Authors: Cali MacKay
A Highland Home
A Contemporary Highland Romance
Table of Contents
A Highland Home
By Cali MacKay
Copyright © 2012 by Cali MacKay
Published by Cali MacKay
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America
First Printing, 2012, first edition
For Joe, Maeve and Amelia.
The pungent and salty sea air filled Rowan’s lungs as the wind from the open window whipped through her hair, tugging her red locks loose. She took in the craggy cliffs and heather, the sparse beauty and desolation. It was at once so new and yet it felt incredibly familiar, even if the Scottish highlands were nothing like the mountains of Vermont.
More importantly, this felt like home. It was a new start to a new life-and that left her feeling giddy, like champagne bubbles had tickled her nose.
“We’re nearly there now. I’m sure ye’ll be wanting to get settled in. Ye must be exhausted after such a long trip.” Angus’s smile lit his blue eyes from within, his dark tumbled curls and rough stubble making him look ruggedly handsome and far too charming.
He was the son of her mother’s best friend, and kind enough to collect her at the airport in Glasgow. Having studied veterinary medicine at Cambridge, his clipped lilt was mild and easy enough to understand, though her heart still raced to hear its melody.
“I think I’ll end up sleeping for a week.” She gave him a warm smile, her excitement refusing to be contained despite feeling jetlagged and exhausted. Now in her mid-twenties, she’d done a fair amount of traveling, but this was where she hoped to put down roots and finally get the answers she’d been searching for all her life. “I can’t thank you enough, Angus-for everything.”
Once she’d decided to make the move, Angus had been an amazing help. He’d even seen to updating the cottage that had been her grandfather’s and then her mother’s, both of them now gone, leaving her without any family. It was just a small home, she’d been told, sitting on the edge of a cliff to overlook the raging sea.
It couldn’t sound any more perfect.
Angus threw her a sideways glance, before turning his attention back on the road. “There wasn’t too much that needed doing, since the place has had tenants living there on and off. Still, it’s probably a far cry from what ye’re used to, aye?”
She took a look at the rugged landscape. Massive rocks seemed to jut out of the ground with no rhyme nor reason, and though it was a stark beauty, it was a beauty nonetheless. The amazing views would give her ample material to work with, and as an artist, it didn’t matter that the closest city was hours away.
“I’m happy for the change and have been looking forward to this for a long time. I swear, I’ve never seen anything more breathtaking.”
“Not many locals stay anymore, though we certainly get overrun with tourists due to the cliffs and the circle of stones. The town is picturesque too. Still, the last generation or two have left for the city as soon as they’re able.”
Like her mom. She’d left as soon as she could, the ink barely dry on her nursing degree when she headed for the States, never to return to her childhood home.
He pointed to a large home. “That there’s your closest neighbor. Conall Stewart. Went to school with him. He can be a right bastard, but keeps to himself mostly. So if you’re looking for a bit of company, you’ll still be stuck calling me.” He gave her a wink that made her laugh.
She looked at him with one brow perked in disbelief. “You make it sound like you’re the only two people on the Firth.”
“We are, unless you’re looking for someone more grey and hunched over like. If that’s the case, then old MacDougall might suit you fine.” His sly smile had her laughing. “You think I’m teasing, but it’s the truth. You’ll find out soon enough. Unless, of course, you prefer the excitement of a brief affair-plenty of visitors to choose from, if that’s yer preference.”
She threw him a mischievous glance. “So my choices for entertainment are you, my cranky neighbor or a fling?”
“Aye, and don’t forget the old crabbit MacDougall.” When she caught his gaze with a stern look, he gave her a wink and a laugh. “Actually, there are a handful more people our age. My good friend, Iain, and his fiancé, Cat, aren’t far from here. She’s also American, by the way.”
“Well, I’m glad I have more options than just crabbit MacDougall. But you can’t tell me you’re actually single.” If he were in the States, she knew the women would be fighting for him hand over fist. Nice, smart, good-looking, successful and straight. It was a rare combination in her book.
He shrugged and threw a smile her way. “Had a lass when I lived in the city, but it ended when I decided to come back home and start my veterinary practice. It wasn’t serious though, and she was off to London before I’d even finished packing my bags. What about yerself? Surely ye’ve left hoards of heart-broken lads pining after ye.”
“Nope. No one left behind with a broken heart. I haven’t stayed in one place long enough to really bother, and relationships always seem far too complicated.” She wouldn’t mention how she’d given her heart to Stephen and even agreed to marry him, only to find him screwing her roommate when her flight landed early. “I’m hoping to stay put this time around.”
“Well, it makes me a happy man to hear ye’ll be settling down in our wee little village.” He gave her another sideways glance and a smile. “And since ye’re choices are old crabbit McDonald, cantankerous Conall, and lovable old me, I’m liking my odds.”
She burst out laughing. “You know, you really are incorrigible.”
“Well, I do try, my dear.” Another dashing smile.
Pity she’d sworn off men for anything other than the rare casual involvement-and there was something about Angus that made her think he did
do casual. It’d be one thing if they were in a big city, but it would be impossible to avoid him in a town this small, and frankly, she liked him way too much to let things get awkward between them.
He pulled her from her thoughts. “Rowan… I’m really sorry about yer mother. My Ma’s still heartbroken over it. They were inseparable growing up.”
Though it had been a year since her mother had passed, it was still hard to deal with. But being in the village where she grew up would be one more way to remember her. More importantly, she might finally get the answers to the questions she’d been asking her entire life-answers her mother refused to give her, even on her deathbed.
She tried to stay positive, not wanting to spoil things with sadness. “I’m hoping I might get the chance to speak to your mom about their adventures growing up. I’m sure they got into all sorts of trouble.”
“I guarantee it.” Angus turned the car down a gravel drive and put the car in park. “Here ye are.”
The white-washed cottage was just as she’d imagined it. Diamond paned windows sat nestled in thick stone walls, the thatch most likely replaced at some point with slate. Wild pink roses clung to the walls, making it picture perfect, and off in the distance Rowan could see the ocean, the sun dipping towards the horizon.
She grabbed his arm and all but jumped for joy. “It’s gorgeous, Angus. I can’t believe I’m finally here.”
“There’s not much to the place, but the view can’t be beat, and the stone circle is just over the hill there. Come, I’ll show ye around. Door’s open if ye want to head in. I’ll be right behind ye with yer bags.”
Rowan grabbed her carry-on and stepped into a blustery wind coming off the ocean, excitement and anticipation bubbling within like the swirling waters that crashed against the craggy cliffs. The stone path led to a red front door, bold and inviting. With a hand on the brass handle, she let herself in and stepped into the living area.
It was cozy and sweet. On one side, a long red sofa and chair sat by a small iron stove and TV, whereas the other side served as a dining room with a small table and chairs. Rowan moved beyond the living room to find a decent-sized kitchen, and a small bath. A small bedroom was being used as an office and would serve well as her studio. She then took the narrow stairs up to a large bedroom which occupied the entire floor.
Likely once an attic, the longest walls were short, before moving up into a sloped roofline. It could have felt claustrophobic, but the room was large and the ceiling height at its peak was generous, with several skylights aiding the airy feel. Two large windows on the opposite walls let the light pour in through the lace curtains, mottling the bedspread in shadows, while a cheery yellow danced on the walls.
“What do ye think? Will it do?”
Rowan turned to find Angus standing behind her, and had to resist the urge to hug him. After months of emailing him, months of him making sure everything was ready for her arrival, she couldn’t thank him enough. “It’s perfect.”
“Glad to hear it. I stocked the kitchen with some basics, but ye might want to get to the grocer’s before long. The keys to the car-a manual transmission, by the way-are hanging in the kitchen by the back door. But if ye’re planning on staying, ye’ll likely want to get yerself a more reliable vehicle.”
“I’m definitely staying.” Going back home was not an option-and definitely not until she got the answers she was looking for.
“Ye say that now, and it’s a good thing we’re heading into warmer weather, but wait until we’re fully into winter nine months from now. I’ll find ye on the first plane to Ibiza looking for a bit of sun and a handsome Spaniard.” Another charming smile had her taking a deep breath to keep her pulse steady.
“I grew up in New England-cold winters don’t scare me, my dear. And it’ll take more than that to make me leave if I don’t want to go. I’m stubborn-or so I’ve been told.”
“Aye, well, that’d be the Scottish in ye.” He wandered back towards the kitchen. “I left yer bags in the sitting room, and the boxes ye sent ahead of time are in the back entry just there. Ye’ve got my number should ye need it, but I’ll warn ye now, coverage with a mobile can be spotty at times.”
“Again, I can’t thank you enough, Angus.”
“I’ll go so ye can rest and get yer bearings, but will swing by tomorrow to see how ye’re fairing.”
She walked him to the door, and saw him out with a final word of thanks before turning back to her new home.
And for once she felt like she belonged.
Rowan woke up in a strange bed, feeling lost as her mind tried to work through the grogginess and she tried to get her bearings. The sun filtered through the lace curtains as a slow smile spread across her face. Jetlagged, she still felt a bit off, but a not-so-hot shower worked wonders to wake her up and clear her head. Wrapped in a robe, she grabbed a bite to eat, and with a coffee in hand, felt all the more human for it.
After digging through her suitcases for jeans and a comfy sweater, she grabbed her camera, threw on her pea coat and boots, and headed for the door, ready to start her new life.