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Mia Harnett is a woman fleeing a dark past and a painful secret. But when wealthy and powerful Erik Kingsley starts making inquiries in the tiny Scottish town where she has sought refuge, Mia knows there is nowhere to run. Having lost everything, she learns that there is always more to be taken…

Age Rating: 18+ (Content Warning: Sexual assault/abuse, Rape, Self-Harm)

 

Ravenous by Mel Ryle is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

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1

Summary

Mia Harnett is a woman fleeing a dark past and a painful secret. But when wealthy and powerful Erik Kingsley starts making inquiries in the tiny Scottish town where she has sought refuge, Mia knows there is nowhere to run. Having lost everything, she learns that there is always more to be taken…

Age Rating: 18+ (Content Warning: Sexual assault/abuse, Rape, Self-Harm)

Original Author: Mel Ryle

MIA

Somewhere in Northern Scotland

Present time, August 1990

The smell of rust and oil was heavy in the air. Half an hour had passed since they’d left the city port, yet they’d seen no end to the swaying of the vessel.

Feeling cramped in the captain’s cabin, Mia decided to cool off and walked out on the deck. The breeze brushed her pinkish cheeks, carrying the smell of the sea, which hardly bothered her by now.

There was a sense of freedom in the wind. With her eyes closed, she could easily imagine it was true.

She was free and away from the bustling street of the city, which was filled with people as they went about their daily routine.

The rustling of crowds and the roaring sound of horns during rush hour felt suffocating. It used to give her comfort to be surrounded by people.

For years, her work involved her presence in front of an audience. For a moment, she could still hear an echo of applause. Now, it felt like a dream.

Then it was gone.

A loud roar from the engine startled her awake. In reality, she was nowhere near freedom, though her aunt hadn’t viewed the island the same way as she did.

There was another throaty sound of the engine as the rusty floating vessel carried them closer to their destination.

She lingered by the front railing with no hint of seasickness kicking in, unlike her youthful and spirited aunt, whose face was drawn and pale in comparison to her own.

There were times she’d shown signs of throwing up. Yet in the hours they were at sea, she never once asked for a bucket.

“Mia! Mia! Where are you?” Her aunt’s shrill voice was drowned by the sound of the waves splashing on the side of the boat. “Mia!”

The third time, Mia heard her aunt. She looked up toward the captain’s cabin and found her peering over the rusted steel door.

“Don’t lean too far, or you might fall!”

“I’m fine, Aunt Leanna.”

“Why don’t you come up here? It is much safer!”

“I’m fine.”

“Mia! Come up here, will you?”

Mia sighed in defeat and turned away from the view. She walked up the steps and joined her in the captain’s cabin.

Her aunt’s pale face nearly matched her platinum blonde hair. It hadn’t occurred to Mia that she hated traveling by sea. Since she visited here yearly, she might have overcome her fear.

Her sickly face was proof she had not.

“Do you need any medicine, Auntie?” Mia asked, worried.

“I’m fine, dear. It will pass. Besides, we are a few minutes away from disembarking.”

“Okay. But if you need anything, just tell me.”

“Thank you, Mia.”

Mia sat in silence, waiting for another ten minutes to get a better view of the island. It was then she got up in anticipation.

Leanna mindlessly followed Mia to where she stood by the main exit. Her sickness had subsided, and her cheeks slowly showed more color.

“You’ll love it here. It’s peaceful and away from city life.” Leanna said. “The air is fresh, and the people are welcoming. You do not have to worry about who you were. Here, you can be yourself.”

“How many times have you visited here, auntie?”

“I always come back every other year. But for the past five years, I always come back once a year to stay for three months.”

“Why?”

“Because I can work here peacefully. And I consider it my home.”

That piqued her interest. Mia knew her aunt had various houses around the globe, not because of her job, but because she’d married a rich man.

The particular place they were headed was one of the islands north of Scotland.

There were many such islands, to her knowledge, and her aunt Leanna had named the place before their departure from America. However, she still forgot.

It would be rude if she asked for it again. So, Mia humored her aunt until she could unearth it from memory.

“I won’t say my place is like the mansion you lived in as a child. You could say it is more of a cabin.” Leanna added. “But it is cozy and has everything we need.”

Mia turned. Her interest shifted.

“Do you also have other houses in places that you’ve regularly visited?”

“Yes. At least five in cities and towns I like and frequently visit.”

“Did Uncle Kevin know about them?”

“He did. He didn’t mind. He liked it because he could stay there when he did business in the city.” Her lips curved into a sad smile.

Mia was quiet for a moment, feeling bad for bringing him up suddenly. “Do you remember him whenever you visit this place, Auntie?”

It had been years since her aunt’s husband died, leaving her alone but wealthy and well taken care of. However, after his passing, she noticed her favorite aunt never stayed in one place for too long.

She was always traveling for leisure or work. She’d never called one particular property home until now.

“I do. This was one of our favorite homes,” she quietly admitted. There was a distant look in her eyes.

Mia gave her aunt a comforting smile and placed a hand on her back, giving it a brief, comforting caress. “Thank you for inviting me here, Auntie. I truly appreciate it.”

Leanna smirked. The sadness in her eyes evaporated. “I think this place will do you some good, Mia.”

“I hope so,” she replied dryly and turned her attention back to the view of the island. She chuckled and moved further out of the captain’s deck.

As she’d expected, it did the trick. The mood between them shifted. Mia was smiling from ear to ear as she held out her hand to Leanna, which she took without hesitation.

They stayed there in silence, their bodies swaying in rhythm with the boat as they approached the dock.

The port wasn’t grand like the one they boarded from the mainland. It had what you expected from a small island whose only mode of transport was boats rather than planes.

The dock was busy with deliveries and wooden crates being unloaded from the ship. It was also the only passenger boat that had daily trips to the island.

After the captain gave them the signal to disembark, Leanna’s energy perked up. Her cheeks regained their rosy flush, and her blue eyes sparkled like the calm sea at midday.

They rolled and hauled their luggage, which totaled five bags between the two of them. The clothes alone would last them for at least two weeks before Mia had to think about doing laundry.

She contemplated the chores to be done at her aunt’s cabin. She imagined the place to be dusty and covered in cobwebs, unused for most of the year.

As they reached the end of the harbor, an unfamiliar woman waved enthusiastically in their direction. Her silver hair stood out from the dull array of dirt, wood, and soot.

Behind her, an old, rusted blue truck was parked. Since they were the sole human passengers of the only boat in the harbor, the woman had to be waving at them unless she was one of the crew’s relatives.

Mia looked around the harbor, but no one returned the woman’s greeting. It was then her aunt looked up and smiled. Her face brightened and her lips widened in a cheery grin.

“Adelia!” Leanna called out as the old woman approached them, beaming as well.

“Leanna! Ye’ve made it!” Adelia called back. “How did yer trip go? Since ye made it here, ye did fine, I suppose.”

The woman’s Scottish accent wasn’t as thick as Mia would have expected.

She’d heard a few heavily accented locals arriving at the airport and on their way to the harbor, but it seemed her aunt’s friend wasn’t one of them.

“We did, thankfully.” Leanna dryly replied, but her smile never left her face. “Oh, I did inform you I’m not alone on my trip this time.”

Adelia turned to Mia. “Aye, I can see that.” She held out her hand to her. “Welcome, my dear. I’m glad ye’ve come and joined yer aunt for her visit this year.”

Mia grabbed her outstretched hand and shook it before letting go. “I’m happy to be here. This is quite a lovely place. Very picturesque and all.”

“Ye haven’t seen the rest of the view yet. Wait until we drive up to yer aunt’s cabin. It’s a view that’ll take yer breath away,” Adelia remarked with a smile.

“Now, come. Let’s put these in the car. It is a long drive up there.”

“It always is,” Leanna agreed with a chuckle.

Once they tucked and secured the bags in the back of the truck, Adelia took the wheel. Leanna sat in front with her on the passenger side.

Mia had no choice but to sit at the back with the luggage they didn’t trust to be jostled and exposed to the damp air, as they sensed some light rain coming soon.

As the truck climbed up the island's terrain along a rough gravel road, the journey got a bit bumpy. As Adelia had promised, the view was breathtaking.

Mia no longer minded the rocky ride as her eyes stared out the window. An endless field of green grass ran along beside them, overlooking the seas.

Further in the distance, she made out the shape of another island—or the mainland. The distant view of real civilization compared to the barren land she was in made her miss the city.

But she wasn’t here by force. She had chosen to be here, to be surrounded by the beautiful endless fields of grass.

The trip to the cabin took an hour. But the drive wasn’t bad, with Leanna and Adelia giving her details about the small town in the area and the people in it.

When they were near the end of their drive, something caught Mia’s eye. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing and pointed out to her companions.

“Is that what I think it is?” Mia exclaimed in disbelief.

“Och, it is,” Adelia replied with a smile.

“That’s Kingsley Castle.” Leanna pronounced proudly. “It’s a known tourist attraction on the island, along with the view and farmlands.”

“A castle on an island? Why is it here?”

Before Leanna could answer, Adelia took over the conversation again.

“Kingsley Castle was built in the fourteenth century by an English aristocrat for his mistress.

“Throughout the years, the family used the castle as a refuge through wars, and as a home for a time before they started making a lot of money.

“I’m not sure what sort of business made them wealthy. But it kept them from losing this place. It is still owned and run by the same family who built it.

“Mind ye, presently, the family no longer retain their aristocratic title. However, the money allowed them to keep the castle in good condition.

“Now, they’ve made it a tourist attraction and also a vacation home of some sort.”

Leanna nodded along with Adelia’s narrative. “Believe it or not, I’ve met one member of the family who owns the castle, and I think you’ve heard of him too, Mia,” she giddily said.

“Really? Who is it?” Mia pried her eyes away from the architecture.

Adelia seemed intrigued as well, which struck Mia as odd, given that Leanna and she had been well acquainted for many years.

Mia concluded the meeting with the mystery person was recent—so recent that it made her aunt think about the name’s connection with someone she knew. Someone with that surname.

“What does this person look like?” Adelia inquired a moment later, snapping Mia out of her reverie.

Leanna looked smug, remembering her encounter with the young man. “He was young enough to be my son—close to your age Mia—yet older by at least five or six years.

“I felt charmed and entranced by his appearance. If I close my eyes, I can see it vividly: dark brown hair, strong jawline, high cheekbones, thick eyebrows, and eyes the color of deep blue sapphires.

“Any woman of any age would find him undeniably attractive. Plus, he was very amiable and poised.” Leanna breathed dreamily.

Mia noted her aunt’s description of the Kingsley man and smirked. “Drop dead gorgeous, I see.”

Leanna turned around, gave her niece a cheeky grin, and winked. “He truly was.”

Mia rolled her eyes and smirked. “Goodness, auntie. Keep it to yourself, will you?”

Adelia chuckled and brought the topic back to the castle owner. “And what is his name?”

“Erik Alexander Kingsley.”

 

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2

MIA

Erik Alexander Kingsley.

Thinking about his name made her gasp. He was a man not easily forgotten, regardless of time or distance. Hearing his name spoken brought those memories to life again.

Mia shuddered and then composed herself. Nobody knew her history with him, whose name she wouldn’t utter or think. It can’t be him, she thought. Or can it be?

Mia feigned disinterest. “Do you know the man, Auntie?”

“I do,” she replied conversationally. “Mr. Kingsley’s family owns a handful of properties in the US, Caribbean, and Dubai. They also have hotels around Europe and the US.

“His family also owns a bank. That’s what made them rich. He is English, born and raised in England.”

Adelia snorted. “Glad to know I have an answer to the mystery of their family’s wealth.”

“Indeed. I didn’t know this myself until I met Erik,” Leanna admitted.

“Where did you say you met him?” Mia pressed with interest.

“Oh, it was at a business event. After my husband passed away, I took over as his representative.

“I’m only a board member nominally since the shares are now under my name. They very occasionally invite me to represent him,” she informed bitterly, then waved her hand, moving her story along.

“Anyway, the young man was there, and one of my business associates introduced us.”

“And how long ago was that?”

“Maybe a year or so,” she answered. “Why do you ask, sweetie? Have you met him as well?”

Mia was quiet for a moment, debating whether to tell her aunt or not. The memory of their first meeting seemed fresh in her mind like it was yesterday.

She understood why her aunt nearly swooned while thinking about him. She’d had the same reaction back then.

His handsome features and those deep blue eyes hypnotized you into overlooking the darkness within.

Irresistible and alluring, within moments of their eyes meeting, she was his prey. His ravenous gaze caged her until he looked away.

Should I tell her? she thought again, nearly giving up one of her secrets this past year.

Luckily for Mia, Adelia announced they were close to the cabin, pulling her out the chokehold of her memories and a man she wished never to meet again.

The road leading toward the cabin was mostly made of gravel and dirt. But the mushy sound of the wheels told her it had turned to mud from the recent rainfall.

When they pulled up, Mia felt a rush of euphoria.

She’d had the idea that its roof would be made of straw and held up by thin, decrepit wooden walls. But the house standing in front of her looked more like a decent farmhouse than a small cabin.

Rather than straw, the roof was tiled with red clay. The walls were made of wood and painted creamy white. The front porch was also painted white to match the cabin.

A stone chimney was perched on the left side, where smoke was evident.

“My grandson was tidying up the place for ye before I met ye out on the docks,” Adelia said as she parked the car close to the porch.

“Richard is here? I thought he would have gone back last year.” Leanna peered at Adelia with surprise.

“No, he’s here. He decided to stay and manage the Tavern for me. But he’s…” She trailed off and coughed to change the subject.

“Aye, we should head inside and get ye two warmed up. Ye must have been traveling air, land, and sea for the past twelve hours.”

Leanna took notice of Adelia’s abrupt dismissal of the previous topic and decided to go along.

“We did. Though it’s not my first time, it’s always exhausting, especially at my age. And I’m sure Mia’s tired as well.” She glanced at Mia with a weary smile.

Mia beamed, opting for silence rather than making an offhand remark.

They all got out of the truck, and Mia followed behind her aunt.

Her eyes scanned the cabin curiously. She kept her thoughts occupied by thoroughly contemplating how she and her aunt would survive for three months.

The last time she left the city and lived in a remote area such as this was at her grandparent’s home. Even then, their place wasn’t devoid of close neighbors.

She could hardly see the next house from where she stood outside the truck.

It was then the front door of the cabin burst open. She stared at the new person. A tall, lean man walked out down the front porch.

He wore a wool sweater with a white polo shirt underneath and jeans. Given the weather, he wasn’t out of place in his cozy outfit. The breeze was chilly enough for snow to fall rather than rain.

As he approached, Mia caught sight of his facial features. His full dark brown beard covered most of his face, but it didn’t betray his age. He was young, between his late twenties to early thirties.

“Richard!” Adelia waved over at the man. “Come and help us with the bags and greet Mrs. Leanna Stanton and her niece, Mia Harnett.”

Richard walked up and stopped within arm’s length, holding out his hand to them. “I’m glad to see yer trip went smoothly, ma’am.” He paused and turned to Mia. “Miss Harnett.”

Mia studied him and his outstretched hand for a moment. She cleared her throat and then shook it briefly. “Nice to meet you, Mister, um, what’s your name again?”

“Richard McKenzie, ma’am.”

Mia let go with pursed lips. “Mr. McKenzie.”

There was an awkward pause as they studied each other’s appearance closely. Somehow time stood still as they stared.

It was then Mia noticed more of his features. The soft crinkle at the edges of his eyes and their hue. There was a bit of light left, and she caught a glimpse of a shade of green and yellow in them.

He has lovely eyes, she thought, but they can’t compare with… As the thought crossed her mind, she felt herself going rigid.

Adelia cleared her throat, bringing the two newly acquainted youths out of their ogling.

“The luggage is in the car, mo ghràidh,” Adelia informed Richard.

Mia noted the unfamiliar word­s—language, really—she used. But then, she got distracted when Adelia gestured toward the cabin. “And ye two, please come with me. Let Richie handle the heavy lifting.”

Leanna grinned at her niece and gave Richard her business smile. Yet underneath her facade, she noted her niece’s worried expression. “Thank you, Richard. It’s lovely to see you again.”

Richard coughed, peering briefly at Mia, before turning back to Leanna. “Ye too, Mrs. Stanton. I’ll fetch yer things. Please head to the house and warm up. I already got the fire going.”

“Thank you again, Richard,” Leanna said and gazed back at her niece. “Let’s go, Mia. Your nose is red as cherry now,” she added teasingly and then marched ahead.

Adelia was already waiting by the porch.

Mia quietly walked away from Richard with a quick backward glance, following closely behind her aunt’s shadow. She watched the young man’s silhouette heading around the trunk, pulling out the luggage.

She turned her attention toward the cabin, hearing her aunt’s footsteps on the wooden stairs. Its quirky characteristics brought the ghost of a smile to Mia’s lips.

She first noticed the lemon yellow curtain peeking through the wooden French window. Walking up the porch, she saw the coffee table with two wooden chairs facing each other, dominating the right corner.

In front, the door made her look twice. It had an odd color of red—the same shade as blood.

As she entered, the floorboards creaked with every step.

The cabin felt small. When they entered, the door opened directly onto the living room. Yet, it wasn’t too cramped. It reminded her of the old apartment she’d had in college.

Her first impression was not what she expected. The place had a sense of normalcy, something she knew her aunt lacked, living lavishly in the city.

Looking at the place more, she noticed the velvet couches facing the chimney had knitted pillow covers. Her eyes wandered toward the fireplace, which hissed and crackled as the flames grew brighter.

Across the hall, the dining table was furnished with oak and mahogany. On the far side was the kitchen, which was lined with a granite countertop and had a stove and a sink made of stainless steel.

Lamps were stationed strategically around the room, suffusing the cabin in a warm glow.

This wasn’t the home of a widowed multi-millionaire, yet here they were.

Mia had judged her aunt by whom she’d married. She had nearly forgotten she was her mother’s sister, someone who grew up with a minimum-wage professor as a father and a dressmaker as a mother.

This was a familiar homely set-up, reminiscent of her childhood.

Mia understood why she visited this place more often than her other houses. It truly was a home, not merely an imitation of what she thought a home should be.

For that reason, her aunt made this her home for three months, going back every year. With enough financial support to do it, Mia might have done the same.

With every passing minute, she grew more accustomed to the cabin’s charms—and what it actually meant to be away from her past life.

“Where are our rooms, auntie?” Mia asked. She continued assessing the area while moving further in until she stood in the middle between the living room and the dining table.

Leanna gestured toward two doors in the right corner. “You can take the one by the kitchen, Mia. The bathroom is the door in the middle,” she replied.

Nodding, she turned and walked away, eager to see her private quarters.

Her bedroom was what she expected from a cabin: a single bed on the left corner with a tall wooden dresser beside the door and a vanity table across from the bed with a mirror and a chair tucked underneath.

She went to the dresser and started pulling the two drawers, hoping to see something mysterious. To her disappointment, it was empty.

She continued her search at the vanity table, pulling the drawer in and out, finding nothing again. Her inspection was abruptly halted by a knock on the door.

“Mia, your things are in the living room. Do you need help moving it in?”

She sighed in relief, hearing her aunt’s voice across the door. Somehow, she expected someone else.

Richard McKenzie.

Her interest in the newly introduced young Scotsman caught her off guard. But she’d be lying to herself if she said he wasn’t more attractive than most men his age. The thought surprised her even more.

How long had it been since she found anyone attractive besides? She shook her head, pushing off the memory.

“I’ll be right out, Auntie. I can get it myself,” she called out after closing the bottom cabinet.

Mia glanced around the cozy and compact room one last time, smiling at the closed window across from the door. At least she had access to fresh air if the room got stuffy.

When she joined her aunt, Adelia, and her grandson, Richard, they were huddled by the main door. The luggage was placed near the couch, half scattered on the floor.

With a creaky floorboard, making it difficult to sneak up on anyone, everyone turned in her direction once she arrived. Mia smiled shyly like she’d been caught doing something mischievous.

“I’ll get my things and start unpacking. I might go to bed early and skip dinner,” she informed them, moving toward her things.

“Oh, nonsense. Don’t you dare skip a meal, Mia. Adelia’s going to prepare us something before she and Richard head back to the farm.”

Leanna turned to her confidant. “What are we having for dinner, Adelia?”

The old woman smiled and met Mia’s gaze. “I’m making shepherd’s pie with one of my family’s recipes. It’s one of yer aunt’s favorite dishes.”

“Oh! You’re making that tonight.” Leanna took a deep breath. “I can smell you haven’t started yet. Would you be able to do it now? We can just have sandwiches. Mia loves a classic BLT sandwich.”

Adelia scoffed. “I can do it, Leanna. Don’t ye worry about it. I’ll be done once ye’ve both cleaned up and unpacked.”

She glanced briefly at her wristwatch. “And I have some time on my hand. It’s no worries.”

“If it’s all right with you, then it’s fine with me.” Leanna grinned and walked up to Mia. “And you, my dear, are having dinner with us?”

She arched her eyebrow in challenge, though her question was not open to refusal.

Mia pursed her lips in defeat. “Fine. I’ll be glad to join you.” She started pulling her bags from the pile, grunting as she did. “I’ll start unpacking now.”

It was then Adelia nudged her grandson, pulling him out of his stupor. “Richie, go on. Help the lass.”

He jumped like he’d been drenched in cold water, half-ran toward Mia and took the bags out of her hand.

“Here, let me,” he said before she could protest. He then headed toward her room, not waiting for her offer.

Mia grabbed the last of her things, which didn’t weigh as much as what Richard was carrying, and followed him a minute later.

Leanna and Adelia watched the two with apprehension. They finally let out a sigh as the two disappeared from the living room.

When they were alone, Adelia finally asked her a question—something she couldn’t say with Mia present.

“Will her being here change anything?”

Leanna’s smile ceased. “I hope so. If not, I’m afraid there is nothing we can do for her but pray she’ll recover herself.”

Adelia sighed and stared at where Mia and Richard were. “I pray she will, my dear.”

“And Richard? Is he okay?” Leanna asked in turn.

“I’ve prayed for him daily. But I’m not sure he’ll recover as I have.”

“He’s a strong young man, Adelia. Since my last visit, I assure you I see some progress in him.”

“Are ye sure? Because he’s looked the same to me since he came back.”

Leanna smiled. “I am. And truly, all we can do for them is pray.”

“I shall add yer dear Mia in my prayers from now on.”

“Thank you, Adelia.”

 

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