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Authors: A. D. Scott

A Kind of Grief

BOOK: A Kind of Grief
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A. D. SCOTT'S NOVELS ARE . . .

“Almost perfect in every way.”

—
N
EW
Y
ORK
T
IMES
BESTSELLING AUTHOR
W
ILLIAM
K
ENT
K
RUEGER

“A pleasure for lovers of a good thriller.”

—
H
ISTORICAL
N
OVEL
S
OCIETY

“Like a visit with an old friend in front of a fireplace on a cold wintry night.”

—
S
USPENSE
M
AGAZINE

“Searing psychological portraits and vivid portrayals of both back alley and glen.”

—
B
OOKLIST
(
STARRED REVIEW
)

“Beautifully written and atmospheric.”

—
N
EW
Y
ORK
T
IMES
BESTSELLING AUTHOR
R
HYS
B
OWEN

“Set against the bleak beauty of the highlands while presenting a fine mystery with engaging characters.”

—
K
IRKUS
R
EVIEWS
(
STARRED REVIEW
)

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For Anna Moi

. . . No kynd of greif sall mak my hairt agast nor earthlie cairs torment my mind no more . . .

—Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross (c. 1578–c.1640)

P
ROLOGUE

S
he'd first visited the house up the isolated glen in Sutherland when she was a child. Then, in March more than two and a half years ago, she came back to decide what to do with the place she'd inherited from her grandmother. March was still winter in these parts—with snow on the hills, and the burns and rivers veins of roiling liquid peat, it was beyond dreary, it was dreich.

She smiles to herself as she pronounces the Scottish word, “dreich,” with a rolled “r” and a strong “ch” at the end. None of my southern colleagues could ever say that sound; “k” was how they pronounced it when they attempted a Scottish accent.

She remembers stumbling the last mile into an Atlantic wind funneled by the steep sides of the glen, towards the farmhouse now invisible in the thick mist, a mist that became fine rain, penetrating her coat and hat, through to her woolen jumper and slacks. I almost turned back, the track so deep in mud. And with so many potholes I didn't dare risk the car. The aftermath of the visit had been a horrid sneezing coughing sniveling cold that took weeks to shake.

At first she'd thought the house had remained unchanged since the last time she'd come up this glen, as a twelve-year-old about to be sent to boarding school.

Close up, not so. The neglect was clear. Windows, two either side of the door, and the dormer windows set in the iridescent grey-blue Ballahulish-slate roof, hadn't been painted since who-knew-when. The door also. Instead of its former cheery blue, it was now blistered and streaked and bleached out by gales and hoar frost and hailstones. Both chimneys were jackdaw's nests of vegetation. Weeds and wildflowers sprouted from the gutters.

Then a shaft of sun breaking over the hills, over the trees, over the heather, the mist lifting, spotlighted the house.

That sunbeam changed my mind. She smiles at the recollection. And dreams, dreams of comfort and safety in the house in the glen where the buildings nestled into a fold in the faultline, those dreams sustained me in the bleakest of times, times of danger, of fear, of a relentless low-level dread of being discovered.

That day, D-day—decision day—when the sun persuaded me to reconsider, in the near distance, a skylark rose from the heather. I can hear it as if it were yesterday. Singing its heart out, that tiny bird is my talisman, my link to those long-ago long summer days when true night was a scant three hours of deep twilight.

The winter nights— they last till mid-morning, returning in the early afternoon, but they're enchanting nonetheless. Fires blazing, scones baking, curled up in the window seat reading
Kidnapped
, I can live that life again.

She hugs herself. Then the cloud returns and covers the sun. She smiles as she remembers her initial reaction to the move back to her ancestral land.
What are you thinking of? Are you insane?

Four months later, the renovations began. Three months after that, in the beginnings of a long winter, I moved in.

It was a mad decision, she reminds herself, but happy mad.

C
HAPTER 1

J
oanne Ross remembered the morning she'd first encountered the name Alice Ramsay. As she'd unwrapped a halved cabbage she'd bought at the market, the veins and cells and hollows had thrown up an image of a brain, making her shudder, making her hand stray to the scar above her left ear. But she'd snatched it away.
Leave it alone. It's still healing.

She'd been terrified she would never recover, never be herself again. But in increasingly frequent optimistic moments, she'd decided it was no bad thing to have lost part of her old self.

That same day—four days after she'd posted the manuscript—she'd started a vigil for the postman. In the idle waiting moments, she'd smoothed out the crumpled newspaper the cabbage had been wrapped in.

“Woman Accused of Witchcraft.”

The headline was large, the article a quarter of a page of the newspaper that covered Sutherland and Caithness in the far north of Scotland. It was a newspaper she had never come across before. Then again, why would she? The northernmost counties consisted of a strip of small towns on the eastern side and inhospitable mountains and glens and peat bogs stretching westwards and northwards, with only two major roads connecting them to the south. News from there was scant and uninteresting—unless you were of the Scottish diaspora researching the ancestors.

Joanne scanned the first few lines. She didn't recognize the name of the accused woman.
Probably a poor old soul who makes home potions, has a black cat, and has crossed some local worthies, therefore is branded a witch
, Joanne was thinking.
Heaven help anyone who is different in these parts.
She knew this from bitter experience. Although newly remarried, she understood that the stain of being a divorced woman could never be eradicated. Plus, she wore trousers.

The cabbage, balanced on the rounded side of the table, fell
splat
to the floor. Joanne jumped. The chair legs screeched on stone.
Some witch has cursed the cabbage.
Then she laughed at herself. But the fright had shaken her. And reminded her that even now, superstition was all too common in the Highlands of Scotland.

Next day, the headline and the cabbage still haunting her, she went to the library and took out two books. One was a history of witches and witch trials, the other a more general book on Scottish lore,
The Silver Bough
.

“I liked thon story o' yours in the magazine,” the middle-aged woman with the unlikely marmalade hair color said as she checked out the library books. “I'd love to marry a man wi' a castle—as long as it has heating.”

“Thank you.” Joanne smiled, but her cheeks were burning in embarrassment.

And as she walked down Castle Wynd, past the
Highland Gazette
offices where her editor husband was putting together that week's edition, Joanne Ross—now McAllister, but as yet the married name hadn't stuck—dreamed of writing a book.

One book was enough; becoming a writer was too lofty an ambition.

She gave herself little credit for the acceptance of six short stories in the Scottish romance genre by a well-known ladies' magazine. But one book—that she felt she could do. Witchcraft was intriguing, and history was her passion, and it was a topic that would rile the locals, this being a town of many churches.

But the oft-felt ghost of her father whispered,
Who do you think you are? You'll never amount to anything.

She shivered. Shaking her thick chestnut hair, she pulled a headscarf with a print of Paris landmarks from her bag and tied it under her chin. Autumn in Scotland was capricious—one minute southern sunshine, the next Arctic winds. But she knew it wasn't the cold making her shiver.
Grow up
, she told herself.
There's no such thing as ghosts and witches
.

“McAllister,” she said to her husband, “there's a woman in Sutherland accused of being a witch. Would a story like that be right for the
Gazette
?”

BOOK: A Kind of Grief
9.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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