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Under the Spell of a Highland Healer – Bonus Prologue Scene

 

Castle MacAuley, like every other castle in the middle of winter, seemed more like a fortress to Abigail than a home. The snow that had fallen on the land gave a cold, sterile look to the stone and the tall walls, making the structure look even more imposing than usual.

Abigail’s carriage came to a halt just inside the castle doors and she jumped out, eager to see her sister. The moment her feet touched the ground, she was pulled into a hug as Billie was already waiting for her. The two of them giggled delightedly as they were reunited.

“I’ve missed ye so much,” Billie said, squeezing her to the point that Abigail could hardly breathe. “I cannae believe ye’re finally here.”

“I’ve missed ye too,” Abigail said, her grip turning just as crushing. The time she had spent away from Billie had been excruciating. When her older sisters, Evangeline and Keira, had left their home after marrying their husbands, it had been a difficult adjustment period for Abigail, but she had always had Billie. Now, though, that Billie was gone as well, she was all alone in that castle, with no one but her father, the guards, and the servants.

It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy her father’s company—she did, perhaps more so than most young women did. He was a gentle man, a man who adored his daughters and never forbade them anything, no matter what the people around him thought. Abigail and her sisters had more freedom than most women their age, all thanks to their him. Still, he was often busy with the clan and even when he wasn’t, there was only that much she could confide in him.

She couldn’t tell him about all the boys she liked, all the boys she kissed around the castle. That was information reserved for her sisters only, and specifically for Billie, who was closest to her in age and never tried to lecture her about the dangers of getting too close to the guards.

Abigail wasn’t foolish enough to do anything but kiss them in dark corners and flirt with them if they stared at her for a little too long. She refused to do anything else, and none of those men was bold enough to ask for more. Billie understood that. Out of her sisters, she was the one who listened to Abigail’s stories about the guards without making any fuss.

“Come inside,” Billie urged her, taking her hand to pull her into the main part of the castle. “It’s so cold out here today. It hasnae stopped snowin’ fer days.”

Abigail thought that getting somewhere warm, with a fire and a cup of tea, was a marvelous idea. She quickly followed Billie inside, allowing her to drag her to the drawing room, only to see that it was already occupied by a man she had met before: Hugo Buchanan.

“Ach, Hugo, Abigail is here,” Billie said as the man looked up but made no effort to stand. “Domnhall told ye she was comin’, did he nae?”

“He did. Good morning,” Hugo said in his accented English. Abigail had been surprised the first time they had been introduced, before she found out he was half-French and had spent most of his life living there.

Watching him, she couldn’t help but frown. Hugo seemed to be refuse to stand and greet her properly. He only stood once he was done with the sip of his tea, placing it aside before rising to his feet and giving Abigail a small bow.

For a moment, she considered not returning it, but she had been raised better than that.

“Good mornin’,” she said, in a tone that was friendly but not overly so in an attempt to show her displeasure.

“I am pleased to see you again,” Hugo said, and though he didn’t sound entirely fake, there was something about his tone that Abigail didn’t quite appreciate. It was as though he had taken one look at her when they’d first met and decided that she wasn’t worth his time.

They had hardly talked past the usual introductions and pleasantries. Abigail had spent as much time as she could with her sisters, while Hugo had been with Domnhall and his friends.

“Pleased tae meet ye again,” Abigail said, mimicking his tone. “It’s been a while.”

“Oui,” said Hugo and that was that. Neither of them had anything else to say to each other.

For a few moments, Abigail simply looked at the man, taking in every detail about him. He was tall and broad, with golden hair and dark eyes, his skin pale but dotted with freckles around his cheeks. He was older than Abigail, she knew—closer to Domnhall’s age than her own, and that made sense to her, since they were apparently good friends.

“Me lady,” a voice suddenly called from the door and Abigail turned to see a maid there. “Laird MacAuley requests yer presence.”

Next to her, Billie frowned. “He should come an’ meet me sister. Does he nae ken she has arrived?”

“He kens, me lady,” said the woman. “He said it is a brief matter an’ shouldnae take more than a few minutes.”

With a sigh, Billie let go of Abigail, speaking over her shoulder as she followed the maid out of the room. “Please, Abigail, sit. I willnae be long. Hugo, keep her company.”

Hugo looked up at Billie and gave her a nod along with a small smile, but when Billie was gone, he said nothing to Abigail. With a sigh, she perched herself on the edge of the couch and looked around, taking in the room for the first time since she had last been there, even if not much had changed. Though from the outside the castle had seemed cold and impersonal, on the inside it had the warmth of a home with its rich tapestries and the fire that burned bright in the fireplace. There was color everywhere, the room painted in rich greens and blues, all of it accented with gold.

For a few minutes, neither of them spoke. It occurred to Abigail that Hugo had no desire to talk to her, but she couldn’t simply sit there in silence until Billie returned. She had been taught how to make small talk, how to discuss any insignificant matter under the sun.

Since she didn’t know much—or anything, really—about Hugo, she figured it was time to ask him about himself.

“So, ye grew up in France?” she asked and Hugo dragged his gaze to her, nodding.

“I did,” he said. “My parents fled Scotland when I was very young. I spent most of my life in France and now… well, here I am.”

“Dae ye enjoy it here?”

Hugo gave a small shrug. “It’s alright. Everywhere can be a home, non?”

“Right,” said Abigail, for lack of anything better to say. From the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of a guard who was passing by, and who lingered for a moment, smiling at her. Abigail smiled back, her hand coming up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear coyly, in the same way she did back home whenever she flirted with one of them.

He was handsome, she thought. A young man with dark hair and bright eyes, seemingly the exact opposite of Hugo.

She had to admit that Hugo was handsome, too; devastatingly so, in fact. Had he not acted so strangely, Abigail would have already fallen in love with him.

In a way, she supposed it was better that he was a bit odd. Any feelings for him would only complicate her position.

When she glanced back at Hugo, he was looking at her with a frown. Abigail couldn’t tell if something had upset him or if he was simply studying her, like she had studied him not too long before. Either way, it was a look that she didn’t particularly like. It felt too scrutinizing, too searching.

When Billie returned, this time with Domnhall in tow, Abigail let out a sigh of relief. The tension seemed to bleed out of the room with their presence, and she busied herself with the two of them, ignoring Hugo as much as she could.

Still, she could feel his gaze on him even when she wasn’t looking at him.

What an odd man he was, she thought; unlike anyone she had ever met before.

***

Hugo had spent the entire day near Abigail.

It seemed impossible to avoid her. She was walking everywhere around the castle and it just so happened that Hugo’s chores were taking him around the same route, forcing him to stumble upon her every single time.

And every single time he looked at her, she was being coy with a guard. The same guard.

It wasn’t the first time Hugo had seen such behavior from a woman. In fact, it didn’t even really bother him, as most of the time, it worked in his favor. He had bedded many women like Abigail, who were looking for nothing more than a good, enjoyable night with him, but none of them had been noble-born. He doubted Abigail was quite like those women, though; no, she most likely flirted with the men, whispered sweet nothings and promises in their ears, and then left them craving more.

They would never get any more, Hugo knew. Not from a girl like Abigail.

When it was time for dinner that night, they all gathered at the great hall, where Billie had prepared a small feast in celebration of her sister’s arrival. It wasn’t too extravagant, but it was more than they usually had prepared for them. Hugo was willing to bet that most of the foods on the table, if not all, were things that Abigail liked to eat.

Billie, after all, adored her sister.

And yet, Abigail was nowhere to be seen. Billie had sent for her several times, but then she had given up, claiming that Abigail would show up once she was ready, though Hugo could hardly understand what that could possibly mean. Was she getting dressed, he wondered? Did it take her that long to get ready?

By the time Abigail’s footsteps approached the great hall, the three of them had been sitting there for over half an hour, simply waiting. When Abigail appeared, she was a little disheveled, as though something had happened to her.

It took Hugo a few moments to realize what that was—she had probably been with the guard.

Abigail was a pretty girl, he had to admit, especially now with her cheeks flushed an alluring pink and her fair hair falling out of the braid she was sporting. The dress she wore, a light blue silk with lace trim, highlighted not only her bright eyes, but her figure as well, drawing Hugo’s eyes to the swell of her breasts. And yet irritation was the only thing Hugo felt towards her for taking so long, all because she was too busy being tucked away in a corner with a guard.

“Forgive me,” Abigail said as she took her seat and cleared her throat. “I lost track o’ time. Shall we?”

As everyone began to serve the food, Hugo stabbed a piece of meat in his plate with his fork while glaring at Abigail. He was certain she didn’t miss any of it, though she gave no indication of seeing or recognizing it for what it was—a half-hearted attempt to vent his anger quietly, without making a fuss. Still, as they ate, Abigail’s gaze kept drifting back to him, her mouth curling in distaste every time their gazes met.

Ah, so the feeling is mutual.

They had certainly started this on the wrong foot, all the way back at Domnhall’s and Billie’s wedding. It was then that Hugo had noticed not only her promiscuousness, but also her tardiness and vanity. She was always late, always pampering herself and staring at her reflection in the looking-glass for any imperfections she could find and fix, and Hugo couldn’t help but roll his eyes at the constant preening.

Whether they could ever get past it or not, Hugo didn’t know, but he was willing to at least pretend for the sake of Domnhall and Billie, who undoubtedly wanted them to get along.

“How long are you staying, Abigail?” Hugo asked, hoping that the answer would only be a few days.

“Och, I dinnae ken yet,” said Abigail, crushing his hopes immediately. “Domnhall an’ Billie were kind enough tae allow me tae stay as long as I wish! An’ I’ve missed Billie terribly, so I’d like tae make the most out o’ me visit.”

“Of course,” said Hugo with a tight smile.

The tension that fell over the table was undeniable. Billie and Domnhall had certainly noticed, as they kept exchanging glances and also looking back and forth between him and Abigail. Still, Hugo forced himself to smile, properly this time, and participated in as much of the small talk as he could.

He only relaxed when dinner was over and he could finally escape the great hall with the excuse that he was tired. As the other three remained there for a dram, Hugo made his way to the library to have some peace and quiet, grabbing a book at random to read.

He was barely thirty pages in when the door opened and none other than Abigail walked in. For a moment, she lingered by the door as if Hugo’s presence had surprised her and she was trying to decide whether she should bother him or not, but in the end, she simply walked inside and sat across from him without bothering to even look at the books.

“Good evening,” Hugo said, cocking a curious eyebrow.

“I thought ye were tired,” said Abigail, prompting a confused frown from him.

“I am,” he said. “Hence why I came here to read.”

“Dae ye always read when ye’re tired?” Abigail asked.

“When I am alone, yes,” said Hugo.

Silence stretched between them, thick and suffocating. Abigail scoffed, pushing herself up to her feet once more, though she didn’t leave just yet.

“I dinnae understand what I have done tae offend ye,” she said. “Ye have been actin’ strangely around me ever since ye first saw me.”

“Strangely?” Hugo asked, amused, as he closed the book he was reading, marking the page with his finger. “Must I enjoy the company of everyone I meet?”

It wasn’t the kind of answer Abigail was expecting and it showed in the way she froze, the directness of his words startling her. “Nay,” she said. “But ye dinnae ken anythin’ about me tae decide if ye enjoy me company.”

“I know enough,” Hugo said with a small shrug. “I know that you were terribly late for dinner today. I know why you were late. I know that you care more about your selfish desires than you do about what is proper.”

That seemed to hit a soft spot and Abigail grit her teeth as she glared at him, hands crossing over her chest.

“An’ I think that ye decided ye didnae like me from the moment ye saw me,” she said. “Fer nae reason. An’ that, Mr. Buchanan, is a very strange thing indeed.”

Before Hugo could say anything else, Abigail left the room just as fast as she had appeared, slamming the door behind her. Hugo could only stare at the door for a few moments, at the space she had just occupied before storming out, something hot and ugly curling in his chest.

It was true, he thought. He really hadn’t liked that woman from the first moment he had seen her.

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