Somewhere in Northern Scotland
August 22, 1900
How long does it take for a man to stop obsessing about you?
Mia Harnett thought she barely even started forgetting herself. It had been a month since she last saw him. Yet, looking over the horizon, there was no comfort in the sun or those sapphire-like waters. For what she saw wasn’t its beauty but the reflection of a man’s eyes—an unnerving glance and the coldest touch that made her shudder in alarm.
She pulled the thick wool jacket tighter like a life jacket against the cold weather. A chill rippled down her back, almost hearing an echo in the wind calling her.
Mia, you are mine. His voice is still crisp in her ears.
There are many words to describe the man she feared in her waking dream. She once wished he was merely a nightmare, and when she woke up, he was gone.
But she was wrong. Dead wrong.
“God—Erik,” she choked.
Even as she spoke his name in the wind, Mia had difficulty saying it. She took a moment until she gained control over her senses.
“May it be the last time I say your name. And I wish I’ll never see you again,” she added like a prayer.
The smell of rust and oil in the air gave Mia confidence there was truth to her prayers. Presently, a sense of freedom in the wind brought her peace of mind. She’s thousands of miles away from the city’s bustling streets, the rustling of crowds, and the roaring sound of horns during rush hour in Downtown Chicago. It used to give her comfort surrounded by people. For years, she stood in an audience. Even in the crashing waves of the sea, she could hear an echo of applause like a detached memory.
But now, she was wide awake. And that life was gone.
She turned and saw a similar tint of blue eyes staring at her. Mia stiffened until she remembered where she was and who had called. Then, a wave of relief washed over her.
Half an hour passed since Mia and her aunt, Leanna Stanton, left the city port in Aberdeen, Scotland. Yet they’ve seen no end on the sways of the vessel.
With another throaty sound of the engine, the rusty floating vessel carried them closer to their destination. Mia lingered by the front railing, not a hint of seasickness kicking in. Unlike her youthful and spirited aunt, whose face was devoid and paled. Leanna showed signs of throwing up, yet she never once asked for a bucket in the hour they were at sea.
“Mia! Don’t lean too far, or you might fall!” Her aunt’s shrill voice was drowned by the waves splashing on the side of the boat.
“I’m fine, aunt Leanna.”
“Why don’t you come up here? It is much safer!” She gestured inside the captain’s cabin.
“Mia! Come up here, will you!”
She sighed in defeat and turned away from the view. Mia walked up the steps and joined her in the cabin. Her aunt’s pale face nearly matched her platinum blonde hair.
“Do you need any medicine, auntie?” Mia asked out of worry.
“I’m fine, dear. It will pass. Besides, we are a few minutes away from disembarking.”
“Okay. But if you need anything, tell me.”
“Thank you, Mia.”
Mia sat in silence, waiting for another ten minutes before she got a better view of the island. Leanna mindlessly followed close to where Mia stood. Then, her sickness subsided, and her cheeks slowly showed 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 are. You can be yourself.”
Mia ignored the meaning behind her aunt’s words.
“How many times did you visit here, auntie?” Mia asked.
“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. I can work here peacefully. And I consider it as part of my home.”
It piqued her interest. Mia knew her aunt had various houses around the globe. She married a rich man. And one of their properties was a small piece of land somewhere in Northern Scotland.
“I won’t say the house 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’s curiosity shifted.
“Do you also have other houses in places you’ve regularly visited?”
“Yes. At least five on cities and towns I liked and frequently visited.”
“Does Uncle Kevin know about them?”
“He did. He doesn’t mind. And he liked it. That way, he can stay there when he does some business in the city.” Her lips looped into a sad smile.
It had been years since her aunt’s husband died, leaving her alone but wealthy and well cared for. After his passing, she noticed her favorite aunt never stayed in one place for too long. She was always traveling for leisure or work. Plus, she 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 smiled and held out her hand to Leanna, which she took without hesitation. Their bodies swayed in tune with the boat as they approached the dock.
The port looked old yet well-managed, and it was busy with deliveries. Their ship was the only ship that allowed passengers daily trips to the island.
Leanna’s energy perked up after the captain gave a signal to disembark. Her cheeks returned to their rosy flush, and her eyes sparkled like the tamed sea at midday.
They rolled and hauled their luggage, which totaled five between them. The clothes alone may 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’d imagine 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. Her aunt looked up and smiled. Her face brightened, and her lips widened in a sporty grin.
“Adelia!” Leanna called out as the older 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 thought. She’d heard a few heavy 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.
“It was, 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 with yer aunt for her visit this year.”
Mia grabbed her outreached 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,” she 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 on the back of the truck, Adelia took the wheel. Leanna sat upfront with her on the passenger side. Mia had no choice but to sit at the back with some of the luggage to keep them in check.
The journey got bumpy as the truck climbed up the island’s terrain, taking a trail of rough gravel road. But, per Adelia’s words, the view was breathtaking. Mia no longer minded the rocky ride as her eyes were glued outside the window. An endless field of evergreen grass ran beside them, overlooking the seas. Further in the distance, she made up the shape of another island—or more like the mainland. The distance of real civilization compared to the isolated land she was in made her miss the city. But she wasn’t here by force. Instead, she was given a choice to be here, surrounded by the beautiful endless grass field.
“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, other than the view and farmlands.”
Mia flinched at the familiar name but otherwise didn’t point it out. Instead, she asked, “A castle on an island? Why is it here?”
Rather than Leanna, Adelia took over the conversation again. “The Kingsley Castle was built in the eighteen century by an English aristocrat for his mistress. Throughout history, the family used the castle as a refuge through wars, and 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 retains their aristocratic title. However, the money allowed them to keep the castle in good condition. Now, they’ve made it a tourist attraction and a vacation home of some sort.”
Leanna nodded along at Adelia’s narrative. “Believe it or not, I did meet one family member who owns the castle. Mia you might know him too.” She giddily stated.
“Really? Who is it?” Mia preyed her eyes away from the medieval architecture.
Adelia seemed intrigued, which struck Mia as odd, given she had been well acquainted with Leanna for many years. Mia concluded the meeting with the mystery person was recent. Too recent that it made her think about the name’s connection with someone she knew.
“What does this person look like?” Adelia inquired a moment later, snapping Mia out of her stupor.
Leanna looked smug, remembering her encounter with the young man. “He was young enough to be my son, close to Mia’s age, yet older by at least five or six years. I felt charmed and entranced by his appearance. If I close my eyes, I can vividly see him. Dark brown hair, strong jawline, high cheekbone, thick eyebrow, 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 tried to play it off jokily, hiding the nerves bubbling in her stomach. “Drop dead gorgeous, I see.”
Adelia chuckled, “and what is his name?”
“Erik Alexander Kingsley.”
She stiffened. Suddenly, the world around her was devoid of light. She wanted to pass out right then, never wake up, and let everything be just a dream. But, instead, everything that passed between her and Erik, the endless nights without daylight, the voiceless screams, and his icy touch came crushing back like a tidal wave.
He can’t have already tinted people in her life. It was a whirlwind couple of months. Mia made sure no one knew, not even her mother. But she was wrong. He had latched in her life within those months like a leech sucking on the first warm victim it found.
Was it a honeytrap from the start? He did get something from her. The control over her life. Because now, all she could do was go into hiding.
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