Highland Goth Series

COMING SOON!

Ghosts, ancient legends, castles ruins, mythical standing stones and mist-shrouded lochs form the backdrop of this series of romantic and erotic novellas set in present day Scotland.

Book One: UltraViolet

American Violet Summers eagerly begins her MFA ruined castles photo project with Kildunugh Castle on Loch Glawe in the Scottish Highlands. It’s just the change of geography she needs to mourn the loss of her favorite grandmother. While she comes prepared for rain and stormy weather, she doesn’t expect to become the target of a wailing ghost or to stumble into the middle of a murder investigation led by the dark, brooding Byron McCrea.

Scottish detective McCrea jumps at the chance to escape Glasgow for personal reasons. If he can solve the Highland village’s murder case, he’s got a shot at being reassigned to a position in Edinburgh, where he won’t have to deal with overly complicated relationship issues that have developed in his Glasgow office. In fact, he’s sworn off all relationships at the moment. Unfortunately, beautiful photographer Violet Summers is proving to be a temptation he can’t seem to resist.

Soon, the American beauty plays a key role in the case, turning Byron’s own role from investigator to protector.

***

UltraViolet

The Lady of the Loch

For centuries, ghosts have rooted themselves in the Scottish landscape as tenaciously, prolifically as the purple thistle. Every deep loch, every battle-scarred, mist-enshrouded ben rising over every crumbling castle, every ancient stone circle, acts like a light to fluttering souls lost between the living and the dead, spirits waiting for someone to avenge their wrongful death…so they might be released to the peaceful hereafter.

Och, hen. Course we’ve got oor ain ghost. She’s a right beauty too—white hair like yer ain—it’s uncanny, right enough, how much ye resemble her. She likes it best over at the Kildunuch Castle, but sometimes she gets lonely and floats oan intae town fer a visit. Scared her share of tourists, she his so. She gets maest active in the summer, especially early evening. Too bad it’s only April.

Whit’s her story, yer wonderin’? See, she’s no hundreds of years auld like the average ghost. She’s only been visiting us fer a year or so. First seen ‘er, oh, mibbe a year ago Christmas time. Eeejit Lars mibbe saw her afore that, but he’s pished on too many pints a’ heavy most nights so we never took nae note of his palaverin’. Then, one of the McDonald twins claimed she saw the ghost in front a’ the ice cream shop late one night. That’s when everyone started seein’ her, almost like she’d finally figured out how tae get seen. But she wisnae nae barnie. Saw her a lot fer six months or so, then her sightings got rare. I suppose no one ken what she wanted, so she stopped trying tae catch oor eye.

Unless yer new, then she pops up again and gies ya a wee scare. Ah ken whit ah wid dae should she gie ye trouble. If ye ignore her, she’ll leave ye be. So dinnae fash yersel if she tries to get yer attention. Just pretend she’s no there at all.

Course, if she gets it into her heid that ye can help her…she just might take a wee interest in ye.

Chapter 1: The Ruins

Through Violet’s camera lens, sunlight glinted off the fathomless waters of the loch, shooting up to outline the ruined castle’s stark silhouette before splaying out into a million shards of light like a halo crowning the structure. Violet couldn’t have imagined a more beautiful day to start photographing the old edifice on Loch Glawe. She booked into a local bed and breakfast for several weeks, hoping to capture a series of images of the local castles, at various times of the day and night and in all weather, expecting mostly dank and gloom. Knowing that rainy days were more common than sunny ones, especially in spring, she felt blessed to start shooting on such a beautiful, sunny day. It might be the only one she had during her short stay. People like to say she brought sunshine wherever she went; maybe they were right, and more sunny days were ahead.

Not that she minded rain. Her master’s thesis project, a photo series on ancient, ruined castles, was essentially a nostalgic, moody one—perfect for capturing her feelings of late—and rain would likely suit that tone better than this brilliant light that seemed to throw everything into unnatural contrast, ruthlessly cracking through her melancholy. She blinked and dug out her sunglasses. Her grandmother’s death at Christmas continued to plague her generally sweet temperament, dampening her usual pleasure in most things, except possibly her art. Her professor said her work had begun to manifest an emotional edge that had been missing heretofore. That the quality of her shots had improved substantially since the accident seemed a perverse consequence of the tragedy, pushing her to let go of her desire to please others, to live her life without worry about what other people thought. Life was short, brutal. Messy. That the world would take away the only person she loved proved its indifference and cruelty. She saw that now. Saw it in the scene in front of her, despite the pleasant weather.

She snorted at her gloomy thoughts, as clouds appeared suddenly on the horizon, almost as if bidden by her pensive mood. She wouldn’t have to wait long for the weather to match her contemplative outlook. According to the innkeeper, Moira, a heavy storm with ice and snow was set to roll in later that afternoon and last several days. Still, if her luck held out, the normally wet weather would clear up for the full moon on her last night at this locale.

Violet worked her way forward on the wide, flat path that led to the ruins, stopping every ten feet or so to shoot a few more images. The Kildunuch ruins were located on a large strip of flat land that reached out into the waters of the long loch like a thin arm. The place was deserted. A couple had just returned from touring the ruins as Violet drove up. They left before she’d finished unloading her equipment from the trunk of her rental car, leaving her mercifully alone in the small gravel parking lot. She hadn’t seen anyone near the ruins since. Moira told her that the castle grounds stayed fairly quiet, even during the height of summer tourism, and Violet crossed her fingers, hoping to avoid families with children and barking dogs. Considering the difficulty she’d had finding the entrance to the makeshift parking lot, which held maybe five or six cars at most, she figured most people didn’t even know it existed.

The structure was amazing. Just enough of the rough gray stones remained standing to leave a clear sense of what the original castle had looked like, while enough stone had fallen down to remind modern visitors of the passage of time, and hint at the violence of the past. It was, simply, beautiful. Violet couldn’t restrain her mounting eagerness to shoot the castle. As she approached the ruins, she noted its proximity to the waters of the loch. Directly to her left, the ground sloped away to a well-maintained dock, where a single fishing boat swayed gently in the mirror-like waters. She’d have to see whether it was possible to hire a boat out onto the loch to photograph the castle from the water. In the distance, the impressive Ben Glawe dominated the landscape. Even though she’d lived her whole life in California, where some of the most memorable places in the world existed, she’d never seen anything more glorious. Something about the scene resonated through her soul, causing her to ache inside like she’d finally come home. She knew that Scotland summed up nostalgia; she just hadn’t known the feeling would prove infectious. For a moment, as she framed another shot, she was blinded by the light refracting through her lens. She blinked several times to readjust her eyes to the brightness of the scene. The light here cut everything into stark, separate entities, unlike in California where particles in the air diffused everything into a soft, blurry tableau of blended pastels. The muddled existence she’d been living the last six months seemed struck clean, cleared by the clarity of the Scottish climate.

Violet focused on varying her shots, confident for the first time in months that she was where she was supposed to be, working on the art she was meant to make. She had been working on her final graduate project, photographing a diverse selection of landmark buildings in the Los Angeles area when she’d come across an image of this castle one night while surfing the Internet. She just knew she wanted to photograph it, maybe even sketch it and paint it. As a graduate student, she accepted that the expense of traveling to Scotland from Los Angeles was initially out of the question, and put the goal down as something she’d do later, after graduation. Then the car accident that took her grandmother’s life brought a financial windfall, more than enough to fund a month-long trip abroad. Her grandmother had always supported her dreams. Even in death, she helped Violet.  Her chest clenched in familiar pain.

An unexpected gust of cold wind rose up and whipped around her body, chilling her through to the marrow of her bones, matching the piercing ache in Violet’s chest, and she stopped shooting and crumpled to the ground, clutching her camera to her gut as strong emotions rocked her sense of calm. She’d been unable to cry much since the accident. Living in the fast pace of Los Angeles, among friends who were part of the Hollywood action and hype, she’d struggled to find the time and place to properly mourn her loss. The process had left her brittle, slightly inflexible. Looked like the rugged landscape of ancient Scotland threatened to crack open her fragile self-control.

“Oh Grandma,” she whispered, tightening her face to ward off the tears. The impulse to cry, something she hadn’t done enough, took her over though and she cracked, cried hard. The cold, clammy ground cradled her. Eventually, the cold, misty air and wet soil under her legs pierced through her clothes to remind her that she was alive and needed to move. She rose, realizing the leggings under her knee-length skirt were soaked. Tom might have fussed over her, if he’d been here, but she suspected it would have been simply the appropriate thing to do, rather than anything he truly cared to do. Another relationship that the accident severed.  She stood up.

Losing her grandmother had made Violet realize that Tom was not the right guy for her. The very thing that had attracted her to the ambivalent actor in the beginning—his flip, dry sense of humor and casual attitude—had failed her in the face of dealing with her grandmother’s death. Shallow commentary on the latest celebrity gossip might be tolerable when life was good, but it didn’t get one through an important loss. It turned out that Tom was not just superficially witty, that was all he was—superficial. She recognized the irony of an actor skilled at projecting emotion in front of a camera being incapable at showing—or consoling—feelings in reality.

Her grandmother had never liked Tom. Of course, she’d been privy to knowledge of Violet’s secret dream man, and no other man would ever match his romantic appeal. Grandma had been convinced that the man who appeared in Violet’s dreams also existed in the real world. Violet had always been less certain, and now that her grandmother had passed so senselessly, she didn’t think she could continue to believe in such fantasies by herself. Which made her realize that she hadn’t dreamed about the man since she’d left California. That seemed to be the final straw. Even her dream man had abandoned her. To recognize that here, alone in this beautiful place, she cried even harder, on her own terms without the pressure to stop because it made someone else uncomfortable, and strangely, this  knowledge allowed her to smile through her tears.  Though it felt tough, directionless, moving through the pain was so much better than forcing it down under the surface. Eventually, she tired of crying. The bout of tears left her lighter on her feet. She stood, lifted her camera and resumed her work.

After that, the afternoon passed in quiet, peaceful contentment, the only sounds a steady breeze buffeting through the rough, rocky walls and the soothing clicking and whirring of her camera. The rain threatened, but never came. A few tourists passed through, but their demeanors were subdued, more interested in absorbing the beauty of the castle and its view over the loch than chattering about inconsequential topics. They even seemed to make a concerted effort to stay out of Violet’s framed shots. Hours slipped past, leaving Violet feeling more like her old self—happy, positive.

She trekked down to the dock and strolled across its weathered planks. At the end, she knelt and looked down into the water. Though the castle and dock were located at the farthest inland point of the loch, the water still looked very deep. She couldn’t see anything except the reflection of the sky and clouds and a wavering image of her own face. She smiled at herself. She was in Scotland.

As she was about to look up, something below the surface of the loch moved, rippling the surface, and she found herself looking at another face—not unlike her own, but older, the nose slightly longer, the chin more rounded. The woman’s long pale hair spread out around her face as if she were floating in the water, a kelpie arising from the black depths below. The woman’s skin was colorless and her eyes—Violet flinched back in horror—her eyes were blank, dead. A wave slapped against the dock and the image was instantly replaced by a choppy version of Violet’s own reflection again. Fearfully, compulsively, she reached down into the frigid waters but only icy, silky cold slid through her fingers. Nothing but water. Feeling shaken, half-berating herself for fanciful thinking, Violet climbed the hill back up to the castle. Entranced by the mystical quality of the castle’s setting, she’d clearly left her common sense behind in California, conjuring up dead bodies in one of the most idyllic setting in the world. Try as she might to shake the image of the woman’s face though, it lingered in her mind. She knew she’d sketch it later. Her friend Lili would write a mystery-laden script round the image, no doubt, and turn it into a horror movie. She’d have to tell her about it.

Wanting to use her time as judiciously as possible, while the sun set over the stunningly still waters of Loch Glawe, Violet captured a few final images in preparation of packing up her things to return to the car, and to the small village where her bed and breakfast was located. Her stomach growled suddenly and she remembered that she’d skipped lunch.  The innkeeper, Moira, had recommended a local pub, The Red Lion, for a traditional Scottish supper of haggis, neeps and tatties as her first taste of local fare that evening. Violet didn’t care whether her friends back in Los Angeles would consider the food questionable or a delicacy. She was suddenly hungry enough to eat almost anything. The fresh Scottish air seemed to have triggered an appetite for heavy, filling food. She looked forward to sampling the local diet. She lingered a moment though, enchanted by the descent of the sun at the West end of the loch.

As the day’s light shifted from warming sunset into the cooler gloaming, she stood alone on the second level of the castle’s structure, a wooden platform that had been built to allow visitors to see the loch from what was once the upper floor of the keep. A movement below caught her eye. Violet turned to glance down into the open grassy center of the ruins. She saw no one.

She was certain that she was alone at the ruins. Dusk was condensing, and the area, which had been sharply lit by the bright sun when she arrived, was now filled with shadows, the neon colors stripped away with the light into shades of gray. She noticed then that the temperature had dropped considerably too. She shivered. Her leggings were still damp, clinging to her legs, transferring the chill deep into her bones. She’d been so caught up in taking photographs, that she’d stopped paying attention to her physical state or to who was around. The face of the young woman in the loch flashed back into her mind. Could the place be haunted? The information plaque outside the castle hadn’t mentioned any legends about ghosts. Nevertheless, the place had definitely grown a bit creepy in the fading light. If the castle was this unnerving at dusk, maybe she should find a companion to return with her for the pictures she wanted to take after dark.

Impulsively, she positioned the camera to point down into center of the ruins for a final set of rapid-fire shots. The quick, steady familiar clicking calmed her nerves. Scanning through the series of shots on the camera’s small viewing screen, she saw nothing unusual. She laughed at her own fanciful thinking. She was an educated, modern woman. While she loved the idea of ghosts and druid magic, she considered such recountings all to be stories to draw in tourists. If there had been a legend associated with Kildunuch Castle, Moira would have told her about it this morning when she first arrived. That was a woman who liked to tell stories. Violet checked the lens of her camera to ensure it was clean, then snapped the protective cap on and packed it into her carryall. Another moment to close up the tripod and she was skipping down the steps.  Back on the ground, she felt the distinct cold of the mist gathering and spreading through the structure. It penetrated her to the bone. Grateful she’d worn her leather jacket and heavy boots, she set off at a brisk pace for her car.

The short hike back to the car park was uneventful: a quick glance behind her showed the castle ruins posed deathly still in the early spring night. As soon as she reached her car, Violet tossed her equipment into the trunk, crawled into the driver’s seat and started up the vehicle, turning the heat on full blast. She was glad she’d always driven a manual. She imagined that many an American tourist who only drove automatics would struggle to drive on the opposite side of the road with a manual transmission that required one to shift gears with the left hand instead of the right. Personally, having learned to drive on the Los Angeles freeways, the quiet—if harrowingly narrow—roads of the Scottish highlands were a refreshing challenge. Meeting oncoming traffic on the road could feel dangerous, but the roads were, thankfully, mostly empty this far out of the big cities.

Twenty minutes later, she was pulling up into the tiny parking lot adjacent to the small inn. When she’d checked in earlier, the proprietor had told her there were only eight rooms, and because it was off season, the just one other guest was expected that night, a gentleman from Glasgow who was coming into the area on business. Violet was surprised to see two vehicles. A big, dark Landover, glossy and expensive-looking, took up a large section of the lot. Violet wondered whether it belonged to the other occupant. She squeezed her rental into the space next to a small but shiny, silver Ford. Was that Moira’s brother’s car? Moira said he was a fulltime firefighter, but as part-owner of the inn, he helped on a regular basis, particularly in maintaining the old structure. She doubted a firefighter would drive an expensive Landover.

Loaded up with her gear, Violet entered the small hall that functioned as the inn’s check-in area. A man stood chatting with Moira, his extraordinary height causing the ceiling in the entry to feel too close. Violet felt her blood heat up at the deep tenor of his voice. The sound of it obliterated all her other senses. It was more than his Scottish accent, because everyone here had Scottish accents and their voices didn’t affect her like this man’s did.

“I appreciate any information you can provide, Moira.”

His thick brogue slid over Violet’s body like honey, dark, clinging, sweet.

The young proprietor’s smile looked strained. Then she noticed Violet.

“Oh, Mr. McCrae, here’s oor other guest, Ms. Summers, now. She’s an American visitin’ to take pictures of local castles.”

The man turned and looked down—way down—at Violet and her mind blanked. Her whole body coursed in astonishment. She knew those dark eyes, bushy eyebrows, hard mouth, rugged features. She’d dreamt of his face with disturbing frequency all these years, and she’d been sketching and painting it for nearly as long, hoping to exorcise him from her psyche.  Why hadn’t she ever realized he was such a large man? She stared at him in awe. Maybe she’d stopped dreaming about him because he’d come to her in the real world.

There was no recognition of her in the penetrating gaze he returned. His expression was dispassionate, something it had never been in her sleep. He could have been a statue, he face carved from stone.

 

Byron would have fallen back away from the pixie gazing up at him with wide eyes, but there was nowhere to go. He was already backed against the check-in desk in the cramped entry. Truth be told, he didn’t want to move away, he wanted to fall forward, pull her tight against his body, encircle her in his arms. When she entered the inn, a powerful electrical force had snapped to life between them and now drew them together with tightening inevitability. It was fortunate that he was a natural at maintaining a stoic countenance. It was one of the features of his personality that made him a good detective.  Still—mesmerized by her—he couldn’t look away. Like a spring flower, she appeared delicate and fragile.  Her pale oval face was surrounded by long, softly curled waves of the palest blonde hair he’d ever seen. The curls flowed over her shoulders, all the way down to her waist and he wanted to thread his fingers through them and wrap them around his hand. It looked like the strands had been blown about all day in the wind, and were untamed, like the soul that stared at him like she’d seen a ghost when he’d turned to her.

Her face was striking, the features so fine, so distinct. Her eyes were a strange pale purple, her nose narrow, but tipped with a little upturn at the end. Her lips were the palest shade of pink he’d ever seen, perfectly pursed into a little, thoughtful bow at the moment. When the tip of her tongue darted out to wet those lips, it took all his good manners not to swoop down and lick them too.

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