Anna Belle Rose
Devon tilted his head. “You got reprimanded?”
Maggie sighed, “Yeah, a formal verbal reprimand. And was told I’m lucky it wasn’t a formal written reprimand that would go in my personnel file.”
“I don’t get it. Why were you reprimanded?” Mike asked, as he poured more merlot into all three glasses.
Devon smiled, then asked, “So, start again. Start to finish, what happened today with the Dean and President?”
Maggie stiffened. “Stop sounding like a lawyer.”
“I am a lawyer. And knowing you, I may have to defend you in a labor lawsuit at some point, so I want to make sure I have my facts straight.”
Maggie took a sip of wine. “It’s a long story.”
Devon looked at Mike, who shrugged, “We’ve got time.”
She smiled, “Does it ever occur to the two of you that our social lives suck? That this is the extent of our social lives?”
Mike chuckled, “You mean that after almost twenty years of friendship, our big social event is getting together every month to eat pizza and drink wine?”
Devon’s eyes clouded with sadness, “It used to be the four of us.”
Maggie squeezed his hand, “And she specifically told us she’d come back to haunt us if we didn’t continue the tradition.”
Devon continued, “So explain what happened.”
“Oh, the whole day sucked. It started badly…”
The day had started badly. Maggie awoke in a fog, smelling coffee. She usually woke early to work out, her coffee pot set to start automatically while she showered. Smelling coffee clearly meant she was already running at least an hour behind. Damn!
Twenty minutes later, she poured the liquid java into a travel mug. As she stepped over the toys scattered across the rug, her heart constricted. It always felt so weird when the boys were away. But, at least this morning, she could probably still make her meeting relatively on time, since she wouldn’t have to stop at daycare.
Five minutes later, she pulled into the lot and grimaced to see another car occupying her normal spot. After three futile circuits, she finally pulled onto the grass at the side of the lot, hoping Security would ignore her car this one time.
She hopped out of the car and yanked her bag from the passenger seat, breaking into a jog toward the Commons Building. How could she be late for the most important faculty meeting of the year? With any luck at all, she could duck in the back door and find a seat without anyone noticing.
The Vale of Leven, Strathclyde, Scotland 1071
Catrìona stepped to the edge of the crag perched high above the vale. Wind whipped her auburn hair and umber cloak behind her as she raised her gauntlet and let the falcon fly free.
Spreading his long wings, Kessog soared into the air over the blue waters of Loch Lomond.
Her heart soared with him.
This land of tall peaks and deep lochs was her home. Gray clouds might hover over the tops of the mountains, but bright yellow wildflowers graced the steep slopes and the foothills were clothed in the green velvet of spring.
In the distance, the falcon shrieked as he arrowed toward the loch’s crystalline waters, then flew in tight circles over a flock of teals, seeking his prey. The clouds parted and a golden shaft of sunlight reflected off the ducks’ wings and shimmered in the waters of the loch.
Thoughts of her future filled her mind and her excitement rose in anticipation of the arrival of her intended, Domnall mac Murchada. This very day he would come by ship from his family’s lands in Leinster to meet with her father and seal their betrothal. Domnall’s home in Ireland was a place she had heard much about, but had never seen.
In her mind Domnall appeared a most handsome man, except for his nose, which was thin with a high ridge. His wavy light brown hair was always neatly combed and his darker beard invariably neatly trimmed. His eyes were pale blue. But it was not his appearance that had made her father choose Domnall. It was his noble Irish lineage and the trade between Leinster and the Vale of Leven.
During Domnall’s visits, she had been keenly aware of his pale blue gaze following her. In his eyes, she had glimpsed desire, flattered he wanted her and not just the trade with her father. Her cheeks flushed to think that one day she would bear his children.
In the distance, Kessog streaked toward a duck, but missed his strike.
Catrìona watched the falcon for a while until a sharp gust of wind made her shiver. She had a sudden urge to return to her father’s hillfort.
Tuesday, May 30, 1893, Newport, Rhode Island
Imagine being sent to a party with a gun pointed at your head. You might look bewitching; you might wear a proper
pale blue gown, with its gathered skirt and off-the-shoulder neckline. You might sport the perfect pair of ivory silk ballroom slippers. Your fiery hair might be dressed in coils and feminine curls.
But inside, underneath the pleats and the padding, knowing about your father’s possible ruin, I bet you’d feel frightened.
You might believe this to be your last party. You might sense your short life flash before your eyes—the leisurely days of riding horses till your thighs ached, the long nights of
preparing French verb conjugations till your fingers cramped up, or helping the Ladies Auxiliary return stray cats to their owners.
Try as you might to shut your eyes to the hard facts, to the sudden unmooring of your destiny, you’d know that when friends asked how you were faring, you wouldn’t say much, hoping you might get by with some idle pleasantries or banalities about the weather.
1. Past (2002-2007)
When I was fifteen I left the smoky, wide-open skies of Dallas, Texas, for the rain and the thick, grey clouds of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It was less than a year after the twin towers in New York had fallen, and I’d spent that year living with my father before deciding, finally, to return home to live with my mother in a little apartment block somewhere on the city’s east side.
That year, I kept mostly to myself, managing a tenth grade quick and painless, turning sixteen along the way. Then, sometime through the eleventh grade I fell in love with my thirty-something Spanish teacher, Karen Thoreson, through the twelfth grade starting an affair with her. It was an involuntary act for both of us, to fall in love, and it scared me more than I’ve ever been scared of anything else. But even after all that’s happened, after all the suffering it’s caused and all the lives it’s destroyed, I still don’t know if I can say I’d have given up what we had.
It’s not that I don’t think we made no mistakes. There were a lot of things that happened that I would’ve done differently if I could go back and do it all over again. It’s just that what we had, for the time we had it, was so beautiful that I would never give back that feeling of having been with her.
Anna Cameron had spent too many hours in an airline seat tighter than a respectable dress, and that had done nothing to improve her mood. Used to being impeccably groomed, she felt crumpled, grubby, and even more like a failure as she stepped off the jetway with a wine-stained blouse and naked face. But flying business class was not in her future anymore.
As an unemployed lawyer—aka fired with no hope of ever practicing law again—she needed to manage on a tighter budget.
Honestly, she was lucky to be in Scotland now at all. If her Aunt Elspeth hadn’t been desperate for help with the Beltane Festival and willing to pay her way, Anna would have been stuck in the Cincinnati suburbs instead, hiding out in the kitchen she’d worked so hard to escape, while her mother delivered yet another lecture on the topic of her middle daughter’s many failings. With two broken engagements and a colossal screw-up behind her, Anna was officially a “disappointment.”
Mostly to herself.
But enough. She was determined to be positive. Her old life in Washington, D.C.—and Mike and his new fiancée—were three thousand miles behind her on a different continent. She had dreamed of coming to the Scottish Highlands all her life. Now she was here for an entire month, visiting with her favorite aunt. As a bonus, there was the possibility of turning her knack for organizing events into a new career—one she badly needed.
Shrugging the straps of the four-year-old Louis Vuitton Keepall she’d gotten as a law school graduation present into a more secure position, she set off on long, slim legs toward the baggage claim, her dark tumble of curls bouncing around her shoulders. She even refrained from stopping at the duty-free shop to buy a Toblerone.
But then it happened. An ocean away, and she still could not escape.
“Stand and deliver!”
The demand came loud and clear, as Lady Caroline Godwin’s coach came to a sudden stop. She sucked in a deep breath, holding onto the sides of her bench seat to brace herself against falling off. Her maid did the same, looking up at her in fright. “Oh, my lady. It’s a highwayman. I knew we shouldn’t have travelled at night.”
Lady Caroline couldn’t have agreed more. However, upon receiving news that her father was gravely ill and had lost a fortune at cards again, she knew she must leave London and return home. Travelling at night to get there as quickly as possible had seemed worth the risk. Not only did she need to know exactly how much her father had lost, she knew that her mother wouldn’t be able to cope with the situation. Her father had suffered a stroke immediately after losing and was currently bed bound.
Lady Caroline tried to reassure her maid. “I need you to be calm, Maisie. If we do as the rogue asks, we will come to no harm.” Yet after the initial shout, there was no sign of the highwayman. Furious both at her father for gambling away his money, and for getting stopped like this, Lady Caroline was feeling brave rather than scared. She was about to get out of the coach and see what was going on, when there were a few muffled curses from above them, a few thumps and then silence. She frowned, straining her ears to hear more.
“He’s going to kill us all!” cried Maisie fearfully, before fainting.
Lady Caroline looked at her maid lying in a crumpled heap on the bench seat opposite and couldn’t help feeling even crosser. “For heaven’s sake,” she muttered. And what has happened to my coachman and footman? “Frank? George?” she called out. She was met with silence.
She gasped as the door was suddenly pulled open and a tall, masked figure appeared, holding a pistol. The man, dressed all in black and with a tricorn hat on his head, looked around the coach, before returning his gaze to her. The pistol was aimed at her. “Good evening, my lady.”
Lady Caroline stared at him. The moonlight shone down on him, but didn’t reveal much, due to his dark clothing and black eye mask. She could make out sensual lips though, her gaze drawn to them because it was the only part of his face she could clearly make out. Then her gaze dropped to the pistol aimed at her and she felt renewed anger.