Glen Loch, NY
THUNDER CRASHED AND lightning ripped through the sky while rain lashed at the stone arch over Eleanor Campbell MacPherson’s head.
Perfect, she thought.
It was one of her dreams that had awakened her. She’d heard Angus’s voice again. The sound of the wind had drawn her out onto her balcony and when she’d seen the clouds roll in over the lake, blacking out the stars, she’d known it was time to begin her mission. To right a wrong that she’d done so many years before.
Slipping out of the castle, she’d raced the rain to the stone arch and reached it just as the skies opened. The dreams that had been recurring since her husband’s death had centered here in the place that had played such a powerful role in her life and in Angus’s.
Her sons and daughters-in-law, who loved her dearly, would not be happy that she regularly sneaked out of the castle in the dead of night. Even less happy that she was here in the stone arch on a night like this. And she doubted they would approve of her plan.
So she would make sure that they didn’t know.
All her life, she’d been good at keeping secrets. But since the death of her husband a year ago, one of those secrets had begun to weigh on her. And the dreams had begun. Angus was sending them to her. He’d known her so well, and he’d known that the Stuart sapphires she’d carried with her to the New World had troubled her conscience.
Thunder roared and lightning flashed so bright and fierce that for an instant, Eleanor saw everything clearly—the garden, the elegant facade of Castle MacPherson, the cliffs beyond and the roiling waters of the black lake below.
Home, she thought. Whatever mistakes she may have made, coming here with Angus Daniel MacPherson fifty years ago was not one of them. She’d turned her back on her home in the highlands of Scotland, the pride and expectations of her family, and a man who’d claimed to love her very much. And she’d never looked back.
Not that Angus had given her any choice.
The memory made her smile and set her mind drifting back to that night in Scotland so long ago, when he’d asked her to run away with him to the New World. She’d been shocked at the idea, thrilled and frightened at the same time. They’d been standing beneath a stone arch in the gardens of her family’s home. Its location in an isolated part of the garden made it a perfect place for them to meet in secret.
And secrecy was essential. She shouldn’t have even talked to him. Even though their families’ lands shared a common border, the MacPhersons and the Campbells had been blood enemies for years.
And she’d been promised to another man.
But once Angus had kissed her beneath the stone arch he’d completely captured her heart. Her mother and older sisters had warned her about the legend surrounding the stones. They carried a power from ancient times, and the man you kissed beneath that arch would be your true love forever.
And she hadn’t just kissed Angus once. Each time she’d met with him she’d kissed him again and again. And each time she’d promised herself it would be the last time.
The night of Angus’s proposal, her family had thrown a ball to formalize her upcoming wedding to her betrothed. She was wearing her future husband’s gift to her, the legendary sapphire earrings and necklace that had been bequeathed to his family for service to the Scottish court during the reign of Mary Stuart. The queen had worn them at her coronation, so they were priceless. He’d insisted she wear them tonight as proof of his love for her and as a symbol of the union of their two families.
When she’d slipped away from the ball to meet Angus, she’d planned to say goodbye.
She’d been repeating the little speech to herself all day. She was betrothed to another man, she couldn’t go back on her word, and their situation was impossible. There was no way that their families would allow them to marry. In fact, her father would probably inflict bodily harm on Angus.
Eleanor slipped her hand into her pocket and closed her fingers around the leather pouches where she kept the sapphires. The only time she’d worn them was for her wedding portrait that hung in the main parlor of the castle. The jewels always reminded her of the man she’d betrayed and left behind. Everyone had always believed that they were her dowry, and she’d kept silent all of these years.
If only she’d left the necklace and earrings behind with the man who’d given them to her. At least their families would have had the sapphires. But there’d been no time. Angus, impatient, impetuous, irresistible, hadn’t allowed her any. And when she’d initially refused to go with him that night, he hadn’t taken no for an answer. He’d simply carried her away.
Her heart tightened as she thought of how he’d completely swept her up in his belief in their future.
Lightning flashed again, illuminating the visual reality of that belief. Angus had promised to build a castle and gardens for her in a setting that would remind her of all that she was leaving behind in Scotland. He’d kept his word. The lovely lakes and mountains in the Adirondack region had kept her from getting too homesick during those early years. He’d kept his promise to build a replica of the stone arch in her family’s garden. He’d even brought some stones from the original, and when it was complete she’d stood with him here just as she’d stood with him beneath the one in Scotland.
That was when the legend of Castle MacPherson’s stone arch had begun. Over the years she’d lost count of the number of times Angus had told and retold the story of how she’d captivated him, heart and mind, that first time they’d kissed beneath the stone arch in her family’s garden. And the story had spread, being told and retold throughout the community. Her children had believed in it and they’d each married their mates right here.
The little pain around her heart increased. In the year since he’d passed she’d missed him so much. But she always sensed his presence when she stood here in the place where they’d laughed and loved and dreamed together so many times.
And the stones had played a part in the dream she was sure that Angus was sending her. In them, she always saw the same thing. A young woman with reddish curls dropping to her knees at the side of the arch and lifting a leather pouch out of a pile of loose stones. Inside, the young woman always found one of the earrings. Not the pair or the necklace.
Eleanor tightened her fingers around the pouch she held in her pocket. As she did, she heard Angus’s voice in her ear, just as clearly as she heard it in her dreams.
“Her name is Adair. She believes in the power of the stones enough to bury her own dreams and fantasies beneath them. You must hide one of the earrings in the stone arch for her to find. When she finds it, the Stuart Sapphires will begin to find their way home. You can finally rest easy. Trust me, Ellie—just as you did on the night we ran away.”
The rain had stopped, and a few stars had reappeared in the sky. With Angus’s words still in her mind, Eleanor stepped out of the arch and began to work some of the stones loose. And when the earring was safely buried and she returned to the castle, she slept peacefully.
Glen Loch, NY
AN AFFAIR TO remember.
That had been the guarantee that Adair MacPherson had given to Rexie Maitland and her parents when they’d signed the contract to hold their daughter’s wedding and reception at Castle MacPherson.
And she intended to deliver. She had to. There were already two big X marks in the failure column of her life. She didn’t need a third one.
Adair pressed a firm hand to the nerves jittering in her stomach. The first step on her way to her goal, the wedding rehearsal scheduled for today, had gotten off to a rocky start. The high-strung bride had gone into a panic attack when the groom-to-be hadn’t arrived on time. But Adair’s aunt and business partner, Viola MacPherson, had warded off a full meltdown with a cup of herb tea. And the tardy Lawrence Banes, a suave, sort of George Clooney look-alike with a good fifteen years on the bride, had finally arrived, full of apologies.
Pulling off the Maitland/Banes wedding on Saturday was crucial to the launch of her new business plan, one that would establish the reputation of Castle MacPherson as a premier wedding destination in the heart of New York’s Adirondacks. Adair swept her gaze around the garden.
The setting was perfect. The gray stone castle she and her sisters had grown up in stood on a rocky promontory at the far eastern end of Glen Loch Lake. Three stories high and rectangular in shape, it sat tucked between two mountains, boasted spectacular views, and its gardens, thanks to her Aunt Vi, had graced the pages of several gardening magazines.
The Maitland/Banes wedding would take place beneath the stone arch her several-times-great-grandfather Angus One had built for the stolen bride he’d brought here from Scotland. Now the tardy Mr. Banes was standing beneath it flanked by the minister and his best man. The maid of honor and the flower girl had lined up just behind the arbor that marked the entrance to the gardens. The mother of the bride, Bunny Maitland, had taken her seat in the first row of chairs, and just in front of the stone arch, Aunt Vi sat, her bow poised over her cello, ready to play on signal.