obligation. You aren’t going, and someone needs to help.”
“If Elspeth claims she needs help at all, much less with whatever she’s calling a festival, you can bet she’s up to something. I know you’ve always adored her, but trust me when I say she always has at least sixteen different reasons for everything she does. And at least fifteen of them are about what she is going to get out of it. Her surgery was two weeks ago. She’s gotten along fine so far. Why does she need you now?”
“Do you even hear yourself, Mother? She’s your sister.”
“Since when have you thought that was important? How long has it been since you last spoke to Katharine?”
Anna’s throat threatened to squeeze itself shut. This entire conversation was why she needed to be anywhere other than Ohio. “Katharine and I are different,” she wheezed. “Aunt Elspeth didn’t steal your fiancé away from you two weeks before your wedding.”
Shaking, literally shaking, Anna mashed the END button with her thumb and hung up on her mother for the first time in her life. Just thinking about Henry married to Katharine, every emotion she hadn’t felt with Mike suddenly churned in her chest, all the despair and colorlessness and hurt. Which were vastly different feelings from disappointment and humiliation.
Switching off the phone before it could ring again, she stared down at it, feeling both horrified and relieved. She would pay for hanging up; she knew that. Soon, and for the rest of her life. Her mother was worse than an elephant when it came to never forgetting. Any. Darn. Thing. And coping with additional stress was beyond Anna’s capacity at that moment.
What she ought to do was buy herself a local SIM card and conveniently forget to give the new phone number to her mother.
Hand still trembling, she slipped her cell back into her purse and took a deep, calming breath as she hurried down the corridor. In front of her, the girl with the pink backpack dropped her rabbit. Tugging her small hand out of her mother’s grasp, the child rushed back to pick it up, but a businessman emerging from a coffee shop couldn’t step aside fast enough to avoid knocking into her. The girl landed chin first on the gray linoleum tiles and, stunned, began to wail.
The mother was still fighting to turn the two rolling bags she’d been juggling, so Anna swooped up the rabbit and knelt beside the girl, offering a hand to help her up. “That was some spectacular fall. Good job on saving your rabbit, though. You wouldn’t want to leave him behind. Or is it a her? I had one named Violet when I was about your age.”
“He’s P-peter, like the s-story,” the girl said with a sob. She took Anna’s hand and climbed to her feet, already snuggling the rabbit as if she’d been afraid he would be lost forever. Her chin bled, and she’d skinned her knees, and while her mother arrived and fussed with antiseptic wipes and Band-Aids, Anna handed the girl a tissue and the Toblerone. Then she took charge of one of the two rolling bags and helped mother and daughter down to the baggage claim carousel, wishing that all wounds were as easy to soothe with a stuffed rabbit and a chocolate bar.
Life would have been so much easier if that was how healing worked.
“My name is not spoken,” she replied with a great deal of haughtiness.
“More than a hundred years it has not gone upon men’s tongues, save for a blink.
I am nameless like the Folk of Peace.”
Robert Louis Stevenson, Catriona
DRIVING WITHOUT GOOGLE Maps yielded unexpected benefits. To save on data charges and avoid her mother, Anna kept her phone turned off and navigated by using the map that she had printed out earlier. Combined with intermittent bucketloads of rain, between squinting and the map and the confusion of driving on the left, she made five wrong turns that cost her at least an hour.
On the other hand, it was impossible to stay depressed when something surprising and delightful popped out at her everywhere she looked.
She was finally here.
The reality of being in Scotland thrilled her all over again. This was Outlander country, Braveheart country, the home of heroes like Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, and Rob Roy MacGregor. The stuff of her aunt Elspeth’s stories, Sir Walter Scott’s books, and Robert Burns’s poetry, and every adolescent dream Anna’d ever had of men in kilts.
Not that she was likely to find men in kilts or bagpipers piping out the tune to “MacGregor’s Gathering.” But Balwhither, where Anna’s mother had grown up and Elspeth still lived, had always been MacGregor land. She wanted to take in everything, experience everything. Unfortunately, her eyes kept trying to close, and her stomach growled with growing insistence.
She tried singing to keep herself awake.
She opened the window.
She stopped for coffee and an onion-laced meat pasty in Callander at the border to the Highlands.
The food only made her sleepier, and the road grew narrower and narrower. Anna drove more slowly, squeezing over to make room whenever faster cars whipped around her shoebox-sized Chevy rental. By the time the odometer advised her that the cutoff for Balwhither glen was coming up, she was traveling at a turtle’s pace. Even so, she would have missed the turn if she hadn’t spied the black-and-white signpost for Rob Roy’s grave and slammed on her brakes.
In the glen itself, a single-track road led past scattered farms and houses and the graveyard in which Rob Roy himself lay buried with the defiance in which he’d lived beneath a tombstone that read, “MacGregor Despite Them.” Anna’s mother’s family in the glen had been MacGregors once, too, before the name had been banned for 170 years. Since then, they’d used the name of Murray.
Her mother’s whole side of the family lay buried in that graveyard somewhere by the ruined stone church.
Tempted to stop, Anna ignored the impulse and wrenched her attention back to the road. She drove on toward the loch that began at the end of the tiny village.
To be honest, calling it a village was a trifle optimistic. Apart from the handful of white houses, the smattering of businesses all strived to do double duty: The Last Stand Inn and Tavern, Grewer’s Sweets and Groceries, and a lurid pink building with a sign that proclaimed it was the Library and Tea Room. But on the other side of the buildings, the long opalescent strip of Loch Daoine unfurled, more spectacular than Anna could have imagined. The last spun-silk rays of sunset pierced the clouds and turned the water gold and red as it faded into a diminishing rank of hills.
Seen like this, Anna could almost believe that the legend Elspeth had told her about people seeing images of their true loves reflected in its waters was more than just a romantic bedtime story. But alongside the loch, the road gave up any pretense of being paved.
Or free of obstacles.
Anna rounded a bend and found a flock of black-faced, bleating sheep milling across the puddle-soaked gravel beneath an overhanging rowan tree. She wrenched the car to the verge to keep from plowing into them.
A hundred yards later, heart chugging like a freight train, she managed to right herself back onto the road. According to the rearview mirror, she hadn’t stampeded the sheep, thank goodness. Half of them had turned in her direction to watch her taillights fade.
Good grief, now headlights flashed in her eyes and a car barreled at her around a second bend. Anna jerked to the right before she remembered she was supposed to be on the left—not that there was much of a left or right; the road scarcely offered room for a single car. Yanking the wheel over, she caught a bump—a rock or wretched log—and, flustered, missed the brake and jammed the accelerator instead.
The car shot toward the loch. Adrenaline tightened Anna’s chest and furred her tongue. She fought a skid. The car fishtailed and finally—finally!—slid to a stop some twenty feet off the road.
Hands strangling the wheel, Anna sat gulping air and wondering how deep the water in the loch was in front of her—and whether her rental insurance would have covered submersion through stupidity. On the bright side, if she’d drowned herself, at least she’d have been out of her misery.
Which was not a cheerful thought. Hadn’t she promised herself that she’d be more optimistic?
Forcing her lips into a smile and the car into reverse, she mashed the gas and turned to look back over her shoulder. She didn’t see the man loom up behind her until it was too late.
Mud and grass spat from beneath the tires, and the tall, muscled figure approaching her jumped aside and swore. Anna didn’t hear him; she didn’t need to. By the glow of her taillights, the gesture and the facial expression that marred what was otherwise a handsome face were clear enough. To remove all doubt, he pounded a fist against the rear window of the hatchback and then knocked equally hard on the driver’s window as he stooped beside it.
Anna fumbled to locate the controls.
He’d stopped knocking by the time the glass slid down, but his fist still hovered in the air. Jaw slack, he gaped at her, blue eyes narrowed beneath wiry dark hair, as if she’d shocked him.
Anna felt just as stunned. With the sunset behind him, he shimmered, all gold and gleaming around the edges like a hopeful memory. The impression vanished the moment she blinked, but still he seemed familiar. So familiar that she knew his identity had to be tucked away in some dusty corner of her brain. Ah, there. The actor. The one her sister Katharine had dreamed of co-starring with someday—before he’d disappeared.
“You’re Gregor Mark,” she said, barely managing to keep the surprised squeak from her voice.
“The hell I am,” he bellowed in an accent decidedly more Scottish than Gregor Mark’s cut-glass British accent, “and what do you think you’re doing, driving like an idiot on this road? Or off the road, to be exact. I have my daughter in the car. You could have killed us both.”
Anna winced, both at the tone of his voice and at her own stupidity. “I’m sorry. It was the sheep—”
“The bloody sheep are part of the reason it’s daft to drive that fast through here.”
Daft? Hold on. Anna’s eyes slitted. She’d had enough of people telling her she was doing things wrong of late. Didn’t anyone think she knew when she was in trouble?
“I’ve already apologized,” she snapped back at him, “so unless you’re a police officer ready to write me a ticket, why don’t you stop yelling at me—”
“You think this is yelling?”
“I can hear perfectly well that it is, so go back to your daughter and let me get my car back on the road.”
“Best of bloody luck to you if you want to try. You’ll only dig yourself in deeper.” He clenched his teeth. “Look, since you’ve already managed to splatter me in mud, I’d be grateful if you’d at least wait until I’m out of range before you try again. Meanwhile, I’ll go phone for someone to come and help you.”
The dark mud had blended into the dull green waxed jacket he wore open over a well-tailored white collared shirt and jeans, but it stood out on the lighter clothing. Anna hardly had time to register the mess before he’d turned away to stalk off on long, angry legs.
Even the way he crossed the boggy ground made her think of Gregor Mark striding across a movie screen, claiming the landscape and every inch of attention. Not that the resemblance was perfect. His Rudeness’ hair was shorter and darker, not the famous windblown style, and Gregor had always been clean-shaven or with a light scruff of five o’clock shadow. His Rudeness’d also had a chiseled-out-of-rock look to his features that Anna didn’t remember from any of the action films that both Katherine and Mike had adored. But then, even though his blockbuster films were still all over the television, they were a decade old. Gregor Mark had disappeared after the accident that had killed his wife.
Unable to help herself, she watched the man until he reached the silver Audi station wagon that stood with its driver’s door open and the dome lights shining. From the passenger side of the car, a small pale face strained to look around him in Anna’s direction, but he swung himself onto the seat, slammed the door, and drove away.
Anna threw her own door open and jumped out, only to sink ankle-deep in mud. Torn grass and mud squelched and sucked coldly at her loafers as she as she slogged around to check her wheels. And of course, His Rudeness had been right: she’d managed to dig the rear wheels in three inches. Which wasn’t insurmountable. If Anna was careful, she might still manage to ease the car out and get back onto the road without having to subject herself to additional humiliation. She’d had enough of that for one day, one week—one lifetime, for that matter—hadn’t she? The universe couldn’t be this cruel.
Except, it could. Back in the car, the harder she tried to rock the Chevy out of the mud, alternating between driving in reverse and shifting forward, the deeper the wheels burrowed in. That left her the choice of hoping she could find a tow truck to pull her out in the dark, or abandoning the car there and hiking the last couple miles to the house with her suitcase and carry-on bag. But oh, the thought of trudging that distance when all she wanted to do was flop into a comfortable bed made her want to cry.
Head buried in her hands, she missed the first flash of headlights on the road, and it wasn’t until multiple lights pierced the surrounding darkness that she realized cars were pulling up behind her. Then a man in a kilt—an actual kilt—black military-style tactical boots, and a well-worn leather jacket strode up, grinning. His mop of wavy chin-length hair fell deeply auburn across his forehead, and his cheekbones were as sharp as knives above a white flash of teeth.
Anna wondered whether she’d hit her head on the steering wheel and was, in fact, hallucinating or dreaming, or whatever it was one did when one was unconscious. Or was Scotland naturally full of gorgeous men? Which would figure, because a man of any kind was the very last thing she needed.
The new arrival reached her window and leaned down, grinning more broadly. “Well, you’ve gotten yourself into a wee pickle, haven’t you?” he said in a Scottish burr even lovelier than her Aunt Elspeth’s. “Himself phoned the house, and your aunt rang me, and here I am to help—along with half the village. I was down at the pub, mind, so you’ll have quite the welcoming party here in a minute.”
“Himself?” Anna blinked at him, focusing on the first of many questions raised by what he’d said.
“Connal MacGregor. The laird—the one you ran off the road.”
“I ran him off the road? That’s rich. Looks to me like I’m the one run off the road—and he was rude.”
“Well, he would be, wouldn’t he, with you coming to help with the festival?” The man laughed, a deep rumble in his chest. “I’m Brando, by the way. We’ve all been expecting you.” He glanced behind him to where an ever-larger crowd was parking and getting out of their cars. “Elspeth’s that excited about your visit. She’s talked of nothing else since the moment you agreed to come.”
Anna swallowed an automatic twinge of guilt for not having had the time to go home for the holidays these past three years. Altogether, she’d only seen her aunt a handful of times since she’d left home for law school. Still, she pushed the guilt aside. She earned enough guilt on her own, thank you very much, without dwelling on things beyond her control. It was time for a New Year’s resolution, even if it was two days before April Fools’ Day: No more gratuitous guilt.
The oddly-named Brando wasn’t waiting for her to acknowledge what he’d said. He’d turned to address the people straggling toward them while simultaneously warding off an enormous golden retriever who’d managed to lunge at him with muddy paws and an ecstatic bark. Then a sturdy middle-aged woman in a dull-green sweater and her more handsome husband arrived to haul the dog away, and a man in a Royal Mail truck started rounding up the sheep. A little gnome-like man with merry blue eyes came and gave Anna a shy tip of his cap before he sloshed through the churned-up mud to attach a chain from the back of her car to the back of Brando’s Land Rover.
Still more people arrived, and in the resulting slurry of introductions and car-extricating activity, Anna had little opportunity for guilt or shame or even embarrassment. With their smiles and a bit of gentle teasing, the villagers of Balwhither managed to make her laugh at the situation and feel genuinely welcome.
Many miles away there’s a shadow on the door
of a cottage on the Shore of a dark Scottish lake.
Sir Walter Scott
DESPITE THE EXHAUSTION that claimed her in waves, Anna put on a brave face while Brando towed her filthy green Chevy rental into the driveway at Breagh House. A sign at the edge of the road pointed visitors for the BREAGH HOUSE HIGHLANDS MUSEUM around to the side of the rambling Gothic-style construction that, sometime in the nineteenth century, had replaced the Murrays’ earlier home.
The museum was another overly-optimistic title. As Elspeth had described it, the former ballroom of Breagh House now housed an ever-rotating collection of Highland history and memorabilia, most of it sourced at bargain prices from local estate or boot sales, or on eBay and various online sites, and then given fanciful backstories that Elspeth changed whenever she got bored. Elspeth had no shame about that at all.
“It’s the stories people enjoy, not the rusting junk. Who cares about a sword? Tell them who owned it and who he stabbed with it. A flask? Describe the man who sipped from it as he lay dying on the battlefield. Who drank from it before he bedded the lass who would become his wife? That’s what people want to know.”
Anna and her sisters, Margaret and Katharine both, had always loved hearing Elspeth’s museum stories whenever she came on her annual visits. The whole family would gravitate to the kitchen when Elspeth was visiting, and for once in the hectic and perpetually dieting Cameron household, the smell of baking wafted from the oven. Everyone sat and laughed together. Even Anna’s mother would allow herself a sliver of Ecclefechan butter tart or Montrose cake along with a “wee dram” of the whiskey Elspeth always brought for Anna’s father. But then Ailsa would remember herself. Her face would stiffen and her voice go shrill as she lectured Elspeth on the evils of taking in unsuspecting tourists with her Highland flimflam.
Anna’d never thought there was much harm in Elspeth’s stories. If the tourists came and had a good time, they’d gotten their money’s worth and helped her keep a roof on the old house.
It was a sizable roof, Anna realized now as Brando stopped the car. Even larger than she’d expected. Still, despite the almost ostentatious structure, the front floodlights provided a cheerful glow to the weathered gray stone, and the smell of woodsmoke curling up the chimney promised a warming fire.
Brando flicked off the Land Rover’s ignition. The front door opened and, backlit by the chandelier hanging from the foyer ceiling, Elspeth emerged onto the stoop. Leaning heavily on a walker, she waited in the doorway instead of coming down to Anna with her usual energy and enthusiasm. Even so, the sight of her conjured up the best memories of Anna’s life.
Anna raced to meet her. And Elspeth released one arm from the walker to tuck her into just the kind of hard, unconditional embrace Anna needed. The kind that didn’t care whether she was more or less pretty or dutiful than her sisters, whether she had a stain on her dress, or whether she didn’t smile on cue at beauty pageant judges as her mother instructed, no matter what they said or did to her.
“Aren’t you a sight, now?” Elspeth stood back and looked Anna over. “You have had a tough time of it, haven’t you? Poor love. But no matter. We’ll soon get you sorted. Are you hungry? You must be famished.”
“I stopped for a meat pasty in Callander. Mostly, I’m half-asleep.”
“Well, and no wonder. You’ll get a hot bath, a nice cuppa, and some scones to nibble on while you soak, then it’s straight off to bed with you. And no arguing. We can catch up in the morning. Plenty of time for all of that.”
Anna couldn’t help smiling. “I’m supposed to be taking care of you, remember?”
“The day Elspeth lets anyone take care of her, that’s a day I’d love to see.” His tread light and graceful for such a large man, Brando came up the stairs behind them, carrying Anna’s suitcase in one arm and her Keepall in the other. Pausing beside Elspeth, he bent to kiss her cheek and shook his head at her. “You’re not fooling anyone, old woman, you know that? You’d better hurry up and tell her before she susses it out herself.”
“Mmmh. Watch that ‘old’ business, Brando MacLaren. You’re not getting younger yourself.”
“Aye, and the rate I’m going, I’ll catch up with you before too long.”
Elspeth raised both eyebrows at him. It was a look Anna had seen her mother direct at people a million times, but Elspeth’s eyes sparkled with humor and gave the expression a different meaning. Intrigued, Anna studied her aunt’s face, which was so much like her own mother’s countenance, but at the same time unlike. Where a facelift and years of expensive skincare had left Ailsa’s skin unlined beneath black hair she touched up twice a month like clockwork at the most expensive salon in town, Elspeth looked a decade older, her dark, chin-length waves left to gray attractively, and her complexion weathered by laughter and sun and wind. Even now, deep lines scored the corners of her eyes as she patted Brando on the shoulder and let him pass into the gleaming foyer.
“Thanks for bringing our girl home in one piece,” she said.
“What do you want me to do with the car?” Brando set Anna’s baggage down at the bottom of the carpeted steps and glanced from Elspeth to Anna and back again. “No point unhooking, if you’d like me to take it back for you. I’m heading to Edinburgh in the morning as it is, so it’d be no trouble, and there’s your Volvo for her to use in the meantime.”
Anna felt a bit of strain lift off her wallet. “If you really wouldn’t mind . . .”
“Brando never offers what he isn’t happy to give, as you’ll soon see. But you’ll also find he’s the first person to be there when you need anything. Before you know you need it, half the time.” She patted his arm again as he exited and directed a fond smile at his back. “Not half-bad to look at either, is he?”
“Enough flattery now, you.” Kilt fanning out around his knees, Brando turned to grin good-bye and then waded down the front steps without seeing Anna’s reddened face. “I’ll try to come back around late tomorrow,” he called back over his shoulder. “That light on the side of the house has gone out again, and you’ll want to start thinking ’bout security if we’re hoping for more visitors.” He strode down and jumped into the Land Rover and drove away down the circular drive with Anna’s rental car still chained up behind him.
“Lovely man.” Elspeth cleared her throat and turned to go back into the house. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested? At this rate, I’m afraid we’ll never manage to get him married off. Even Duncan at the inn has given up trying to find a woman for him. There was a time when Davy the postman had the whole glen laying bets on a different girl each week for Brando, but we’ve all gotten tired of losing money.”
“Sorry. Not interested,” Anna said firmly, trailing Elspeth inside. “I’m leaving in a month, remember? And what sort of a name is Brando, anyway? It doesn’t seem very Scottish name for a man who runs around in a kilt.”
“Aye, poor man. His mother watched On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire a dozen times too often, and now he’s stuck with it. As for the kilt, he’s been wearing that since he moved back from London. Swears it’s more comfortable, a lot of men do, but I suspect it started off for the tourists as much as for any other reason. Now you take your bags up to the bedroom—third door on the left—and then come down to get your tea. The kitchen’ll be that direction.” Elspeth gestured toward the right.
Anna looked around. The whole house gave the impression of walking into a different time, and she had the odd sense that it was folding her inside itself, reaching out to welcome her. The intricate wood of the pale hardwood parquet gleamed beneath the chandelier that spilled cascades of color across a Victorian stained glass window on the landing, and a carved staircase with heavy square newel posts spoke of solidness and security. Warm yellow light shone down a corridor from the direction of the kitchen. Anna couldn’t help thinking her mother must have loved John Cameron very much, at least at first, to give up all this for a modern faux-chateau in Indian Hill on the outskirts of Cincinnati. But she’d long given up despairing about her parents. If they wanted to spend their time arguing with each other, that was their business.
The thought of their polite fights led her back to the rude man with the Audi, and partway up the staircase she paused and turned. “Who was the man who called you to say I’d run off the road, Aunt Elspeth? The one who looks like Gregor Mark. Brando said he was rude because I was coming to help with the festival.”
“Did he now?” Elspeth looked away. “Brando ought to keep his tongue in his head.”
“But who is he? And why does he object to the festival?”
“Connal MacGregor. He lives down at Inverlochlarig, the big house at the end of the loch there, though he owns half the glen. The Sighting and the bonfire for the festival are both on his property, which he’s none too happy about.”
“I thought you had the festival every year?”
“We do—but listen, love, all this is a longer conversation than we’ve time for tonight. Connal’s bringing his daughter ’round for dinner tomorrow night, and we’ll settle everything then.”
Anna’s heart gave an unexpected thump. “Settle what?”
“Well, not so much settle as negotiate, maybe. Mitigate. That’s where your lawyer skills come in—and now that’s more than enough tonight. Away upstairs with you. You’re so tired you’ll fall asleep in your bath if you’re not careful.”
Warning bells pealed loud and long in Anna’s head as she studied Elspeth. Even so, just hearing the word bath brought up a yawn that seemed to ripple up from the bottom of her exhausted body.
Whatever fresh disaster was heading in her direction, she would face it in the morning. After a good night’s sleep.
I was driving in the Highlands of Scotland some years ago and came across a rusting black and white road sign pointing to Rob Roy MacGregor’s grave. Now, being a sucker for Scottish History, Sir Walter Scott, and Liam Neeson in a kilt (not necessarily in that order), I had to take the detour. Right? No choice at all. And I fell utterly and uncompromisingly in love with the Balquhidder glen.
The location itself was beautiful, of course, in that wild way of Scottish glens with steep-sided, heather-covered braes and lochs glittering silver beneath an endless sky. But it also had an aura of something magical.
In addition to the grave where Rob Roy, a “MacGregor Despite Them,” lies buried beside his wife and two of his sons, the glen houses the ruin of an old stone church where a soberly Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Robert Kirk, preached in the seventeenth century. When not preaching, however, Robert Kirk also reportedly wandered into the enchanted world of the “folk of peace.” Years later, according to legend, instead of dying, he was taken back to that Otherworld to become the chaplain to the Fairy Queen.
As if that wouldn’t have been enough to fire my imagination, I also had an encounter with a flock of meandering sheep, a lonely horse bit the side mirror of my rental car when I tried to stop petting him, and a shaggy Highland bull charged over to lick my camera lens while I was trying to take his picture. (I have the photo of his tongue somewhere, I swear.) Add to that a lovely meal and a passionate conversation with a Scottish nationalist, and it turned out to be a day I’ve never forgotten.
I always knew I would write about the glen someday. Of course, it’s changed some since I visited that first time. And because it has changed, and because my story is fiction which has resulted in some alterations to the landscape, while I’m keeping much of its history and the names of the clans who’ve traditionally resided there, I am calling it Balwhither instead of Balquhidder. For what it’s worth, Balwhither is how you pronounce the name anyway, and it’s also how Robert Louis Stephenson wrote about it in his books.
If you’ve been to Balquhidder, you’ll find yourself a little disoriented. Obviously, the people, places, and events that populate my glen are fictitious, and even the historical events and figures, actual geography, and landmark businesses in the glen are fictionalized. But I hope I’ve captured at least a little of the charm and beauty of the place, and I hope it inspires my readers to go and see it for themselves.
In case you’re sad to leave the charm of small town life in a magical setting behind when this story is over, keep an eye out for additional free-standing books centered around Celtic holidays and legends. And if you like Scottish food, you’ll find a few romantic recipes at the end of the full version of Lake of Destiny to try at home. Maybe they’ll turn out well enough at your house to help you convince your own man to try a kilt.
Anyway, please enjoy! Happy reading.
IF YOU’VE ENJOYED [_Lake of Destiny, _]please order the full edition available for delivery in hardcover, trade paperback, and e-book. Look for it at your favorite retailer, and order early to get exclusive introductory e-book price up until release.
Need even more men in kilts, quirky villagers, and magical settings? Keep an eye out for additional books in the Celtic Legends collection coming soon!
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ABOUT LAKE OF DESTINY
Helping her aunt organize a Beltane Festival in a picturesque Highland village seems like the perfect escape from Anna’s second broken engagement and the meltdown that wrecked her legal career. But to succeed, she’ll need to wrangle kilt-wearing villagers, dangerous sheep, unruly dogs, and the reclusive laird who refuses to open his property to the public for the ancient tradition of “Sighting.”
For centuries, Loch Fàil in Balwhither has been known to locals as a ‘thin’ place, one where the veil between worlds peels back on Beltane morning to reveals the face of a person’s one true love. The tradition could draw tourists by the busload, but that’s exactly what Connal MacGregor fears will expose the two secrets he’s been desperately keeping hidden.
Struggling to mediate between the needs of the village and Connal’s need to protect his identity and his daughter from the media, Anna finds herself falling in love with all of them: Connal and his daughter, the magical glen, the villagers. But day by day, opening herself to love exposes deep scars from Anna’s childhood, and confronting those wounds could finally set her free—or endanger her every chance of happiness.
The complete edition of Lake of Destiny will include:
BAND-AIDS AND CHOCOLATE
MEET THE PRESS
A THOUSAND STARS
LORD WHAT FOOLS
HEAT AND SWEETNESS
THE HAND OF FATE
NEVER LOVED SO BLINDLY
THE DEATH OF MUSIC
QUEEN OF THE MAY
FATE’S STEADY MARCH
DANCING WITH WOLVES
OF CROWNS AND CLOAKS
ALSO BY MARTINA BOONE
Young Adult Southern Gothic Romance from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse
More Information: www.MartinaBoone.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
MARTINA BOONE IS the award-winning author of the romantic southern gothic Heirs of Watson Island series for young adults, including Compulsion (Oct ’14), Persuasion (Oct ’15), and [Illusion (Oct ’16), _]from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse, and heartwarming contemporary romances for adult readers beginning with _Lake of Destiny. She’s also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She’s on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.
She lives with her husband, children, shetland sheepdog, and lopsided cat, and she enjoys writing romance set in the kinds of magical places she loves to visit. When she isn’t writing, she’s addicted to travel, horses, skiing, chocolate flavored tea, and anything with Nutella on it.
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PRAISE FOR MARTINA BOONE’S COMPULSION
—A Southern Independent Booksellers Association Okra Pick and SIBA Book Award Nominee
—A Goodreads Best Books of the Month and Best YA Books of the Month Selection
—A Kansas State Reading Circle Selection and Missouri State Teachers Association Selection
“Skillfully blends rich magic and folklore with adventure, sweeping romance, and hidden treasure . . . An impressive start.”—Publisher’s Weekly
“Eight Beaufort is so swoon-worthy that it’s ridiculous. Move over Four, Eight is here to stay!”—RT Book Reviews, RT Editors Best Books of 2014
“Boone’s Southern Gothic certainly delivers a compelling mystery about feuding families and buried secrets, not to mention a steamy romance.”—Booklist
“Darkly romantic and steeped in Southern Gothic charm, you’ll be compelled to get lost in the Heirs of Watson Island series.”—#1 New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout
“The perfect Southern family saga: charming and steamy on the surface, with cold-blooded secrets buried down deep.—Kendare Blake, NYT bestselling author of Three Dark Crowns and Anna Dressed in Blood
“A fresh twist on the Southern Gothic—haunting, atmospheric, and absorbing.”—Claudia Gray, New York Times bestselling author of A Thousand Pieces of You and the Evernight and Spellcaster series
“A stunningly magical debut with a delicious slow burn to be savored. I want to live in this story world!”—Wendy Higgins, NYT bestselling author of the Sweet Evil trilogy
“Beautifully written, with vivid characters, a generations-old feud, and romance that leaps off the page, this Southern ghost story left me lingering over every word, and yet wanting to race to the compelling finish. Martina Boone’s Compulsion is not to be missed.”—Megan Shepherd, NYT bestselling author of The Cage series and The Madman’s Daughter
A magical Highlands romance about men in kilts, destiny, family, healing, and the sometimes twisted path to love by the award-winning author of COMPULSION. Helping her aunt organize a Beltane Festival in a picturesque Highland village seems like the perfect escape from Anna's second broken engagement and the meltdown that wrecked her legal career. But to succeed, she'll need to wrangle kilt-wearing villagers, dangerous sheep, a disaster of a dog, and the reclusive laird who refuses to open his property to the public for the ancient tradition of "Sighting." For centuries, Loch Fàil in Balwhither has been known to locals as a 'thin' place, one where the veil between worlds peels back on Beltane morning to show the face of a person's one true love. The tradition could draw tourists by the busload, but that's exactly what Connal MacGregor fears will reveal the two secrets he's been desperate to keep hidden. While Anna struggles to mediate between the needs of the village and Connal's need to protect his identity and his child, she finds herself falling in love with all of them: Connal and his daughter, the magical glen, the villagers. But day by day, opening herself to love exposes deep scars from Anna's childhood, and confronting those wounds could finally set her free--or endanger her every chance of happiness.