books, fiction, historical romance, supernatural;

Return to Rhonan: Chapters 7 & 8

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.

Return to Rhonan: Chapters 7 & 8

Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters
All rights reserved

Chapter 7

Sitting in a scented bath of lavender and rosemary, Muriall leaned forward for the maid to soap her back.  ‘Huh, it is a formal evening, so I am forced to dress accordingly.  Lord Duncan is firmly on the side of the tenants. On some of the estates, thousands are to be evicted from their homes that have been in their families for over five hundred years. Let us hope they can talk the Duke round.’ 

‘Begging your pardon, my Lady, but my family….’  Her words faded away in a soft sob.

Muriall turned to her. ‘What is it, Becky?’’ 

The maid lifted eyes filled with tears, ‘My family on the McGaven estate, are to be cast out onto the roads. I know not what to do, my Lady – my heart is breaking when I think of the bairns. How can it be? How can they drive them into the sleet and rain, without food or water?’

‘We will fight them, Becky, fear not, that is why the committee meets this night. Sadly, only the Duke is openly prepared to fight the cause. As for the others, tis another excuse for a banquet and liquor. But fear, not the Duke is powerful, far more so than those other two dilettantes ’

 She stood as the abigail covered her in warm toweling, before helping her out of the tub. Drying herself, she watched the maid layout the undergarments, a soft linen chemise, followed by the shift, and a petticoat. Sighing, she said, ‘Today’s fashion does allow us to be free of corsets, but men still call for breasts to be served upon a plate.  All they need is a knife and fork. Cattle, that’s what we are, cattle.’

The maid could not resist a shaky smile as she passed Muriall the chemise followed by the shift.

‘And I shall have to endure that rakehell Maximillian, lecherous swine. I shall wear my whip to the table, and if he so much as….’ The maid slipped the offending petticoat over Muriall’s head, who then turned for Becky to do up the laces.  ‘Why in heaven’s name should I wear all this useless apparel? A linen shirt and leather breeches would do me well enough. Just think of the thousands now starving, many roaming the roads.  Just one of these garments would feed a family for a week. I feel so ashamed – so ashamed.’

 ‘My Lady, you do everything you can to help the tenants.’

‘Not enough by far.  Let us hope Duncan is successful in persuading them to take action.  I wish I could attend, but as usual, I was forbidden to step foot into the room, not on my Lord Duncan’s say so, but the Duke’s.   I sicken at the way men subdue the female sex. We are just as intelligent as men.  We do not have their knowledge, but that is because they deny us proper tutelage. In contrast, they receive education in mathematics, science, history, biology – oh so many areas of knowledge.  We have to be little social creatures, who can paint, play the pianoforte, sing and speak French – oh yes and embroider. 

‘Do you know the other day Aunt Flavia caught me reading a book on science?  She went into paroxysms, saying that I would injure my head if I were to read such intellectual tomes, that the female brain is too fragile, that I should take a fever.  Can you imagine it?  Oh, God, it is so ridiculous. It is she who hurts my head, not the damn book.  I am strictly forbidden to cast any opinions on the evictions of the tenant farmers. However, I am going to fight alongside Lord Duncan; together, we may make an indent in this disgusting business. Tis treacherous times Becky – treacherous times.’

Muriall took hold of the young woman’s hands, ‘I shall see that your family are taken care of Becky. I wish I could help everybody, but I realize I must contain my zeal to the few.  But we can save some of them’.

‘Thank you, my Lady, at least I shall sleep tonight now knowing you will protect them.’

 ‘I hope that with the help of the Earl and some of his associates, we will be able to do more.  Tonight will be a testing point.’ Picking up a triangular piece of steel, she said, ‘And as for this contrivance, it is medieval torture.  How women wear it between their breasts, I don’t know.’

‘It does uplift and separates the bosoms milady.’  

‘Never – never.  I’m sure if I fell, it would cut them off. I will never wear it – never – I don’t care what Aunt Flavia says.’‘

‘Och, my Lady, it couldna do that. Now for your dress.’

Smoothing down the white muslin embroidered with white silk roses, Muriall frowned, ‘Why does it all have to be white or pink? It is so insipid.  Give me crimson anytime.’

‘But that color is for the older women milady, not for a wean like yerself.’

‘Wean?  I’m nineteen, not nine Becky.’

Smiling together now, Muriall posed in front of the long mirror stand; the white dress did become her pale porcelain skin. The sheer lace sleeves showed off the sloping shoulders. The design of the dress with the material caught up underneath the bosom accentuated the plump swell of her full breasts.

Muriall loved the way Becky brushed her hair, with long firm strokes until it shone like burnished copper. ‘What do you think about the center parting – tis the new fashion.’ ‘

‘With your curls ma’am, ye do not need curling tongs. It would be such a shame to singe these locks.’

‘Well, I don’t like the center parting.  I shall wear it so that the curls fall naturally.’

As Becky lifted the jar of face cream, Muriall grimaced. ‘I refuse to put that disgusting stuff on my skin, white lead, and beeswax?  I would look like a painted doll, especially with the kohl and beetroot stains on my cheeks.’

‘Och, I agree with ye.  Nevertheless, maybe just a light dusting of powder would give your skin a velvety texture milady?

‘Now Becky to serious matters.  The cart will be ready after the meeting tonight so that you will accompany us. First, we visit our tenants, the Duke has raised the rents once again, and the poor people starve. Then we must scour the roads for the tenants evicted on the Baron Fodenberry’s estate last night. And you must look for your family.  I hear more are to be forced out but pray God; it is not tonight.  Hopefully, we can delay or even stop the evictions on our estate. So it is at ten o’clock at the Orangery.’

The maid closed the door gently behind her, bustling away down the stone corridor passing Lord Maximillian just returning from the stables. A slight smile flickered across his handsome face. So, she would be alone.  Perfect.

 Not even bothering to knock, he turned the brass handle pushing the door open.  Closing it firmly behind him, he turned the key. His eyes dwelt on the waist-length hair incandescent in the candlelight.  Muriall turned around sharply, her hairbrush in her hand. 

‘What?  How dare you enter a lady’s chamber without permission.  Get out now.’

Smirking, he put a finger to his lips as if to hush her.  As she went to rise, he caught a handful of her hair raising it to his nose, sniffed ‘Ah lavender and rosemary. Tis as beautiful as you milady.’

 Smacking his hand sharply with the hairbrush, she stood wincing as he pulled more sharply on her hair. ‘I am so enamored after seeing your dalliance with my wimp of a brother yesterday.’

Between clenched teeth, she hissed, ‘Get out now before I hurt you.’

‘Not before I have tasted your sweetness.’ He laughed softly, ‘I feel sure you can share your favors. It would not do for me to report your amorous cavorting to the Earl now – would it?’ Letting go of her hair, he cupped her face with both hands, pulling her to him. Seething, she brought the brush up, whipping him sharply across the head. 

Surprised, he stepped back, ruefully rubbing his injured skin through the thick blonde waves.  ‘Now you are certainly are a wild cat – time to be tamed methinks.’

 Snarling, she advanced, raising the brush high. 

Holding up his hand in defense, he said, ‘Tis obvious you are not in the mood – but there will be other times. For now, I will keep my silence—‘

‘You pig – odious rake.’ As she lunged for him, he slipped through the door, shutting it softly. Panting, she stood listening to his retreating footsteps. Shuddering, she walked back to the bed. Opening the bedside drawer, she took out a dagger, uncovering it from its leather case. In the future, it would be to hand. No way would she tell Duncan. It would end in a duel, and she did not intend losing him to that vile viper.

Chapter 8

North West Scotland.

Duncan grimaced, as he paced the empty dining room. It was a heart-rending business – starving tenants were driven from their homes. His father must see reason. The poor devils suffered enough already living half-starved in squalid one-roomed huts. At the same time, at the Manor, the Rhonans ate their way through an evening meal of several courses lasting hours.    

His fingers scraped at hair as black as his mood, his scarlet vest blending with the burgundy silk decorating the walls.  He glanced up at deceased ancestors in military uniform and waist pinching crinolines gazing down with haughty expressions from ornate frames. The Earl squandered money on yet more renovations to the Manor, fine dining, balls, carriages, horses, gambling, while only a mile away, children’s bodies shrunk in starvation.  

He glanced at the table laid ready for the Clearance Committee Meeting, scowling at the sheets of parchment, quills, and crystal inkstand. It was action they needed, not correspondence. An empty belly paid no heed to time.

Hearing voices and laughter, he straightened his spine, ready for the fray. After a sumptuous meal, the committee members would look forward to a hearty buffet, wine, and spirits, huffing on cigars while discussing ways of depriving the famished tenants of their farms. Duncan clenched his teeth by God; he would use every means possible to fight for the rights of the people. He had to curb his temper, or else all would be lost.     

As the Committee members assembled in the room, the butler formally announced Duncan’s younger brother Lord Maximillian, who minced in, pulling languid fingers through pomaded dark blonde hair.  Duncan’s jaw tightened; the selfish bastard didn’t know the meaning of the word compassion.  All he cared about were horses, cards, and his sordid Hell Fire Club. 

The Duke of Rhonan followed him, his skin as sallow as his spirit.   Contempt filled his voice as he said, ‘Let’s get this bloody business over with. I’ve had enough of these filthy peasants and their whining.  Greedy buggers.’

With a scraping of chairs across the Aubusson carpet, the gentlemen seated themselves.  Algernon Perkins, the lawyer, and Factor for the Earl, diligently sorted out papers from his briefcase. Smirking at the quills on the inkstand, he brought out a velvet case from his waistcoat pocket, proudly uncovering a pen with a steel nib on a decorative ceramic holder. Proud of the new invention, he held it up for the members to see. That alone would feed four people for a month.

Duncan felt a rush of shame as he looked at the decanters of fine spirits. They gathered to vote on taking the starving tenants’ very livelihood while drinking out of sterling silver and antique cut glass.

The Duke hunched over the table, his dress as always exquisite, with a blue silken tailcoat and yellow silk vest, the cream silk cravat high on his throat, decorated with a diamond stickpin, the size of a hazelnut. Fixing a pince-nez on his thin aquiline nose, he said, ‘Come come, Perkins, let us not mince words, we must clear the land and evict the tenants – nothing less.  

The Reverend Michael O’Sullivan interrupted, ‘I have tried telling them it is the grace of God that they give up their land. They must needs suffer and bow to His Will; the Earl’s word is the law under man and God.’

Duncan growled, ‘God’s law – you speak blasphemy priest. How much will you receive from their misery?  Will you preach it is God’s law as you drive them onto the roads with nothing?  Hey?

The Duke’s eyes glittered, ‘Don’t be so dramatic. We are creating industry – are we not? Bringing in Cheviot sheep is our only way to produce a profit.  We need more money for our houses, our carriages, our gold and silver plate. We have the given right to quality living – our society must not be impoverished.’

‘We?  You mean you and your fat friends – what about the starving men and women and children shivering without fuel, children crying out in hunger?  What right do they have now?  They owned their crofts for hundreds of years,’

Duncan narrowed his eyes, looking at each member who avoided his gaze, either looking down into full wine glasses or puffing on the Cuban cigars. His voice filed steel. ‘Dramatic?  Have you seen inside a tenant’s hut? For God’s sake, we destroyed these proud Highlanders, these warrior Chiefs. We took away their clan system and broke the power of the Chieftains, and still, you are not satisfied. 

He looked at the diamond pin in the Duke’s cravat. ‘Your pin alone is worth thousands.  How can you even think of casting out whole families onto the roads with nothing?  Don’t forget we have another death threat – the second in as many days. 

‘Then I shall call on the police and military.  Shoot the bastards.’

‘Ah, so now you’re not only starving them but shooting them as well. Where’s your soul?’

Perkins fingered his delicate ceramic pen resting in the solid silver inkstand and sniffed.  ‘Come – come. We must think of ways of improving our standard of living – the wool economy will bring in ample profits from the estate – we have to go with change.’ 

‘How can you even utter those words?  They are starving, and you talk about profits. I think, up until now, we fared very well, castles, manor houses, fine balls, carriages, and our blasted silver plate and gold plate on the table.  Even starving, they would share their last crumb with you, you miserable swine.’ 

Father O’Sullivan interrupted, ‘God is showing us the way; it is his Divine Will. Our farmers’ souls will prosper as they prayerfully give up the land to their Lord and Master the Earl. And of course, they can emigrate.’

‘Divine Will?  God does not interfere in the affairs of man.’ Duncan thundered, ‘He gave us free will and what we’ve done with it?  Murdered our tenants – leaving them to die while you fill your bellies and drink fine wines? Mothers and bairns starve.’

The priest pursed his lips, plucking at his notes, ‘My Lord, there’s no need to get personal. The tenants must submit to God’s Divine Plan – otherwise, they will bring His Wrath down on their heads.‘

 ‘Don’t rant about the wrath of God.’ Duncan slammed his fist on the table. ‘Don’t spout the Old Testament.  Tis man’s selfishness, man’s greed that we discuss this night. Stop squawking and speak up for humanity’.

Duncan raised his hand, his tones smooth and clear, ‘We can do both, we can share the land. It is just a matter of lower profits. However, in the end, all will prosper.  Not only can we have a wool industry, but we can also benefit the tenants by turning them into sheep farmers. We can all live very comfortably, indeed.’

Turning to the Viscount, he said, ‘What say you Mendane?’

The Viscount slumped back in his chair, slurped on some wine. ‘Load of bollocks your Grace, bollocks – your father, the Duke has my ear and my vote.  Blasted tenants – nothing but misery – misery I say.’ Stretching for the decanter, he poured more wine.

Duncan bit his lip; he wanted to punch the drunkard. ‘Misery?  These poor wretches are the people that put food in your belly, wine down your gullet, and bloody silk on your back. Why only the other month I hear you took a shilling off each of your tenants to pay for a Grecian sculpture for your balustrade. Those that couldn’t pay wait in fear of eviction.’ 

In answer, the Viscount raised a languid hand, the lace crisp on his wrist. ‘Whatever Rhonan –  whatever.’

Turning to the Marquis, Duncan’s lips thinned, the drunken sop lay, sprawled over his chair,   his mouth open, snoring.

Smirking, the Duke leaned forward. ‘It seems we outnumber you. Turning to his son, he said, ‘I am sure you will appreciate that I must follow the needs of the day.  It is not within my power to shelter those who cannot contribute to the wool industry. Still, I can at least ensure they have work in the kelping industry. To this end, as I discussed with my son here, I will provide kilns and all tools and utensils necessary to turn the seaweed into kelp. It is indeed in our interest to develop kelping, especially as we have the advantage of lower taxes. To that end, my tenants will repair to the coast to build their huts and to enjoy industrious work.’

‘You will regret your evil deeds.’ Duncan grimaced at his father. There had to be something he could do to save the tenants.


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

Other Chapters

If you have missed any chapters, or wish to read them again, then please use the links below:

books, fiction, historical romance, supernatural;

Return to Rhonan: Chapters 5 & 6

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 at the end of each post.

Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters
All rights reserved

Chapter 5

Douglas turned to the door.   ‘Better see the state of the bedrooms.’

Together they climbed the central staircase leading to a landing with corridors off both sides. The master bedroom held a magnificent four-poster bed with Tudor roses carved in the central panes of the head and footboards.  Douglas swept his hand over the headboard, ‘Not in bad nick. Needs a polish, though.’

‘Yeah, these pillows are mildew, why didn’t they get rid of them. God, that coverlet must be crawling. Why bank the pillows so high?’

‘They used to sleep sitting up, as they believed that you could lose your breath during the night if you slept flat.’

Nathan looked at the huge oak carved wardrobe.  ‘Look, there’s a huge wicker basket here, must’ve been for the dogs.’

Nathan strolled over to the wardrobe.  ‘Look, the last owners even left clothes in here.’

‘Yeah, Pevensey did say they left in a hurry.’      

 Douglas stopped abruptly.  “Can you smell that?  It’s like ozone?”

‘Nathan frowned, “Yeah, you’re right.’


‘Yeah, but we not far from the sea, so maybe the wind’s blowing this way.’                         

Crossing the landing, they found the Playroom. Nathan laughed, ‘Look at all this, rocking horses, dolls on a miniature sofa, loads of stuff, what with the schoolroom as well. It makes a good museum piece you know.’ 

 ‘We’ll go and have a look at the castle on the way out. I’ve got the map of the underground tunnels in the car, and we’ll need the flashlights.’ 

 As they drove down the drive, Nathan recalled Pevensey’s words, ‘Muriall haunts the place.’  He smiled, looking back at the window of the first floor.  It must be the one with the Princess bed.  He felt his skin prickle as a shaft of icy air passed over his face. He did not see the frail figure clutching a tiny skeleton.,


The castle was impressive, although the curtain wall was almost non-existent.  Only two turreted towers and the crumbling walls remained. Open to the elements, the inner hall was immense. One stone staircase on an internal wall led to what would have been the first floor with more stairs of rotting wood leading to the second and third. Against the far wall, the large fireplace and hearth could still prominent.

Nathan shouted out to Douglas from the far wall, ‘Hey look. I’ve found the servant’s underground tunnel to the Manor, and there’s also one leading in the other direction to the graveyard.  Pevensey did say it was on a level with the loch, didn’t he?’

 The tunnel would take a small woman’s height. Bending, they began walking through the small space.  Douglas said, ‘This looks dangerous – I don’t think we should go much further.’

Nathan looked above him, ‘Pevensey did say some renovations took place some years ago. This bit’s okay, see there’s concrete in among the stones.  It must have been done up at some time.  Come on – the vaults are not far ahead.’

Douglas flashed his flashlight to the ceiling, looking warily at the water seepage through the stones above, but it did look safe enough. They stopped at the first vaults almost twenty feet across and over twenty feet high.  The arches built of hewn rocks were rough on the edges adding to the gothic look.  On walking through to an adjacent vault, Nathan leaped forward, flashing his light on a central flat-topped boulder. It was over six feet in length with intricate carvings of skulls and gargoyles jutting from the four corners. ’Hey, look at this.   Bet this was the altar stone for the Hell Fire Club.  Just look at it.’

 ‘No blood.’

Nat laughed but stopped as the laugh echoed through the vaults rebounding back to him. ‘Christ, did you hear that?  ‘

Douglas felt a sliver of ice slither down his spine. ‘Eerie. Let’s get out of here.’

Nat laughed, ‘See, I told you it would be good for tours.  Just think of it.  Bring them down at the stroke of midnight, have a virgin screaming on tape, drums beating – look here’s the statue Pevensey was talking about. Now that’s ancient – pagan. The Hell Fire Club must have loved this. Looks like the God Pan or something.’

Nat said, ‘Didn’t Pevensey say that the legend is, once this figurehead falls, that would be the end of the line of Rhonan?’

‘Yeah, superstition.’ Douglas flashed his light at the dense shadows. Was there something moving there?  Surely not – it was just this bloody place.  ‘Nat – let’s get out of here – we can come back another time.’

Oblivious to his brother’s discomfort, Nat carried on walking deeper into another chamber. ‘Now, this is it.’

Douglas joined him, as he flashed the light around the walls; crucifixes remained on the walls but the correct way up.  Yet the walls held carvings of obscene sexual rituals.  ‘Oh my God – look at this, they must have practiced bestiality.’ 

Peering forward, Douglas said, ‘Sickening – I know they carried out satanic practices – this proves it. ‘They gazed in silence at scenes of men on women fornicating, of men on men and much more.  It left nothing to the imagination. ‘Makes you wonder why they’re still here, doesn’t it?’

‘Yeah, well – it’s history. Think of the graphic carvings of the Romans and the Greeks.  I mean, you couldn’t get anything more explicit than that, could you? They even painted pictures of couples fucking on the cups and saucers and the plates. D’you, remember that party we went to the other year?’

 ‘Could hardly forget that in a hurry.’’ The shadows appeared denser as he said, ‘Anyway, let’s split. We can come back another time.’ 

As they made their way through the tunnel, Nat said, ‘Well, you’ve got to admit we’re on to a winner. They must have had some orgies here. It’s got some atmosphere too – can you feel it?’

‘Yeah – they could do what they damn well pleased down here.  No-one’s going to hear.’

‘Hey, let’s just see what’s in here.’  Nat walked through to a side tunnel.

 Douglas followed. ‘This must be the burial chamber. ‘It’s freezing. What on earth is that?’

As he flashed the light, a statue of a huge stag appeared the antlers over three feet high.  On the wall behind him was a small tablet with the inscription, ‘Guardian of the dead.’

Nat whispered, ‘D’you remember that bloody great stag we saw on the drive-in? Maybe it was a warning.’  ‘Come on Nat−’ As Douglas spoke, his flashlight flickered and died.  Without another word, they began walking – fast.

Chapter 6

Rhonan, North West Scotland.
August 1810

The sea swelled and retreated like the bosom of a troubled woman.  Reining in the horses, Lord Duncan of Rhonan, watched Muriall and Meg clamber up to a shack in dunes over thirty feet high.  As usual, Muriall insisted on her breeches and frock coat, only red hair tangling to her waist gave away her sex. Had she any idea of the danger?

She could be a vixen at times.  Furious that he insisted on escorting her, she’d left him with words sharper than sleet.  ‘I’m sick of your damn face, will you stop following me around.’  She matched him in swordplay, temper, and in bed, but in these perilous times, he would tolerate no argument.

High in the sandy slopes, an older man gnarled with age, crept from the shack, hunger gnawing flesh from his bones, spittle brown from tobacco, drooling from a toothless mouth.    Stumbling after him, a hag with dirt brown skirts torn and filthy, hair wild and white about her shoulders screeched at the two women.  ‘Tis too dangerous for you to be here come in quickly.’

As Muriall went to hug the man, he shuffled back, crying, ‘don’t be coming near me, I stink of the sickness.  All we have left is rotting seaweed and nettles.

Wailing, the older woman pulled her soiled apron over her face. ‘The Master has forced the people to clear the land.  We are cursed Muriall – cursed.’

Holding on to their scrawny arms, Muriall guided the two older people into the mud shack. 

Meg, her stepsister, followed, trying not to retch from the stench within the windowless interior.  She said, ‘We’ve brought you some food and warm clothes. I see you’ve pawned the chairs.’         

Muriall shook her head.’ I’m so sorry – so ashamed of the Earl, allowing this to happen. But now, Nathrach, come try the clothes on.’

With bowed shoulders shaking from the bitter wind driving off the sea, Natrach shrugged on the tweed jacket while Ena retired behind a ragged curtain.   

She emerged, lifting a hem of burgundy wool. ‘To be sure, tis meself is the lady now.’ She tried to smile through the blackened stumps of teeth.  

Muriall stemmed her tears as she watched the old couple unwrap the fresh food, slices of cooked ham, chicken thighs, hard-boiled eggs, soft white rolls, and curls of freshly churned butter.

‘Och Muriall, you and your dear sister, are so good to us, without you, we would be dying now.’   Ena’s black eyes peered out of rolls of crinkled skin. ‘We canna live on seaweed all the time.  Nathrach here had to walk miles to find something we could eat, but he came back with nothing.’

Nathrach stopped chewing on a piece of ham as he said, ‘Aye. The kelpers strip the sea bare, taking all the seaweed. There is none for us to sell. Without you, we would walk into the sea.’

‘Hush now, dear Nathrach.  Once you saved my life.  I will not leave you now.’ Impulsively she quickly kissed his cheek. ‘Don’t go sharing it.  I know it’s hard, but you have to live.  ’  However, Muriall knew that the old couple would share the last morsel with their neighbors or anyone who entered the old shack.                                                         

Standing at the water’s edge, Duncan looking up the beach, noticed the fluttering tatters of a figure shuffling towards him, knees bent outwards, shoulders hunched.  As it drew closer, he observed it was a young man, the eyes almost slanting in the skeletal face.

 Speaking in Gaelic, he said, ‘Master, yerself must have this.’    The man drew a tattered parchment from the folds of dirty clothing. 

Duncan’s stomach tightened as he read the ominous words scrawled in what appeared to be dried blood.  ‘Ye are destroying our homes, and now ye take the very food from the hungry mouths of our bairns.  Death to the devil who forced us from our heritage, our land.  Death to the devil, who has driven us into the very sea.  Death will visit the House of Rhonan.

Black eyebrows beetling together, Duncan’s eyes took on the color of a winter sea.   The group was serious.  This was no longer the wild and rugged land of mountain and loch, of a proud chieftain and loyal clan. It was as if Hell had descended to earth and seized the very heart of man in talons of tin, squeezing out the last drop of blood. He knew there wasn’t any point in giving the fellow money; bartering seemed to be the only method of exchange these days. He plucked out a gold pin from his lapel.  ‘Here, take this and buy food for you and your family.’ Bowing in a dignified manner, the starving man shuffled away.

Grimacing, Duncan vowed he would fight for the tenants on the large estates. The Highland warriors and their families were dragged from their beds without warning. Their homes burned as they struggled to dress and snatch a few precious belongings.   It was a wretched business – starving tenants, now this death threat. His father must be brought to heel. He had to help them, had to ensure the Earl did not drive the tenants from Rhonan to starve.


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

Other Posted Chapters

If you have missed any chapters, or wish to read them again, then please use the links below:

books, fiction, historical romance, supernatural;

Return to Rhonan: Chapters 3 & 4

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 3

2010  August –  Rhonan,
North-West Scotland

‘Six million pounds?’  Douglas Mavebury felt sand churn in his stomach.  Within seconds, he’d gone from struggling to pay the mortgage on a flat in Bognor Regis, England, to a multi-millionaire with a Manor House and a ruined castle in the wilds of North-West Scotland.

His heart jumped into his throat as he watched the equally pink fingers of the Solicitor turn the page.  His plum tones brushed with the Scottish burr, informed Douglas that he also inherited the title Earl of Rhonan. Thie appeared to stem from a distant relative, a Lord Richard Mavebury, Earl of Rhonan.’

He turned to see his brother’s mouth drop open, saw Nathan’s fingers tremble as he flicked back a lock of dark blond hair.  ‘You’re a millionaire.’

Douglas’s voice grated like gravel falling on the tin. ‘Lord … Lord Richard Mavebury, Earl of Rhonan – distant relative?

He waited as the Solicitor Mr. Edward Pevensey, took a fresh linen handkerchief from his pocket and polished his glasses, holding them up to the light.  Perching them on the tip of his nose, he said, ‘Yes. Some of your family members are not long-lived or die childless, so the title is free. Happily, you have come forward.

Douglas raised his eyebrows, the sun painting his black hair an iridescent blue. ‘You know apart from a Welsh great grandmother; I thought the family was English. The Earl of Rhonan?  I’m shocked. How long is it since this Lord passed away?’  

‘Twelve years, Sir.  Since then, we’ve advertised in the newspapers, the Times, Guardian.’

‘I don’t usually read the Times … sheer fluke – needed it for a class exercise. I’m an art teacher.’ he finished lamely wondering why he was almost apologizing.

The Solicitor smiled, showing a smooth set of veneers as he leaned forward from the leather button back chair.   ‘Now, let’s get to the nitty-gritty, the Entailment.’

‘Entailment?  I thought they didn’t exist anymore.’

‘This does.  The Manor House was originally limited to male lineal descendants. However, just before his death, Lord Duncan Mavebury, Earl of Rhonan, changed the ruling of the Entailment, so that the heir could be either male or female. Also, the descendent did not need to be directly descended from the deceased Earl.’

Douglas raised his eyebrows. ‘In those times that was stretching the rules then?’

Pevensey nodded.  ‘Yes, very rare. So, you are not a direct descendant of the Lord Duncan Mavebury, Earl of Rhonan, but you are the descendant of his brother, Lord Guy, who took the title and demesne.  Lord Guy was the third son of the Earl.  The second son Maximillian died in some duel, I believe.’ He paused while he picked out his handkerchief and rubbed the gleaming pink skin of his pate, followed by his glasses.

Douglas realized it was a nervous habit. ‘That’s quite a history – a bit macabre.  You know there was some rumor of a lord in the family, but that’s all it was.’ 

Pevensey looked at the two younger men, ‘Can I offer you a drink?  Whiskey – Gin – Sherry?’

Seeing Nathan’s nod, Douglas said, ‘Make those two whiskeys please.’ 

‘Ginger? Ice?’

‘No – no.  Straight thanks.’    

Pouring the whiskey into crystal tumblers, Pevensey continued.  ‘Now Lord Duncan also added a codicil.   Unfortunately, it’s not good news.’    Pevensey put the glasses in front of them with a generous measure for himself. Adjusting his maroon brocade waistcoat, he sat down.

Douglas shrugged back his shoulders, feeling uncomfortable in a navy suit he kept for weddings and funerals. Nathan, as usual, was relaxed in a padded jacket, frayed jeans, and trainers.  At least the trainers were new, not the scruffy, lace trailing ones he usually wore.

Pevensey continued.  ‘The codicil stipulates that if a true direct descendent of Lord Duncan appears, then the demesne together with all monies would immediately be transferred to him or her.  Now there are only another eighteen months left before it becomes null and void.   At which time, you will have no further worries.’

Douglas drank some of the whiskey, enjoying the fire in his gullet.  ‘So has anyone come forward yet?’

Pevensey looked up, the sun catching on his rimless spectacles. ‘There have been some inquiries, but they turned out to be frauds.  They’re still coming out of the woodwork. Now I have to warn you; there’ll be others.’

His blue eyes now ice cold, Douglas pulled on a lock of black hair.  ‘So we could kiss the Manor and land goodbye then.’

 ‘If a true heir appeared, yes. I’m afraid so.  But now, let’s talk about your inheritance. Tapping his fingers on the papers, Pevensey said, ‘It’s a Palladian Manor built by Lord Duncan’s grandfather. Is father added two more wikngs His father added two wings and another floor.  However, it is sadly in need of renovation.  It is possible to renovate if there are sufficient funds.’ 

 Nathan, who had kept quiet, now, asked, ‘so when did Lord Duncan die?’

‘In 1811 – a sad passing.’

Finishing his whiskey, Douglas muttered, ‘Sad?”

Pevensey took a handkerchief from his top pocket and wiped his bald pate.  ‘Suicide. There is a rumor he fell in love with his father’s ward. A young woman named Muriall Mondell – she disappeared or died.  I think he was in London when she disappeared. They were both caught up in the Scottish Clearances of 1810 – terrible times.’

Douglas nodded. ‘It was quite shocking, many thousands of people died, others were forced to emigrate.’

Pevensey repeated his words, ‘Hmm – terrible times – terrible times. However, I will add that there is a mystery here; some do say that the body pulled from the lake was a victim of the Clearances. So many starved to death in their cottages when the Earl cleared the land for sheep grazing. Rumors have it that Lord Duncan went searching for Muriall and never came back.’


‘It seems after her disappearance, he was distraught – so either he did indeed commit suicide in the lake or went after her.’

Nathan gave a surreptitious glance at Douglas to see his reaction.  His brother had a morbid fear of lakes.

Pevensey said, ‘There’s an old rumor in the village that Muriall may have had his child. However, there’s no sign of a marriage or birth certificate – nothing in the family bible, no letters. As you know, they were prolific letter writers in those days, just like today, only now it’s emails and texting.  But, there is no sign of any letter. However, he also added a second codicil, which could point to Muriall having borne his child.’

He lifted another page of heavy parchment.  ‘Lord Duncan built a Mausoleum on an island in the lake.  In it are two coffins. One for him, of course, and the other was to remain empty.  I’ll read you this bit, “The marble coffin is to remain empty until Muriall returns, either in her physical form or that of her spirit. These instructions also apply to her child should he or she ever return. It says here, “In death, we are reunited.”  Strange, I know.  The mausoleum must remain unlocked.  Therefore, the rumors could be correct, but Muriall was the ward of the Earl, so she and Duncan grew up together. It might well be that he loved her as a sister. A strange case, you know.’

Douglas broke the silence feeling the skin crawl on his arms. ‘That’s a bit eerie.’

Pevensey took off his glasses and started polishing them again. Douglas frowned, the man got on his nerves, polishing his pate, then his glasses, even his nose. He seemed to be on the move all the time.

Putting the glasses back on, Pevensey said, ‘So, you have to be aware that there could be a direct descendant.’

Douglas bit his lip ‘It’s the stuff of gothic romance – tragic.”

Nathan interrupted, ‘It’s bloody tragic for you too.  You’ve inherited all this, and it could be taken away – just like that.’  He turned his head to Pevensey.’ What if my brother did the renovations? What then?’

‘Oh, it would still revert to the true heir. You may be able to claim some of the money back for the time and effort spent on the work done, but I can’t advise?’

Nathan swung around to Douglas, who sat silently, his eyes narrowed, brows almost meeting. ‘What are you going to do?’

‘I just can’t walk away, can I?’ He looked at Pevensey, ‘What d’you think?’

The solicitor blustered, getting out the dratted handkerchief again and buffing his pate. ‘I can hardly advise you, Sir. There are only eighteen months left. It’s not likely a direct heir or heiress would turn up now. It’s up to you.  However, remember the Manor is in desperate need of renovation, let alone the castle.’

‘So I’d need a few million to do it up then?’


‘If there’s all that money, why haven’t they been kept up?’

‘Err … people don’t stay very long.  The last one stayed a week, I think, and then went off to Majorca.

‘So he was allowed to keep the money?’

‘Oh, he did return now and then to put in a half-hearted effort to renovate – just enough to stay in the rules of the Will.  

‘Why don’t they stay?  Surely someone would be interested enough to renovate the Manor. The money’s there?’ 

‘I can’t say …  you know how rumors escalate.’   

Douglas felt irritated. The Solicitor was hedging. ‘Look if there’s anything wrong I need to know?’

‘It’s only hearsay, but some of the villagers believe the place is haunted.’

‘Haunted?’  Douglas laughed. ‘Well, that’s the least of our worries.’

Pevensey got the handkerchief out, rubbing the pate in earnest.  It was amazing he hadn’t rubbed a hole in his scalp.  ‘Err …  it’s something to consider.  I hear that it’s difficult to get workers to stay there.’

Nathan frowned.  ‘Haunted by what?’

‘Well … seems to be the ghost of Muriall – appears.  She returned but as an earthbound spirit. But, they say there’s a darker current there – nothing to do with her, although she’s reported to be terrifying enough.’

‘Darker current?’

‘Yes – there was a Hell Fire Club – quite notorious in its time – held in the caves underneath the castle ruins – conjuring up demons. Sir Aleister Crowley was to fashion his foul brand of Satanism from them.  Also, rumor has it that Lord Maximillian, the Earl’s second son, played an important part.’

Douglas frowned, ‘Ghosts?  Hell Fire Club? A load of rubbish.  Just a group of perverts.’

Pevensey interrupted, ‘Hardly Sir, but I won’t go into details.’ He added quietly, ‘You should be careful what you say. ‘Ghosts can be quite evil when crossed and as for demons?’  He shrugged his shoulders as he continued, ‘There have been a few people drowned in the lake in quite horrific circumstances, let alone the ones we don’t know of.’

Chapter 4


 Douglas felt his stomach tighten as they neared Rhonan Town.  Six million was a serious amount of money, but would it cover the cost of renovation?

Nathan broke through his thoughts.  ‘Cheer up.  You’re lord of all you survey and a multi-millionaire.’ 

 ‘Yeah, but the Manor is in a hell of a state.  Pevensey said the surveyors estimate it’s going to cost at least two million to renovate it. Make a good hotel. We’ll have to live in a caravan, though.’    


Douglas looked over, smiling. ‘Yeah – you and me.  Partners – we share everything. I’m going to draw up papers so that your name is on everything.   What about it?’

Nathan whooped, throwing a fist in the air.  ‘Yeah – I could kiss you, bro.’

‘Don’t – don’t even try.’ 

Nathan frowned, ‘What about Cilla?  She’s damn sure to come after your money.’

‘She blew it when she divorced me.  Now some bastard is looking after my daughter.’

 ‘Yeah, well now you’ve got enough money to fight for Marnie in the courts.  You’ll get the kid back.’

Douglas’s teeth clenched. “The best lawyers – she won’t have a leg to stand on.’

Rhonan was a Regency town with broad streets and wide pavements.  The shops huddled together behind mullioned windows and arched wooden doorways.  Jars of brightly colored sweets beckoned, alongside the tempting smell of freshly baked bread and pastries.  Wooden mannequins stared with painted eyes beside leather saddles, riding hats and whips.  The  teenagers looked from another era, the schoolgirls in standard knee-length skirts of scarlet tartan and navy jackets. The only contemporary touch being the coca-cola cans held by the boys lounging against lampposts, ignoring the girls’ flirtatious glances.

‘There’s the sign over there.’  Nathan pointed to a sign indicating Rhonan Manor was the third turning to the right off the roundabout.

 Douglas swallowed as he looked up at the entrance to the estate, consisting of three Gothic arches, complete with gargoyles.  The ornate wrought iron gates covered in ivy listed to one side. 

Nathan got out with the key.  As he pushed the gates back against ivy banks, Douglas drove slowly forward, the car wheels almost stalling over holes and ruts covered in rotting branches. 

Rhododendrons hung precariously over the drive. Further on, hydrangeas flowered in wild abundance.  Douglas strove to avoid the wreckage, stopping to gaze at the purple splendor of copper beech trees contrasting with the bright yellow of larch. He caught his breath as he espied something watching them from the small clearing in the trees. “He said quietly.  “Nat, look; see him?”

Time stood still as a majestic stag with antlers at least three feet high surveyed them from the safety of the wood. 

Nathan whispered, “God, what a sight. But, look over there, the castle.’

 Douglas muttered, ‘Well, it’s certainly a ruin.  I can’t see us doing that up for a few years.  But it will be a good draw.’

‘Yeah, I can just see it now, ‘The Haunted Caverns of the original Hell Fire Club’  We could mock up some scenes, put in dummies of hooded monks,  a virgin lying across the stone altar, the high priest raising his dagger−’

 ‘You missed your vocation, with that imagination you should have been a scene setter or a graphic artist.’

Nathan laughed, ‘Can’t draw two straight lines, the best I can do are stick men.’ 

 The drive curved again, bringing them in sight of the Manor, sparkling white, rising from a hill before them. Nathan pointed to the lake, “Look, there’s a heron over there, awkward-looking fella. And there’s the island – must be over forty feet wide.”  He glanced over to see how Douglas was taking it, being so near to the still water of the lake.  He saw the color drain from his face, saw him catch a breath. He said quietly, pull over Doug’; relax.’

Douglas felt his stomach grind, the panic rising. His knuckles whitened on the steering wheel.  He had to try to breathe his way through this. ‘Damn – damn.’

Nat put his hand on Douglas’s shoulder, ‘You’re doing fine … just take your time now.’ To pull him through the panic attack, he kept talking, ‘We’re going to have to drain the lake.’

As the attack eased, Douglas put his head on the wheel. Thank God it hadn‘t taken hold.  ‘It’s okay – it’s just that I can’t get my breath.   I keep seeing Marnie – the water….’

‘Nat said, ‘She’s okay Doug’ – nothing happened. She’s fine.’

Douglas tried to black out the vision, blackout the sight of his little daughter drowning, attempted to banish the image of the paramedics fighting to save her life.   She’d survived, but since then, he’d developed a crippling phobia of lakes, of any still water.  He’d had therapy, but it had only taken off the surface of the dread. The damn thing still haunted him.

Nat said quietly, ‘Take some deep breaths now. Take your time.’

Deliberately breathing deep into the diaphragm, the panic attack receded.  Thank God it was mild this time.  Within minutes, he felt fine.

‘D’you want me to take over?’

‘No. I’m okay now.’

 As they drew nearer the Manor, Douglas muttered, ’Pevensey was right, it is Palladian style, late eighteenth century. The classical Roman or Greek styles were all the rage.  It has a lot of history here.  It will draw people in as well as the castle.’


 On the first floor of the Manor, dust motes spiraled slowly around the transparent form of a young woman, a few clumps of red hair clinging to a putrefying scalp.  Her hand lifted the ragged edge of the curtain, the light shining through flesh hanging in moldering strips from delicate bones. As she hugged a bundle to her breast, the corner of the tattered shawl fell away to reveal the ivory skull of a tiny baby. Softly she sang, ‘Bye Baby bunting daddy’s gone a hunting….’

Parking at the front of the building, Douglas’s heart sank as he saw the crumbling pillared front stone porch, the colonnade of columns lining the terraces and patio, chipped and cracked.   He said, ‘Some of the windows are open to the elements. God knows what it’s like inside.’ 

Nathan glanced up at the second window on the left on the first floor. ‘Did you see that flash of red?  Looks like someone moving up there – look there on the first floor?’

Douglas squinted. ‘No – nothing there.  Must have been the light catching the glass, or what’s left of it.’

‘Huh, might be the ghost of Muriall.’

 ‘A ghost is the least of our worries.  The manor is a damn ruin, let alone the castle.’  He caught his breath as they stepped into the central hall, although again sadly in need of repair. It must have been magnificent, as it soared up the full height of the Manor into a dome with pillars decorated in trompe l’oeil. ‘Pevensey did say the paintings are stored in the attics along with some antiques furniture and chandeliers.’    Far above them, the figure moved to the door listening, softly sighing, ‘Stay….’

Looking up, Nathan whispered, ‘Did you hear that?  D’you think it’s her?’

 Douglas grinned, ‘You’d love it, wouldn’t you?  But, sorry, bro’ it’s the wind. It’s an old draughty place. That imagination of yours.’

 As Nathan pushed the door open into what appeared to be a sitting room, at least sixty feet long by thirty feet wide. He was unaware of a woman’s skeletal hand closing the door behind him while cradling the tiny skeleton in the other.  ‘Wow, this would make a fantastic restaurant.’

The dining room appeared vast.  The darker spaces on the burgundy wall showed traces of paintings taken down, while dustsheets covered the chairs. A magnificent oak dresser with lead-lined glass, grey with grime and dust, stood to one wall.  Douglas muttered,  ‘this would seat quite a few people – just right.’  He looked at his reflection in a huge gilt-framed mirror with aging black patches, jumping back as the surface appeared to ripple. Blinking his eyes, he tried to readjust his sight.  The mirror must be ancient. It would have to be re-silvered.

 Another door led into what must have been the ballroom with bay windows overlooking the lawns. Another led into a long rectangular dining room, the vibrant red brocade wallpaper peeling, again darker patches showed where paintings once hung. The oak table was over twenty-foot long, the velvet upholstery of the chairs frayed and dull.

Nat said, ‘Make a good bar, you know.’  He shivered as they entered a long stone corridor, which led to a galleried wood kitchen. Looking up at the carved gallery some sixteen feet high stretching along the whole length of one stone wall, Nat said, ‘What’s the gallery for then?’

Magnificent, isn’t it?  Every morning the lady of the house would enter through the door to stand on the gallery and throw down the day’s menu to the kitchen servants. She didn’t want any contact with them.  In those days, they were afraid of lice jumping on them. You can catch cholera or typhus from fleas.’

‘That’s sickening, and they did the cooking. Yuck.’

‘The servants would have been clean, but lice lived in the seams and hems of clothes.’    

Nat gazed up at the gallery, picturing the lady of the house or the maid throwing down the day’s menu.  ‘Life was risky in those days.’ 


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

Other Posted Chapters

If you have missed any chapters, or wish to read them again, then please use the link below:

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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


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


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.’


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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