Abby lowered the window on the rental car, letting the breeze waft over her face as she struggled to keep her eyes open. She’d arrived in Edinburgh early that morning after an overnight flight from New York, and she was exhausted to her very bones. She’d been foolish to attempt this drive after a restless night in a hobbit-sized seat on the airplane. It was taking all of her concentration to stay on the correct side of the road.
But once she’d stepped onto Scottish soil, she knew she couldn’t linger in the city for any longer than necessary. As she neared the southern tip of Loch Ness, she knew she’d made the right decision. How she loved the Highlands, the rolling green and brown hills dotted here and there with herds of sheep. She knew that in late summer, all those brown patches would be transformed into brilliant blankets of purple as the heather bloomed. She had missed that and so much more in the four years she had been away. She had always felt more at peace here than anywhere else, and hoped that being here would help heal the gaping hole in her heart.
A large, colorful sign up ahead caught her attention, and she squinted to read what it said. Her eyes widened and she slammed on the brakes, incurring the wrath of the driver behind her, who swerved sharply to avoid hitting her. He uttered some very New York words as he passed her. Shaken, she pulled to the side of the road and put the car in park.
She looked at the sign once more. No, she hadn’t read it wrong. In fancy black lettering on a pale blue background were the words:
Fundraiser TODAY Urquhart Castle, 12-2pm Meet actor IAN MACKENZIE and Support The Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital!
Ian Mackenzie. She closed her eyes as memories tumbled through her mind in vivid Technicolor. She hadn’t seen him in four years. And she hadn’t wanted to. No, that wasn’t entirely true. Her body still wanted him, still tortured her with vivid dreams that left her burning for his touch.
In those dreams, he was the carefree young graduate student she’d been in love with when his acting was a joke, a one-time opportunity that came about after some talent scouts saw him participating in a re-enactment of the Battle of Bannockburn. They’d seen him astride his big black stallion, proudly wearing his plaid as he brandished a blunted sword at his brother, and wanted him for a bit part in a historical movie.
In her dreams, he had eyes only for her, not for every young starlet that batted her fake eyelashes at him. In her dreams, he was still hers.
In reality, though, none of those things was true. He was the reason she hadn’t been back to her beloved Highlands in four years.
She glanced at the clock on the dashboard. It was 12:30 p.m. Not wanting to waste any more time dwelling on things that were long in the past, she carefully eased back onto the road, wanting to reach her destination as soon as possible.
Lost in thought, she was miles down the road before she realized that Loch Ness was to her right instead of her left. “Shit. I went the wrong way,” she groaned, annoyed at her carelessness. Then she saw the sign welcoming her to Urquhart Castle. No you didn't go the wrong way. Deep down inside, you knew exactly where you were going. “Shut up,” she mumbled to her inner voice. “That’s not why I came here.” Well, you’re here now. Might as well make the most of it.
Abby sighed in resignation and pulled into the car park. She knew that she wouldn’t have the slightest chance of finding the peace she sought so desperately if she passed up the opportunity to lay eyes on him, if only from afar.
She unfolded her body from the small car and stretched her aching back and legs, needing time to gather her thoughts before she went any further. She studied the castle that stood sentinel over the seemingly endless expanse of Loch Ness. It was still a commanding presence, even though it was a mere shell, a ruin of its former glory.
Beyond the towering ramparts of the castle lay the sapphire blue waters of the famous loch, home to one of the most well-known mysteries of the world. Abby had often wondered what the walls of Urquhart Castle would say if they could talk. What stories would they tell? Would they confirm the existence of the ancient sea creature, or would they laugh mockingly at the foolish humans who saw monsters in the flotsam and jetsam that drifted by on the strong current?
Enough procrastinating! Go inside already! Abby trudged to the entrance, where she handed the fifty pounds admittance fee to a perky blonde in a skimpy dress.
“Thank you for your donation,” she said with a bright smile as she handed Abby her receipt. “Enjoy the party, and make sure you say hello to Ian. He’s worth every penny of the admission fee,” she added with a conspiratorial wink.
And you know that, how, exactly? Abby barely managed to avoid rolling her eyes in disgust as she turned away. What am I doing here? I should just go right back to the car and get the hell out of here. They can keep my donation.
In spite of her internal grumblings, Abby entered the castle grounds and began her search. She passed by tables full of chafing dishes, ignoring the rumbling in her stomach as the tantalizing aromas of chicken, steak, roasted vegetables, and pastries teased her nostrils, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten since the rubbery chicken on the plane nearly ten hours earlier.
She wound her way through clusters of men and women in tuxedos and cocktail dresses, glancing quickly at each small group and dismissing them just as quickly when she didn’t spot him.
I’m looking in the wrong place, she decided. She turned her attention to the large group of women standing by a crumbling wall. Yep, there he is. Her heart skipped a beat, then kicked into overdrive. She should have known he would defy convention and show his Scottish pride. Instead of blending in with the crowd in a black tuxedo, he was decked out in full Highland regalia.
He wore the Great Kilt, the full nine yards of blue and green tartan, belted around his lean hips, the excess material looped across his chest, where it was held together at the shoulder with an ornate silver brooch. The plaid ended just above his knees, and his handmade black leather boots came to midcalf, showing off muscled legs honed from years of riding. From the center of his belt dangled a traditional badger sporran, and on his left hip he wore a ceremonial dirk in a hand-tooled leather scabbard. He also had a smaller knife, the sgian dubh, tucked into his boot. His snowy white shirt was a striking contrast to the long, wavy black hair tumbling over his shoulders.
He was just as beautiful as she remembered. Even from a distance she could hear the simpering giggles of the women, their high-pitched, flirtatious coos as they plied him with flattery and praise. He knew just how to work that group, smiling his professional smile at them, winking his emerald green eyes, flashing his dimples. He posed for pictures with them and signed their DVDs, their posters, and their cleavage.
Ian hadn’t yet achieved the stardom of Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, but in the few short years he’d been acting, he had attracted a sizeable following of enthusiastic and dedicated fans. To them, he was a god.
He had also been as close to her as a man could possibly be not so very long ago, and now that she had come this far, she might as well finish it. He would want to know.
Grief washed over her as she hesitated at the back of the throng of women, her insides twisted in a knot. How could she say the words out loud to him when she hadn’t been able to say them out loud to anyone else, especially herself?
She couldn’t. After all, it had been she who had rebuffed him four years ago. She’d had good reasons, but given his persistence at the time, he had probably been oblivious to her reasons. He’d probably forgotten her, and if he hadn’t, he certainly wouldn’t want to hear anything she had to say. That’s not true and you know it, Abby. He’s not an ogre! No, I shouldn’t have come here. Disgusted and defeated, she turned to leave, tossing her long braid over her shoulder.
Her traitorous heart jumped at the sound of his voice, that low, sexy Highlands accent that still turned her insides to a writhing mass of desire. Then her heart sank, because she was caught. There would be no slipping away for her now.
She plastered a smile on her face and slowly turned to him. He had shed his adoring fans, leaving them to compare photos on their digital cameras, and was standing not two feet from her, his green eyes wide with surprise. His scent invaded her nostrils—that subtle yet intoxicating cologne that always made her want to bury her face in his throat and breathe him in. Every now and then, back in New York, she had caught a whiff of that cologne, and her heart would pound in anticipation. But then she’d realize that the scent wasn’t quite right; it was missing the essence of him, the faint mixture of horses and leather that he could never quite get rid of, and her shoulders would slump with disappointment.
“Ian, it’s nice to see you,” she murmured, hoping her voice was steady as she clasped her shaking hands behind her back.
“What are you doing here?” His face was a mask of polite reservation, only his eyes betraying any hint of emotion. In those bottomless green depths, she saw hurt, anger, and something else she couldn’t quite identify.
Why did he have to stare at her like he was reading her mind, like he could see into her very soul? How could she possibly think or speak coherently when he was doing that? With those laser eyes boring into hers, she felt like a small child who had just spilled chocolate syrup on the white couch. I shouldn’t have come here. Is it too late to turn and run?
“I…was passing by and saw the sign for the fundraiser.” Even though it was true, it sounded lame even to her.
“You were ‘passing by’?” If anything, his expression became more remote, if not downright frosty. “After four years, you just happened to be passing by Urquhart Castle?” he asked, not bothering to disguise the bitterness in his voice. “Why are you really here?”
Though he kept his voice low so as not to attract attention, there was no mistaking his tone—she was not welcome here.
“I just thought…never mind,” she stammered as tears welled in her eyes. “I shouldn’t have come here. I’m glad to see that you’re doing well and supporting a good cause.” She turned to leave, feeling her heart splintering into tiny little shards.
His hand closed around her arm, effectively stopping her in her tracks. She felt the heat of each of his fingers searing into her skin, his hold firm yet gentle.
“You came all the way here and paid good money for the privilege of seeing me,” he murmured. “You might as well have something to eat. You look…very thin,” he added, his voice gentling slightly. “Are you all right?”
His anger she could deal with; his concern she could not. “I’m fine. I have to go now. I’m sorry to have bothered you.” She tried to extricate herself from his hold on her, but he wouldn’t let go. “Ian, please. I have to go.”
He stared at her, his eyes holding her in thrall. “Hey, Ian! You’ve a bunch of fans here who want to say hello to you!” The shout came from a small man in a shiny suit standing a few feet away.
Abby took advantage of his momentary distraction to pull her arm free. “Goodbye, Ian,” she whispered and fled before he could reply. Before he could convince her to stay.
**** Ian stood frozen in place as Abby walked away from him. When he’d spotted her in his peripheral vision, he’d thought it was his imagination again. In the four years since he’d last laid eyes on her, there had been so many moments when he’d thought he’d seen her, had run over to greet her, only to be disappointed when it wasn’t her. She haunted his dreams nearly every night, even after all this time. Whenever he woke up from one of those dreams with his body burning for her, his heart yearning for her, he’d reach for her, only to realize she wasn’t lying beside him. He still felt her loss as profoundly as he had back then.
When he’d realized she was actually there, in the flesh, his heart had stopped for a moment, and then began thundering as if it was about to explode out of his chest. So many different emotions had gone through him as they’d faced each other: anger that she’d kicked him out of her life without a word; hurt that she had chosen to pop back into his life at this public event, where he could neither speak to her privately nor follow after her; curiosity at why she had come back after all this time. But most of all, he’d felt joy at seeing her again.
Gazing into her blue-gray eyes, the color of the sea after a storm, had stirred something within him that he hadn’t felt in years. He’d had to clench his fingers in his plaid to keep them from reaching to unwind her thick braid and sink his hands into her waist-length, caramel-colored hair. He wanted to take her in his arms and never let her go.
But instead of doing that, he’d treated her like crap. He wanted to kick himself for being so cold to her. Though she’d hurt him terribly when she’d blown him off without a word four years ago, he should have seen that something wasn’t right with her. Her face was so pale, and that look in her eyes—she looked devastated. He couldn’t let her leave like that. He started to follow her.
“Ian, where you running off to, lad?”
His agent, Brian, sounded insistent, and Ian turned around. “I’m sorry, Brian. I know that woman. I have to go after her.”
“You’ll do no such thing, Ian,” Brian hissed. “A lot of people paid good money for a few minutes of your time. If you go running off after some scruffy lass and leave these women standing here, it will be a media disaster.”
Scruffy lass? Ian took a threatening step toward his agent, whom he dwarfed by half a foot and at least fifty pounds. The other man’s eyes widened and he glanced frantically to his left. Ian followed the direction of his gaze and saw a group of women and children standing off to the side. The women were smiling nervously, and the children were beaming with excitement, posters clutched in their hands. As much as he wanted—needed—to go after Abby, he couldn’t. Too many people were depending on him, at least for the next hour.
“That scruffy lass is classier in denim and fleece than most of these women are in Versace,” he said through clenched teeth. “Aye, you’re right, Brian. I can’t leave just yet. But you will not insult Abby again. Do you understand?”
Without waiting for a reply, he mustered up a smile and strode over to greet his fans.
**** After fleeing from Ian like the coward she was, Abby sat on a boulder on the opposite side of Loch Ness, staring across the water at Urquhart Castle. This had been her original destination before she’d spotted the sign along the roadside and made a tremendously stupid error in judgment.
Abby had come to this place hoping to recapture the peace she’d found here four years ago. The eastern shore of the loch, where she now sat, was the quiet side, for the most part undisturbed by tourists. They preferred the western shore, where they could explore the ruins of the castle, or go a bit farther up the road to the village of Drumnadrochit and spend their hard-earned money on Nessie knick-knacks in one of the many gift shops there.
She remembered the first time Ian had taken her here. They were on spring break from the University of Edinburgh, where she was spending a semester abroad and he was a graduate student. It was too far for her to go home for the week, and Ian had brought her home with him to his family’s house in Nairn, a town just east of Inverness along the Moray Firth.
He’d taken her horseback riding along the quiet shoreline of the loch, and Abby had remarked at the utter peace of the place. There was something about the dark, mysterious water and the ruined castle that spoke to her soul. They’d stayed there for hours, the horses grazing a short distance away as she and Ian picnicked under the sheltering arms of an old oak tree.
Her face flushed with heat as she remembered what else had happened under that tree.
As she finished packing the remains of their lunch in the last saddlebag, Ian’s arms came around her from behind. His breath tickled her ear.
“We forgot to have dessert,” he breathed, his deep voice sending shivers down her spine.
“You had half a dozen of your mother’s brownies. Don’t tell me you’re still hungry!”
“I wasn’t talkin’ about food, lass.” His husky voice sent a rush of liquid warmth through her. She turned eagerly in his arms and he kissed her until she was breathless. Their hands explored each other, stroking and caressing. Ian freed Abby’s hair from its plait, unraveling the strands with one hand while the other tipped her head back so he could kiss her throat.
He dragged her down to the blanket, their clothing pushed aside by urgent hands. He gazed down at her naked body, the reverent look in his eyes making her feel like the most beautiful woman in the world.
“I love you, Abby,” he murmured as his lips met hers.
“I love you, too,” she replied, her heart full of joy.
They didn’t speak again for a very long time.
Abby looked down at her clenched hands. Her pulse was pounding, her body aching for his touch, but the memory of it was too much for her to bear. They had been so happy then, so carefree. All she’d wanted was to be with him. That afternoon by the loch, they’d spoken of the future, of a traditional Highland wedding after she finished college the following year. Her parents and brother would fly over, along with a few of her friends from home. The men would wear kilts and the women would be in old-fashioned dresses. They would have a feast at the Mackenzie farm afterwards, and then she and Ian would go on an extended honeymoon, maybe someplace tropical.
But it was all a cruel joke. His career had proven to be more important to him than she was, than their future together. And just when she had finally begun to get over him, to think about trying to meet someone new, her world had shattered. She’d come to Scotland searching for peace, and all she’d done so far was remind herself of all that had gone wrong in her life. She felt like the embodiment of the castle ruin across the loch, a cold, empty shell of her former self. Although it was a sunny and warm summer afternoon, she felt chilled to her very bones. She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around herself, staring listlessly out at the water, wishing she could go back to that other summer.
A shadow fell over her, and she looked up, startled, to see the tall figure of a man standing just to her right. He was backlit, his features indistinct against the sun in her eyes.
But she would know him anywhere.
“Ian?” She hated the way her voice quavered as she breathed his name. She was shocked that he’d come after her after the way they’d left things.
He took a hesitant step towards her, blocking the glare. Now she could clearly see his beautiful face, once so beloved. He had obviously come directly from the fundraiser—he hadn’t even bothered to change out of his kilt.
“I’m sorry, Abby. I didn’t mean to chase you off like that. And I wanted to follow you, but I couldn’t leave just then. Not with it bein’ a fundraiser…” His voice trailed off for a moment, and then he squared his shoulders. “But I want to know—no, I need to know—why you came lookin’ for me.”
“I told you, Ian. I saw the sign and…”
“Damn it, Abby!” His eyes glittered. “You didn’t just suddenly develop nostalgia for me as you were drivin’ along Loch Ness.”
She didn’t know what to say. She had a fair amount to bring up if he was looking for a fight, but she just didn’t have it in her. Not now. Maybe not ever.
“I can’t do this now, Ian. I just can’t…” Her voice broke, and she was mortified to feel tears burning her eyes. She jumped up from the boulder and brushed past him. “I have to go.”
As before, he caught her arm as she tried to pass him and spun her around to face him.
“Abby, what in God’s name is the matter with you? You’re pale as a ghost, and you look like you haven’t slept or eaten in weeks. Are you ill?”
It was the concern in his luminous eyes that undid her, tearing open the walls she’d built around her heart. Tears burned her eyes and slipped down her cheeks as the sobs ripped through her.
He dragged her up against him, one big hand cradling her head against his chest, the other stroking her back. Unable to fight him anymore, she leaned into him, letting the warmth of his body seep into her.
“My God, Abby! Please tell me what’s happened!”
“My parents…there was a freak ice storm in April…black ice on the roads…” she broke off, gasping for breath.
“Abby…” Ian had gone pale, a look of horror on his face.
“No, I have to finish! I have to say it out loud!”
she sobbed. “It was late at night, and Adam was at my door. I knew something terrible had happened. He was so pale, and I could tell he’d been crying. Adam, crying! It had to be bad—it had to be the worst thing ever for Adam to cry.
“He made me sit down, look him in the eyes. And then…and then he told me. A pileup on the highway. They were…killed instantly.”
“Emma and Michael…are dead? Both of them?” he whispered, his eyes filling with tears.
She could only nod, unable to speak.
“Oh God, Abby! Oh, Abby, I’m so sorry. So very sorry,” he ended on a whisper, pulling her close once more.
She didn’t know how long they stood there beside Loch Ness, his arms holding her tightly as she cried. Every now and then a shudder would rip through his body, and she knew he was crying too, crying for her parents, who had once hoped to call him their son, who were gone forever.
She sobbed against his shoulder until she had nothing left within her, her whole body shaking. It was the first time she’d been able to cry, as if she’d held it all in until this moment, when she could seek comfort in Ian’s arms. She realized now that some part of her, buried deep inside, had known he would find her there. And though so much lay unresolved between them, for just this moment it was as though the last four years had not happened.
But the reality was that those four years had happened, and she couldn’t languish here in Ian’s arms, no matter how tempting it was to forget about everything. She eased out of his arms and wiped her eyes on her shirt sleeve.
“God, Abby. I don’t even know what to say. The way I treated you before…” he began, his voice shaky. That tremble in his voice nearly undid her. She wouldn’t be able to hold it together if she let him speak.
She placed her fingers over his lips, cutting him off in mid-sentence. “Ian, please. How could you have known?” she murmured. She had to get out of there. She couldn’t look at him anymore, couldn’t look at those expressive green eyes brimming with tears. “Thank you for being here with me, but I really need to be alone now.”
Was it possible that he looked disappointed? “I understand. But if you change your mind, you’re always welcome at my house. I know everyone would love to see you. Mum’s been cooking all week, as she always does when I come for a visit. I’m only home for a few weeks this time before I go to the States to promote a movie.”
In her mind, Abby saw Ian’s parents, Laura and Duncan; saw the welcoming smiles they’d always had for her, saw those welcoming smiles melt into scowls of disapproval at the way she’d left things with Ian. “Thank you, Ian, but I just can’t right now. Please tell them I said hello.”
He nodded. “Will you be in town for awhile? We have a lot to talk about. I don’t want to let another four years go by.”
She was surprised by how much she wanted to see him again, to hear his side of the story. “I’ll call you in a few days. I just need some time right now, all right? I have to go.”
“No, I’ll go. You stay; I know this is your favorite place. Please, stay,” he repeated when she opened her mouth to argue. He hugged her tightly and then pressed his lips to her forehead. When he pulled back, he gazed meaningfully into her eyes. “I’ll be waitin’ for your call, Abby.”
With that, he turned and walked away. She watched him go, his tall figure striding through the trees, suddenly wanting nothing more than to call him back to her. It was a long time before she looked away.
**** Ian drove north along the eastern shore of Loch Ness in his black Jaguar XK convertible. He usually took great pleasure in having the wind in his face as he drove the sleek car, but not now. Now, he drove by rote, his thoughts focused solely on Abby.
He’d hoped he would find her by the loch. They’d gone there together many times during their time together. Sometimes they’d ridden along the loch or picnicked under the oak tree. One time, they’d gotten so caught up in their passion for each other that they’d made love on an old blanket under that old oak, completely forgetting that someone could walk by at any time. Even thinking about it four years later made his blood run hot.
But whether they’d indulged their passion for one another, or simply enjoyed the scenery, Abby had always taken pleasure in gazing out at the loch, had always found peace there.
He’d felt so triumphant when he’d found her sitting there. When she looked up at him, he’d barely managed to stifle a gasp of dismay. She was ghostly pale, the shadows beneath her eyes like purple bruises. Her eyes had none of their usual vibrancy. He’d thought that she looked pale when he saw her at the castle, but hadn’t noticed just how pale she was.
When she whispered his name, her face crumpling, it had nearly torn his heart out. She hadn’t resisted when he’d pulled her into his arms; instead, she’d turned her face into his shoulder and sobbed as if her heart was broken. He’d wondered what kind of awful tragedy would drive her into his embrace after all this time.
Now, as he drove away from her, the tears welled in his eyes as he imagined her heartbreak. She had been so close to her parents, calling them faithfully every Sunday during her entire time in Scotland. They and her older brother Adam had come to visit for a week that summer, and she and Ian had taken them all over, showing them Edinburgh, Glencoe, the Isle of Skye, the Highlands. To lose either of them was tragic. To lose them both at once was unthinkable. His heart clenched at the thought of losing his beloved parents that way— the very idea of it making him sick to his stomach.
As he drove along the quiet road, lost in his thoughts, he realized he was passing MacNab’s farm. He found himself wanting to talk to his old friend, and smoothly whipped the Jaguar down the tree-lined driveway.
As he got out of his car, he was met by Duff, MacNab’s Scottish deerhound. The enormous gray dog bounded over, greeting him with an enthusiastic bark and a thorough lick of Ian’s outstretched hand. “Hiya, Duff,” Ian muttered, scratching the wiry head. Duff regarded him with gentle brown eyes under an elegantly arched brow. Ian was convinced that the dog had an old soul. Duff studied him for a moment and then nuzzled his hand, his wise eyes sad, as though he felt Ian’s pain. He laid his hand on Duff’s head, which was level with his waist, and walked towards the farmhouse, the dog at his side. The door opened, and Alistair MacNab emerged, a smile on his face. He was in his seventies at least, but he carried himself with the bearing of a much younger man. His gray hair was thick and full, his blue eyes twinkling as he pulled Ian into a bear hug.
“Ian, my lad! It always gives me a wee chuckle to see you get out of that flashy car dressed as though you stepped out of the pages of history. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Come in, laddie, I’ve tea and scones waiting.”
Of course he did. Mac always had this uncanny way of knowing when Ian was stopping by, even when Ian thought he was being spontaneous. After all the years he’d known the old man, he finally stopped questioning this and just accepted that Mac “knew” things.
He followed Mac into the house, and took a seat at the table. Mac began to pour the tea. He looked up and stared at Ian for a moment. Without a word, he returned the full kettle to a trivet on the counter and pushed aside their teacups. He opened a cabinet and withdrew a bottle of scotch and poured a generous amount into two tumblers, which he set on the table along with the bottle.
“You look like you need this more than the tea, judging by the color of your face. Slàinte.”
They tapped their glasses together and then sipped. Ian closed his eyes, savoring the smooth taste of the fine scotch as it glided down his throat, leaving pleasant warmth in its wake.
Mac gestured to the bottle. “Eighteen-year-old Macallan single malt,” he sighed appreciatively. “Smooth as a lassie’s cheek. And a better cure for what ails you than almost anything else. Even now, I see some of your color creepin’ back.” He sat back in his chair, his expression thoughtful. “I haven’t seen that look in your eyes since yon lassie broke your heart all those years ago. Tell me what’s ailin’ you.”
Ian swallowed more scotch than he’d intended, his eyes watering as it burned the back of his throat. He set his glass on the table. “‘Yon lassie,’ as you just referred to her, is here.”
MacNab’s eyes widened in surprise, and in spite of his own inner turmoil, Ian felt a small measure of satisfaction in surprising the seemingly all-knowing old man. “Abby is back, you say? This is not what I was expecting…you saw her?” “Aye. She showed up at this fundraiser I attended at Urquhart. I thought I was seein’ things.” Ian took a large swallow of scotch before telling Mac about what he’d said to Abby and the awful news about her parents. “I was cruel to her, Mac. Cruel to her when she was grievin’ for her parents. What kind of man am I?” “You’re a man who was deeply hurt by the woman he loved, who never found out what caused her to sever all ties with you. ’Tis only natural that you would have been cold to her when she suddenly showed up. But when you realized she was sufferin’, you comforted her as best you could, in spite of your differences. That tells me exactly what kind of man you are.”
“I wanted to stay with her, to do more, but she sent me away. Said she wanted to be alone. She said she’d call me, and I know I should give her some space, but all I want to do right now is go back to her.”
MacNab sat back in his chair. “I always wondered what happened between you two, but I didn’t want to pry. There’s something in your eyes now that hasn’t been there since Abby went back to New York. Don’t give up, Ian. She came back to the Highlands. Back to you. Nay, don’t you be shakin’ your stubborn head at me, laddie.”
“She didn’t come back to me, Mac. It was completely by chance that she saw that sign for the fundraiser.” Even though her story had seemed implausible before, as he said the words aloud, he realized he believed them.
“Was it?” Mac asked cryptically. He studied Ian’s face for another moment. “Tell me what else is on your mind.”
Ian hadn’t told anyone about his dreams, but maybe Mac could offer some insight. “I’ve been dreaming quite a lot lately. Not those kinds of dreams, Mac,” he muttered, spotting the devilish glint in the old man’s blue eyes. “It’s the same dream, over and over again. And Abby’s in it.”
“Go on, lad.” All trace of humor was gone from Mac’s face as he gestured for Ian to continue. Ian closed his eyes and began to describe the dream, so familiar to him now that the words just spilled out.
He was following Abby as she strode angrily away from him, toward the loch. He called her name, but she wouldn’t stop. He started to run after her, but he couldn’t seem to get any closer. The wide expanse of the loch loomed before him, the midnight blue water shimmering in the sunlight.
The cold mist rose up out of nowhere, blocking out the sun, enveloping him instantly in its cold embrace.
“Abby? Abby, where are you?” She did not answer. He couldn’t see anything, was disoriented in the fog.
Just as suddenly as it had appeared, the mist dissipated. Now he was astride Jack, the horse prancing nervously beneath him. He laid his hand against Jack’s sweaty neck, trying to calm him. He felt a draft on his legs and glanced down, shocked to discover that he was wearing a kilt—a full-length plaid, complete with a sporran and a dirk in his belt. Was he at a re-enactment?
The sudden clanging of swords startled both of them. Jack reared, his powerful forelegs thrashing in the air. He barely managed to stay on the frightened horse, gaping at the sight before him.
Not twenty yards away, kilted men were engaged in a vicious battle, hacking at each other with enormous claymores.
He could hear the screams of the wounded and dying. The scent of blood was everywhere. The metallic taste of it was on his tongue. But he could not move. The reins slipped from his frozen fingers as he watched the men kill each other.
One of the men slew his opponent, and as he yanked his sword from the lifeless body and kicked it aside, a woman shrieked in terror. Ian could only watch in silent horror as the man called to his comrades and strode towards a woman who was huddled on the ground. She screamed again as the men approached, their swords dripping with blood as they leered menacingly.
He would know her voice anywhere. It was Abby.
“And that’s when I wake up,” Ian concluded. “At the same point in the dream, every time. It never changes. I never find out what happens to her. It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Ian opened his eyes, expecting to see MacNab laughing at him.
Instead, the old man was staring at him, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Nay, lad, it’s not daft. But I’m standing by what I said before. Your lass came here for a reason, whether or not she knows it yet.”
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say? That Abby ‘came here for a reason’? I thought you’d have more insight than that.” Ian knew he sounded like a petulant child, but he had hoped for more from the old man. With all his eerie foresight, with all his uncanny knowledge of things, that was the best MacNab could offer?
Mac smiled indulgently. “Isn’t it enough that I think she’s here for a reason, rather than a random decision to go on holiday in Scotland? Don’t fash yourself, laddie. I’m bettin’ you’ll see her sooner than you think.”
Ian narrowed his eyes at his old friend. “And do you know this in the same way that you always know when I’m comin’ to see you, or are you just tryin’ to make me feel better?”
MacNab just smiled and sipped his scotch.