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Return to Rhonan: Chapters 1 & 2

Mark your diary, because every Monday and Thursday, I will post two chapters of my exciting historical paranormal romance novel, Return to Rhonan (that’s four chapters each week). Set mainly in the Scottish Highlands, the reader will find much to enjoy on this mysterious well researched journey.

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here and at the end of each post.


Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters
All rights reserved

Chapter 1

PRESENT DAY – NEW YORK.

Jessie knelt by the side of the bed, her hot tears falling on the still hand. ‘I’m sorry, so sorry.’

She raised her head to the squeak of the bedroom door opening. ‘Uncle Tom?  Oh God.’ An older man strode across to the four-poster bed.  ‘Jessie, my dear child.  It’s an awful shock …’ 

I wish I hadn’t hurt her. Why couldn’t she understand?’

Prissy loved you, Jess. You were her main reason for living.’

‘How can I go on without her?’

Taking her hand, he said, ‘You have to be strong, my darling.  You made the right choice for you. We all have the right to choose our own lives. You can—’ He broke off as he sniffed the air. ‘Seaweed?  Now, where is that coming from?’

Jessie smelt it too, ‘We’re not far from the docks.’

 Neither were aware of the wraithlike figure beside her,  

Gently, her uncle handed Jessie a tissue, as he led her to a carved mahogany chair. ‘Come, come and sit down.’ 

Jessie took the tissue, her voice still choking. 

He took her hand and led her to a sofa, unaware of the wraith gliding behind them. 

***

 St. Brigid’s thronged with mourners and parishioners paying their respects to Priscilla Elizabeth McGregor. Jessie fingered the locket handed down through the generations from Grandma Morag.  Prissy always kept it locked away in her safe. Yet, as if having a premonition of her death, she had given it Jess admonishing her to keep it secure.  Jess could almost sense her stepmother’s fingers on the old gold; hear her voice. ‘This is for you now, Jess. Keep it safe.’

Feeling Peter press her hand, she turned her head to him, the intensity of his steel-grey eyes searing through the grief.  She saw the smile full of compassion, the clean-cut of his jaw, the muscled arms that held her to his heart as she wept through the night hours. They’d been together for three years, content in a relationship without ties. Gently, he turned the page of the hymnbook for her although her voice choked over the words, ‘Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.’  

 Where did Prissy abide now?  Was her spirit now with her Scottish ancestors? Or, was she standing beside her coffin willing Jessie to see her spirit form?  She prayed her stepmother was in her heaven, wherever that might be.  She had helped so many people achieve their dreams.  McGregor Hotels served the community and individuals in so many ways. 

 Guilt crept in as she remembered her aunt’s words. ‘Your future lies with the business, how could you forsake it – me?  It isn’t about hotels, bricks, and mortar.  It’s about life, helping, reaching out to the thousands of the desolate and homeless, and all you can think about is your damn psychology.’

Uncle Tim’s words drifted into her mind. ‘You were never meant to enter the business. You are a healer Jess. The one is as important as the many.  Heal one heart, and you heal whole families.  It stretches out like ripples in a pond.  Remember that.’

 She glanced up at the coffin, to the wreaths of roses and lilies. Flowers also adorned the white marble walls, a beautiful place reflecting her stepmother’s soul. 

Keeping close to Peter’s side with her Uncle and cousin Grant near, she watched her stepmother interred in the family mausoleum. Her name engraved under that of Jessie’s mother, Miriam, a young mother who took her life. 

Later at the reception, mingling among the guests, Jessie glanced at the maids in black calf-length dresses with frilled white aprons serving canapés. Young male waiters offered drinks or champagne from sterling silver trays.  Struggling to keep her face composed, she looked over to her cousin Dinah, helping to carry the load of greeting and listening to the mourners who flocked to the wake. They’d been friends for years, sharing a room at University until she’d met Peter. Now they had a therapy practice together.  Today, Dinah looked sophisticated with her pale white skin and dark brown hair swept up into a sleek chignon. Her ample curves snugly fitted into a simple black dress. 

The afternoon dragged interminably.  Jessie just wanted to be alone, to sit with a glass of wine and reflect.  Pete took her hand, ‘How about you and I get out for a while later. ‘Go to the Park, take a ride – take a hamper.’

‘I couldn’t – I just want to go to bed and get over today.’

‘Fresh air would help you sleep. Come on, let’s do it.’

She knew if she went to bed early, she would follow the usual pattern of tossing and turning, with a kaleidoscope of fragmented memories flowing before her tortured eyes.   For the past week, Peter had been so sweet, so patient, cradling her in his arms. A ride in the park, followed by a picnic by the reservoir glimmering in the moonlight, might lift her grief.

Silently, she apologized to her stepmother as she nodded. ‘Later then.’

He rose, the steel grey of his eyes softening.  ‘Then I will be away to arrange the horse and carriage, my lady.’

***

Pete tied the horses to a tree, threw a blanket over his shoulder, and picked up a picnic basket from the carriage.  Giving a quiet grin, he said, ‘Champagne on ice and food to tempt you. You haven’t eaten properly for days.’

Despite her heartache, she felt slightly hungry, as the aromas drifted up from king prawns, lobster, chicken, and filo pastry rolls stuffed with a variety of Mexican tasters. She could smell the fresh bread and butter as he laid them out on a plate. 

Popping the cork of the champagne bottle, he said, ‘Here’s to Prissy.’

 Jessie felt tears spring to her eyes, ‘I never knew it would be this devastating Pete.  I love her so much – far more than I realized.’

‘And she loved you too, Jess. It showed when she looked at you when she talked about you.’

‘Maybe, but I didn’t rise to her expectations.  I was adamant I was going to be free to make my own choices, in doing that, I hurt her.’

‘We all are allowed our freedom, Jess. You have nothing to blame yourself for.  You know that.’ 

 ‘I just wished we could have met halfway or something, but there you are….’  She found that she was hungry, and to her surprise, ate more than she expected. The lobster was so fresh and sweet, while the king prawns dipped in balsamic vinegar and coriander were scrumptious.  The canapés of Mexican spices were delicious, hot enough to have her reaching for more of the champagne.

 As they strolled to the waters’ edge, Jessie took Pete’s hand.  ‘I wish that she’d found her ancestors in Scotland.  She’d planned a six-week vacation over there.  We don’t know much about our Scottish family, just two scraps of paper.  The marriage certificate is unreadable. The names on the birth certificate, are almost obliterated.  All we have are the letters Mur and Mor –  Scotland. We believe that’s our ancestor Morag’s birth certificate.  Then we have a locket. It’s a family heirloom, been handed down through the generations. It has a miniature painting of a young man – Regency dress and two tiny braids of hair, one red and the other black. ’

Pete stooped to pick up a stone, skimming it across the waves.  ‘They did like that kind of thing. Dead hair, though – morbid.’

Jessie watched the stone skip across the waves. ‘The locket does have an inscription, ‘LDR to MM Forever United 1810’. It’s not much to go on. You know I have a recurring dream – every so often. It’s so haunting. Since Mom died, I have it every night. It’s always about the young man in the miniature, and there’s a young woman. It’s so vivid, so real. Oh, I expect it’s all imagination.’

‘Tell me.’

Seeing the concern in his eyes, she said, ‘It’s uncanny, in the dream, I become this woman, the only thing is she looks exactly like me.  It’s strange – like a Past Life, or time-traveling, you know?  I seem to slip into her body, a silent ghost from the future.

Peter gave a slight shiver.  ‘Eerie. And she has no idea you’re there?’

‘No, she’s completely unaware of me.  Creepy really. I mean, someone could be using my body now, knowing my thoughts and yours.’

‘Mystical – that’s if it’s true, of course.’  Seeing her irritated frown, Peter said, ‘So what happens in the dream?’

For the first time since her stepmother’s passing, Jessie smiled. ‘It’s a bit sexy, two lovers by a loch. It’s definitely in Scotland, and they have Scottish accents, they mention each other’s names, Muriall and Duncan. I know that ties in with the locket, LDR, and MM – well, at least the initials D and M.  It could be my mind working it through.  They also mention a place called Rhonan.  I’ve looked up Rhonan, and there’s such a place in the Highlands – North-West Scotland.  You know, it was Mom’s dream to go there, and we’ve been talking about dreams, so maybe we should go. It would be a kind of pilgrimage.’

Seeing Jessie’s eyes light up, Pete said, ‘So let’s do it. I’ll book up for us Jess – we could go for a couple of weeks.’

‘It’s not that easy, Pete; there’s the practice.’

‘Surely, you have time to grieve?’

***

On dampened sheets, Jess turned to look at Pete sleeping peacefully beside her, his mouth slightly open, eyelashes dark against pale skin.  She did love him once passionately, foreseeing a future of marriage, a home – children.  But the passion had faded into deep affection.  He knew but was not willing to accept it just yet.  As sleep evaded her, Jessie laid thinking about the impending journey to Scotland.  The phantom figures of Muriall and Duncan rose in her mind. She didn’t remember slipping into the dream.

Muriall walked towards him, the soaking cheesecloth of her chemise clinging to every curve. As he looked up into her eyes, the color of emeralds, he said, ‘You look like a mermaid, wet and beautiful.’

 She fell on the blanket beside him, playfully shaking her soaked titian red locks over him. She sighed, ‘Oh, I wish we could be together all the time Duncan –not escaping here. You know your father will find out and banish me from the estate. If it isn’t Max, it will be some spiteful servant who will tell him.’’

 ‘Never my sweet.  Father is frail, his health failing. His room stinks of potions and balms.’

‘Don’t speak so; it is as if you wish his death. 

‘He denies food and shelter to thousands, yes thousands of our tenants. He is about to evict whole families from their crofts.  He is treacherous without pity for the men women and children starving on our estates.  One day we will rule Rhonan, and we will redeem our tenants, give them back their tenures, and they will thrive under our care.’

‘I hear from Alice and Robbie that many are thinking of emigrating – some say to America or Canada. It is something the Scots have always done throughout the centuries, but this emigration is far worse as they have no choice.’

‘So, I shall tender to those who are left. One day Muriall, you will be Countess of Rhonan.’

 Jessie moaned as her eyes opened to the darkness of the room, her heart hammering. The dream had always been the same, but tonight there was a difference, tonight Duncan spoke of his father, of starving peasants and one possible clue, The Countess of Rhonan.  If there was any truth in dreams, then this was a definite lead.  Those three small letters ‘Mur,’ on the tattered piece of paper handed down through the generations, could read Muriall.


Chapter 2

AUGUST 1810
RHONAN MANOR – NORTH WEST SCOTLAND

The young woman leaped up through the surface of the lake, a nymph among water lilies, her hair, scarlet threads, weaving over white skin. As she turned to him, the sun splashed light into her green eyes. With a mischievous smile, she called out, ‘Come in Duncan, I dare you.’

 He rose to her taunts, shucking off slim-fitting pantaloons.  His strong strokes brought him swiftly to her.  Instantly, she dived down, disappearing among the reeds, feet kicking, her white chemise billowing.   Pushing away from the green fronds snaking around his arms and legs, he grasped the girl’s ankle, pulling her to him.  Bubbles escaped from her lips, as she turned, supple as an eel, her legs clinging to him, kissing his chest, his mouth. Then, rising like an arrow in flight, she shot up into the light sparkling through the pale green water.

Reaching the shallows, he hefted her up into his arms, carrying her to the grassy bank.  Teasingly, she bit his ear, pulling at his black hair, wet and glossy on his shoulders as he lay her down gently on the blanket, throwing himself beside her.  Stroking away from the scarlet strands from her face, he said, ‘Such beauty and all mine.’

Nuzzling her throat, he found her lips, her tongue.  Responding, she pushed into his body, curves flowing into angles.  His mouth found the buds of her nipples harden as her body arched to his kisses. His tongue followed the line of her quivering muscles.  Gently Duncan massaged the calves of her legs, feeling her tense as he reached the top of her inner thigh.  His mouth teasingly flitted over the sweet triangle of red curls, the inner folds, soft as velvet.  Groaning, she lifted her body towards him, her hands now clutching his back, nails digging into his flesh, urging him on.  His heart hammered as her long legs wrapped around his buttocks, pushing him closer to her.  His tongue flicked inside her cheek as he penetrated.  Hearing her gasp, feeling her shudder, he pushed deeper. Time ceased to exist in a rhythm beyond words or sound. Light melted into exquisite darkness as ecstasy took them over the edge.     

Pulling away, Muriall lifted herself onto her elbow to stroke his hair. He was gorgeous, looking more rake than a gentleman.  However, she knew he was faithful to her.  She fell in love with him when she was all of two years old, a foundling brought into the household. 

 Looking up into those emerald eyes, he said, ‘You seduce me with a look. I swear you’re a Siren.’

 ‘I am not.  I am all woman – tis a human heart beats in here.’

 ‘A lovechild no less.’

Muriall’s eyes clouded.  ‘Do not jest with me, Duncan. Tis no joke. I will never know—’

‘My darling, I am so sorry, I would cut my tongue out if it hurts you. Here take the riding crop, whip me.’

Muriall wiped her eyes, a smile tugging at the mouth. ‘It still hurts me, Duncan.  I wish I had known my birth mother. I long to—‘

He stopped her words with a tender kiss. Reaching for her, he held her close, kissing the slender neck, nipping at her ears until she squealed.  He found her mouth, tasting the honey sweetness, smelling the lavender, her favorite flower. Flipping her over, he held himself up by muscled arms, gazing down at her pert rounded breasts, at the rosy aureoles of her nipples. 

Laughing, she touched his lip with her finger. ‘Have you not had enough, my Lord.’

Groaning, he rolled onto his side and lifting himself on his elbow, played with the tendrils of red hair.   

Hearing a cluster of birds flutter from the nearby tree, Muriall turned away to see a man watching from the trees.  The sun glinted on the dark blonde hair; his foppish face held a scowl while his hand clutched the sheath of his short sword.  Muriall’s eyes narrowed; it was Maximillian, the damn rakehell. How long had he been there?  Seeing the hatred in his eyes, she knew he would run Duncan through with his sword if he could, even though he was his brother. She bared her teeth at him, willing him to retreat. Smirking, he raised a hand in greeting before turning on his heel, disappearing noiselessly through the trees.

Her heart lurched, Maximillian lived only for his cups, horses, and the turn of a card; a despoiler of young women, he was without scruples.

 ‘Dammit, Max was watching. He knows we are lovers – I dread to think what he will do.’

Rising to his feet, Duncan stood, hands-on-hips. ‘Then I must needs to seek him out and deal with it.’

’But say he informs the Earl? I would be banished – ruined – cast out.’

‘Never, while I live.  Worry not my sweet this will be sorted.  If Max informs the Earl, then I shall be forced to call him out.’

No, you can’t do that.  That is just the opening he wants.  You know it would not be a clean duel, he or one of the bucks will plan some evil.’

 ‘Then we should reveal the truth now.’

‘How can we? I am your father’s ward, illegitimate, and without title or fortune.  Max is a swine, a cur. Why, oh, why does he hate us so?’

‘He’s jealous – always lusted after you.  Not only does he want my inheritance – he wants you. Telling my father is a way of getting both.’

‘He knows I have nothing but contempt for him. I despise his very presence.’

‘That’s what irks him. He has women swooning at his feet. He only has to look their way for them to lift their skirts. He is the worst sort of rakehell, perfidious, caring not for any woman he despoils – I fail to see why any woman would want him.’

‘You know why, Muriall, he has the face of an Adonis, status, horses and fine carriages.  Even though he is the second son, he will inherit a massive fortune.  The mothers fawn over him like a cat with cream. If he makes an offer for one of their daughters, he would be snapped up.’

‘I pity any girl who marries him. He would take her fortune, leaving her in misery as he cavorts with yet another mistress.’

‘Aye, a scoundrel but few marry for love, my sweet.   It is a duty to carry on the title and ensure the estate.’

‘And what of your personal duty?‘

‘You are my duty.   I shall find a way, never fear. You and I will be together.’

‘I could be your mistress – but then I could not endure the thought of you having a wife, sharing the marriage bed, making love. She would bear your children, your heirs, while I would bear your bastards.’

‘Muriall, I have no intention of taking a wife unless it is you.  As for being my mistress, we could solve that little problem here and now.’  He laughed, drawing her to him, kissing her neck, ruffling the wild red curls.

 ‘Behave yourself, my Lord; I am no chit whom you can bend to your wicked will.’

‘God I ache for you, Muriall.’

Her eyes grew pensive as she said, ‘The Earl looks upon me as his daughter, but I fear his wrath should he ever find out.’

‘He is in his dotage. He leaves the running of the estates to me. Maximillian does not stir from his bed until noon and would gamble the whole estate away if he could. Father is well aware of that. Max is worse than the officers on the continent, gambling away whole estates and fortunes in a night.’

‘He has discovered our trysting place, so we must needs find another even more obscure.’

I have a mind to build a hut on the little island, or we can use the bank behind those bulrushes. As they are over six feet in height, he would have to swim over and clamber through them to spy on us.

 ‘D’you think you can persuade the Earl to spare the farmers? Tis a dreadful business, Duncan. Already the sea folk starve. Droves of people flee to the coast from the other estates.  Now the seas are overfished and the seaweed scarce.’

‘I will damn well try.  I have arranged a dinner and a meeting for tomorrow night. Father cannot evict the tenants without due warning, and even then, why should they lose their homes at all?  There should be a way to procure land for sheep grazing without dispossessing people.’

‘Why can’t the farmers turn to sheep farming? There is plenty of land for both?’

‘That is the point I shall bring up.’

‘So who will be present at the meeting?’

‘So far, tis the Duke of Glennard, the Marquis de Mendane and Viscount Fletcher.’

Surely, they can do something to stop this treachery, this misery?’ ’

‘A fat lot of good they’ll be. Apart from the Duke, they don’t have the tenants’ rights at heart. Like Max, all they care about are horses, cards, and mistresses.  At least, the Duke of Glennard will be present. On him, I can count.’

Muriall slipped the frilly linen shirt over her head and began pulling on brown leather breeches. ‘The Duchess is intelligent and keeps abreast of political affairs as do I. She is so worried about the tenants. However, the Marchioness is useless; all the lady can do is simper, giggle, or swoon. Only the other evening, they had to rush for the smelling salts when she won at charades. As for the Viscountess, she is a child, barely fifteen.  Tis too young an age to marry a man forty years her senior – scandalous.’

Duncan did up the buttons on his pantaloons. ‘I hear he paid her father a handsome sum; the fool lost to the Viscount at cards, he was about to forfeit his estate

‘I declare he is a lecher – that poor girl – mere baby – not even out of the schoolroom.’

‘Hark at you, Muriall; you are barely touching nineteen yourself – you speak like a matron.’

‘There is a lot of difference between fifteen and nineteen. I will have you know.  

‘Then perhaps you can talk to the Duchess at the table, while I tackle the men.  It is best to prime them before the meeting.’

‘I wish I could attend the meeting – it’s so unjust Duncan.  Women are treated like pets to be caressed and fed.’

‘Not you, my love, you have claws.’

‘So beware.  Now I must hurry. I have to take victuals to Old Nathrach and Ena as well as their poor neighbors.’ 

‘Then I will escort you – these are dangerous times, I blame not the tenants, but they are about to lose their homes, their resentment runs deep.’

‘No – my love, I am quite capable of fending for myself.’

‘Muriall, let us not argue on this. I insist on being your protector.’

‘Oh, for God goodness’ sake, listen to yourself.  You sound like some pompous preacher.’


Copyright.

No part of this book may be stored, reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the express permission of the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters

All rights reserved


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