A murderer threatens the peace and quiet of an isolated Scottish Glen.
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When Anna MacDonald leaves Edinburgh to find peace in the Scottish Highlands, she gets a twofold surprise: a lost sailor teaches her to love again…while a mysterious stranger has plans to kill her.
Passed over for promotion by her boss—and boyfriend, Anna walks off the job in anger. But being reactionary has its price. Now she can no longer afford the rent on her Edinburgh apartment. So she retreats to the only place she has ever felt happy – her grandmother's croft on the edge of a Highland loch. With no phone or neighbours, and only two border collies for company, Anna sets out to finally achieve her lifelong dream; to write—and sell—the novel that has burned within her for years.
Luke Tallantyre, a renowned Cape Cod artist, has sailed across the Atlantic to escape an artistic dry spell—and come to terms with his dangerous past. When his yacht develops a problem he drops anchor in Loch Hourn. He rows ashore, and knocking on the door of the croft, asks to use the telephone, but the reception he receives is less than welcoming – in fact it's downright frosty.
Anna resents the cranky American’s intrusion to her seemingly idyllic life. Luke thinks she’s an ill-mannered hermit. But an unseen assassin is after one of them. So they unwillingly join forces and embark on an adventure neither ever imagined…including a chance at true love.
Her concentration was broken by the shriek of frantic barking. She tore her gaze away from the screen and looked out of the kitchen window. A tall, dark-haired man was making his way up the crescent-shaped beach, doing a weird twisting dance, holding his right arm above his head. With his left he pushed off the two boisterous, snapping collies.
“Oh hell,” she groaned. She threw open the door and shouted. “Ensay! Rhona! Heel!”
The dogs instantly stopped snapping at the stranger’s ankles and ran to their mistress. Anna leaned against the door frame and waited while the figure strode confidently across the grass towards her, his well-muscled body covering the rough ground with long, purposeful strides. His jet black hair showed a little grey at the temples, the cut slightly longer than was considered acceptable for a man she judged to be in his forties. But somehow it suited him.
He stopped a foot from her door, close enough for her to smell the lemon spice of his cologne. Now that she could see him more clearly, she noticed the laughter lines around his eyes and mouth, hinting at a softer side to his character. His body was lean, the outline of his muscles visible through the shirt he wore. A faint white scar creased his right cheek, and she thought it gave his face a handsome rugged look. He gazed at her with dark brown eyes and smiled, slow and warm, and for some reason her breathing quickened.
With just one look she knew he was trouble.
“Hi, there. I know I’m trespassing, but do you think you could ask your dogs not to rip off my thigh?”
Anna drew herself up to her full height, which was barely up to his shoulder. “They’re guard dogs and only doing their duty,” she said stiffly. The dogs sat at her silent signal, but their eyes remained fixed on the stranger.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m having engine trouble and I can’t get a signal.” He indicated his mobile phone.
“That’s because there are no transmitters.”
“Oh, then could I borrow your phone? I need to contact the nearest boatyard for some advice.”
“I don’t have a phone.”
He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “Look, I haven’t slept for twenty-four hours and I’m beat. Sandpiper, that’s my yacht, developed a problem soon after I left Stornaway.” He paused as her words registered. “Did I hear right? You don’t have a phone?”
“No, I don’t, so I’m afraid I can’t help you. I suggest you weigh anchor, turn your boat around, and head west out of the loch.”
“Perhaps I should’ve introduced myself. I’m Luke Tallantyre, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.” He offered his hand. She didn’t take it.
“Anna, Anna MacDonald. Yachts are always straying into the loch at this time of year. Their crews seem to think this is some sort of hostel. Well, it’s not, and I still don’t have a phone.”
“Okay, so where do I catch the bus to town?” His eyes lingered on her face. “Oh, no. You're about to tell me there isn't a bus either. Aren't you?”
Anna nodded. The motion sent sunlight gliding through her auburn hair. “That’s right. Welcome to Kinloch Hourn, otherwise known as the Loch of Hell.”
“The name fits,” Luke muttered. “What sort of place doesn’t have a phone or a bus service in this day and age?”
“How about the remotest glen in the Highlands? Up here, one man and his dog constitute a crowd. And before you ask, there are no shops either, unless you count Mrs McCloud in the village, but she only opens on alternate days. The butcher’s van calls every Thursday afternoon, and the library service visits once a month. I think that about covers all the local amenities. Oh yes, there’s a mobile bank too, but that only comes once a fortnight. The school closed last year. But you’re in luck…there’s a hotel and it has a phone.”
“So there is a God after all.”
“However, its twelve miles down the road in that direction,” she replied, pointing vaguely to some distant place.
The line of Luke’s mouth tightened a fraction. “How do I get there? Walk?”
“Well, you could, but it might rain. And then again it might not. You can never tell for sure. The glen has its own eco-system because the mountains are high, and the valley floor is narrow or something like that. I don’t fully understand the reasoning behind it—” Anna’s words trailed off. She felt herself blush. What on earth was she rambling on about? The guy didn’t need a science lesson, especially from her, but he was so good-looking that every time he gazed at her with those compelling brown eyes, she lost control of her tongue.
Distractions of his type she could do without, especially after her disastrous affair. Still the way he looked at her made her feel uneasy in a pleasant sort of way.
“I suppose I could offer to take you…”
“You don’t have to. You’ve been kind enough. I’ll just walk.”
“You could just pull up anchor as I suggested, and sail round to Fort William. There’s a boatyard there with facilities for visiting yachts and their crews.”
“Which I could call if I had a phone. Thanks again,” he said turning to leave.
She shifted her feet. She wasn’t normally unhelpful, but there was something about his attitude which put her on the defensive.
He stopped in midstride and turned. The dogs looked at him, then at their mistress, as if waiting for some clue as to what they should do with this stranger who was invading their space.
“I’ll give you a lift,” she said, making a snap decision. “While you’re making your phone call, I can visit a friend. Do you need anything off your boat? If so, can you be back here within twenty minutes?”
Luke’s face split into a wide grin. “Yes ma’am, I can.”
Before she could say anything more, he turned and ran across the grass towards his small inflatable dinghy. As she watched him head back across the loch, she wasn’t sure she should have offered to take him, but something told her Luke was used to getting his own way. She sighed. So much for replying to the solicitor’s letter, she thought, as she walked into the kitchen to switch off her laptop.
She ran a brush through her hair, then plucked the keys to the Land Rover off the hall table. Once outside, she made her way round to the rear of the croft to the vehicle. It took several attempts before the elderly, asthmatic engine coughed into life, and several more for her to get it into reverse gear. By the time Anna drove round to the front of the croft Luke was leaning against the wall waiting for her, a small canvas bag at his feet. She threw open the passenger door, the rusty hinges screeching in protest.
Before Luke had chance to ease his backside onto the worn leather seat, the two collies had pushed past him and jumped into the vehicle. Anna waited while he snapped his seat belt into place, before releasing the handbrake and driving off. Neither she nor her dogs appeared to notice the almost total lack of suspension as the old Land Rover bounced over the pot-holed ground. They rounded a corner on the steep, single track road, with only inches to spare.
Luke cleared his throat. “Is the phone company about to disconnect the service? Is that why we’re trying to break the land-speed record?”
Her head snapped round. “Disconnect? No, why should it? It’s a public phone. Anyway why that look? I’m only doing thirty miles an hour—that’s not speeding.”
“Thirty, huh?” Luke replied, his eyes wide as a dry stone wall almost took the rust and paint job off the passenger door. “It feels more like fifty. Isn’t that a little too fast for this kind of surface? What if we meet another car coming the other way?”
“We won’t, not at this time of day. The only people who venture this far down the glen are walkers. There’s a car park at the head of the loch where they must leave their cars. The track to the croft is private; it doesn’t join the public road for another couple of miles.”
“If you don’t mind me saying, it’s an odd place for someone like you to live.”
Anna’s foot lifted off the gas and hovered over the brake pedal, but she resisted the temptation to slam her foot down.
“Actually, I do mind. As it happens, the croft—Tigh na Cladach—is very important to me.”
“A croft? Is that another word for a cottage?”
“No. A croft isn’t a building, but a smallholding or a piece of land.”
“I see, and Tie na…”
“Tigh na Cladach. It’s Gaelic for the house on the shore.”
“It’s just that it’s a pretty God forsaken place for a young woman to live by herself, that’s all.”
Anna briefly took her eyes off the road and glared at Luke. “I don’t recall saying I live alone.”
“Well, no, you didn’t,” he conceded. “But if I was your husband, I wouldn’t leave you alone for one minute in that…what did you call it…croft? Let’s see, you don’t have a phone, or neighbours. I didn’t notice a satellite dish for TV, so my guess is that you don’t have one of those either.” A smiled ruffled the corner of his mouth. “I’m curious, do you have running water, or do you have to wade out into the loch for a bath?”
Anna laughed. “Now you’re being stupid.”
“Okay, I shouldn’t have asked you where you bathe.”
“Thanks for so deftly dropping the subject.”
“Whoops, point taken. What if you had an accident? Or someone was prowling around? What if I was an axe murderer?”
Anna raised an eyebrow, and for a second longer than necessary, her eyes held his.
“Well then, it doesn’t enter the equation, does it? Now, if you’ve quite finished dissecting my lifestyle, would you mind hopping out and opening the gate? And please close it again after I’ve driven through.”
“I’m sorry if I’m being too personal,” Luke said, as the Land Rover rattled over another cattle grid. “I’m just curious. You look as if you belong in the city, rather than out here in cow-pie land. You’re either eccentric or plain crazy. I just can’t figure out which. What do you do for a job?”
Anna pulled away from the gentle pressure of Luke’s arm on her shoulder as it rested on top of the bench seat, and concentrated on negotiating the narrow twisting road instead.
“My, my, you are inquisitive. I’m sorry to disappoint you Mr Tallantyre, but I have no intention of answering any more of your questions. How I choose to live my life is no concern of yours.”
Luke held up a hand in self-defence. “You’re right, but take a word of advice from a well-travelled and good intentioned stranger, an attractive young woman, on her own in some isolated Scottish glen is asking for trouble, and if your boyfriend, husband or whoever can’t see that, he needs a whole new brain.”
Anna took a deep breath and held on to her temper—just. “Look, Mr Tallan…”
“Luke,” she said, jerking on the handbrake, bringing the Land Rover to a halt in front of the hotel. “You’ll find the phone in the lobby. If you don’t know how to use it, I’m sure Katrina, the receptionist, will show you how. While you’re making your call, I’ll go and see my friend. I’ll meet you back here in fifteen minutes.”
“Okay. I’ll be as quick as I can.” Luke picked up his canvas bag, opened the door and climbed out.
Anna watched as he sprinted in the direction of the hotel entrance. What the hell was the matter with her? This wasn’t the first time she’d stayed at the croft and been disturbed by lost mariners, but she’d not behaved like this. What if he had a smile that would make the most committed spinster run for the preacher? Her brain said she wasn’t interested. Her hormones had other ideas.
A knock on the partly open driver’s window brought her back to reality.
Luke looked at her sheepishly. “I can’t believe I’m going to say what I’m going to say. Here goes; the phone doesn’t take credit cards, and the smallest thing I have is a £50 bill. The hotel people won’t break it, so…I don’t suppose you’ve got any…spare change, do you?”
Anna bit her lip. She laughed as she stepped down from behind the steering wheel. God save her from tourists and this one in particular. It was only the beginning of June. She had another three months before the summer trade died down. She fished in the pockets of her jeans and brought out a crumpled £5 note.
“Here. I’m sure they’ll change this for some coins. There’s ample to make a call to Fort William.”
“Thanks, I appreciate it,” he smiled. Only this time his smile reached his eyes, softening his features, and despite her attempts not to, Anna found herself responding. She shook her head. She sensed that few women resisted Luke’s charming, easy smile, and his deep seductive voice.