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Under the Spell of a Highland Healer (Preview)

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Prologue

Robertson Castle, 1690

“Abigail is gone!”

Billie’s terrified shriek pierced through the silence, drawing all the attention of everyone present on her. She stood right at the grand, carved wooden doors of the great hall, where everyone had gathered to wait for the moment when they would have to head to the chapel for Abigail’s wedding. Her skin was pallid, her brow drenched in sweat.

Hugo looked up from his whisky with a sigh as Abigail’s intended groom, Finnian Chattan, walked over to Billie, demanding explanation. Finnian had been perfectly happy until that moment, chatting idly with the priest about his betrothed, but now his expression had turned stormy and Hugo’s hand came to rest on the hilt of the knife that hung at his waist. He didn’t think he would have to intervene, as Finnian wasn’t foolish enough to cause trouble within the halls of Robertson Castle. It was more of a habit, something he had picked up from spending so much time near his best friend, Domnhall.

Speaking about Domnhall, he was now approaching Billie as well, trying to calm Finnian down in that level-headed manner of his which he had developed since becoming the laird of the MacAulay Clan after his father’s death. He had come to learn quickly that not everything could be solved with brute force, though he still seemed to prefer it over diplomacy.

Soon enough, there would come a moment when Hugo himself would have to intervene, he knew. Finnian was working himself into a frenzy, demanding the guards find Abigail, and as Hugo watched, both Billie and Domnhall seemed to struggle to contain their growing rage towards him. Hugo could see it in the jumping vein on Domnhall’s forehead, in the way his blue eyes narrowed and his hand ran through his dark hair, tugging at the wild strands in frustration. Before long, he would forget every bit of patience he had learnt in his time as the laird.

“I’m sure she is only puttin’ on her dress,” Domnhall said, raising his voice to be heard over the commotion. He turned to Billie, grabbing her shoulders and giving her a gentle shake to pull her out of her panic as a crowd began to gather around them, curious to see what all the chaos was about. “Dinnae fash. Where would she be?”

“Nay one has seen her in hours!” Billie insisted. It wasn’t often that Hugo heard Billie panic like this, her voice thin and reedy and desperate. She was always a calm, quiet young woman, but Hugo knew how close the two of them were. If something were to happen to her dear sister, Billie would never manage to recover from the grief and the pain. “Please, we must find her, Domnhall.”

Domnhall nodded, perhaps not because he feared for Abigail, Hugo thought, but rather because his wife had lost her composure completely and finding Abigail would be the only thing that would soothe her. After all, there was no real reason for him to be worried; everyone had seen Abigail just the previous night and she had been perfectly fine.

“Your sister isn’t one to pressure herself,” Hugo said from where he sat, not yet bothering to stand like everyone else. Sooner or later, Abigail would stroll into the great hall and prove to everyone there had never been a reason for this in the first place. “She always takes a long time to dress, no? It’s her wedding today. Surely, she’ll want to look presentable.”

Billie turned those steely grey eyes on him and the look she gave him sent a chill down Hugo’s spine. Though of average build, Billie somehow managed to look a little sickly with her pale skin and almost translucent blonde hair, as though the color had been drained entirely from her, and yet no one could say she couldn’t be intimidating when she wanted to. The fact that she was rarely brought to the point of anger only served to make those rare moments even more alarming for the objects of her ire.

“It may be her weddin’, but she wouldnae be late,” Billie said. “She may take her time sometimes, but she kens what is important. She would be here. The weddin’ is supposed tae be in thirty minutes.”

“Then she will appear in forty,” Hugo said with a small shrug.

This was the way with Abigail. She showed up when she wanted to. Time didn’t seem to matter much to her, or at least she always failed to keep track of it.

Upon hearing his words, Billie’s lips pursed into a thin, displeased line, and she approached Hugo, hands on her hips.

“Even if ye’re nae fond o’ her, I willnae allow ye tae speak ill o’ me sister,” she said. “Somethin’ is wrong an’ ye are jestin’ instead o’ helpin’ us find her.”

A weary sigh escaped Hugo’s lips as he placed his whisky down onto the table and stood, just as Billie’s other sisters, Keira and Evangeline, rushed into the room, summoned by the noise. It was always a strange sight, seeing them all together. Hugo knew, logically, that sisters usually resembled each other, but the four of them shared so many of their characteristics—their fair hair, their light eyes, the delicate features of their faces—that had it not been for their different ages, they could have been quadruplets.

“What is goin’ on here?” Evangeline asked, ready to take over as the oldest of the sisters. “Where is Abigail? The weddin’ will be in a few minutes, we must head tae the chapel.”

“Didn’t you hear?” Hugo asked. “Billie says she has disappeared. It is a big castle, indeed, but I doubt she has managed to disappear. I’m telling you all, she is in one of those rooms, getting ready.”

“Evangeline, dinnae listen tae him.” Billie turned to her sister, grabbing her hand. “Listen tae me. We have every reason tae fash.”

Before she continued speaking, Billie looked around her, gaze shifting over those who were still in the great hall, and then dropped the volume of her voice, speaking so softly that only those who stood nearest to her could hear.

“She didnae wish fer this marriage,” she said. “We all ken that. She wished tae wed fer love an’ she certainly doesnae love Finnian. What if she has done somethin’ foolish?”

Hugo couldn’t resist the urge to roll his eyes then. “Your sister is many things, but she is not that big of a fool,” he said. “And I shall prove it to you.”

“How?” Billie demanded.

“Why, I’ll find her, of course.”

Pushing past the small crowd of people, Hugo stepped out of the great hall, taking a moment to think. Where could Abigail have gone? Most of the guards available were already looking for her and he knew they would receive word the moment they found them, so the fact that no one had returned with her in tow could only mean they had failed so far.

Her chambers, of course, were too obvious of a place; someone would have already checked there only to find them empty. The library, perhaps, or the morning room at the back of the castle, the one no one but her used so often.

Hugo made his way to the library first. He knew Abigail liked to spend her time there, though whether she spent that time reading or doing other things was still a question he couldn’t answer. It was no secret Abigail wanted to marry a man for love—it was no secret she loved many men, either. She was a fanciful girl, Hugo had always thought ever since meeting her, though what Billie claimed wasn’t true. He didn’t dislike Abigail. He only thought that everyone coddled her too much.

When he reached the room, he found it empty, with no sign that Abigail had even been there recently. He went to the morning room instead, but that, too, was empty of people, save for the guards who seemed to have had the same idea as him.

Hugo pulled his long, blonde hair back, tying it at the neck, as he always did when he meant business, and then he began to roam the grounds, not only searching, but also thinking about potential places where Abigail could be. She wasn’t often at the stables. She liked the gardens, but they were full of guards who would have spotted her. Sometimes, she went to the kitchens to speak with the servants, but they, too, would have found her had she gone there.

From the courtyard, he looked up at the windows that lined that part of the castle. He could see plenty of movement through them, but no one who even remotely resembled Abigail.

Somewhere at the back of the castle, perhaps.

Hugo didn’t know Robertson Castle very well, but he had a good idea of where everything was, and so he went through the list of rooms in his head. There were mostly bedrooms at that side of the building, many of them given to guests.

Her maither’s chambers. Didn’t she say they were there?

Perhaps Abigail had gone there to find some sort of comfort from the items that belonged to her mother once. As she had never met the woman, there was nothing else Abigail could cling to—no memories, no shared moments she could recall. That room was all she had of her.

If she was as rattled by this marriage as Billie seemed to think, then it wasn’t a stretch to think she would have wanted to feel close to a comforting figure.

There was nothing for him to lose, and so Hugo headed there, climbing up the stairs to the second floor quickly. It took him a short while to find the door he was looking for, opening several others in the process. Eventually, though, he approached what he believed was the right one and came to a sudden halt at the sounds that were coming from the other side of it.

Pressing his ear against the door, Hugo listened carefully for any signs of struggle as his hand curled around the hilt of his sword. There was the sound of china breaking, followed by the sound of creaking wood, and he wasted not another moment before he kicked the door open, heart racing in his chest.

Could it be that Billie was right and Abigail was in danger? But who could have managed to infiltrate Robertson Castle, especially on a day like this?

The moment the door swung open; Hugo took in the carnage before his eyes. The room had been destroyed as though a storm had passed through it, broken trinkets and torn books covering a good part of the floor. The drapes were torn, along with one of the tapestries, and there was even crimson smeared on the wall—blood, fresh and still wet by the looks of it.

In the middle of it all stood Abigail, interrupted in the process of throwing a length of rope out of the window. Hugo’s gaze immediately searched for the enemy, swiftly scanning the corners and every nook and cranny of the room where they could have hidden, but found it empty, save for Abigail.

“Mon Dieu!”

Hugo couldn’t help naturally falling back into French, his mother tongue, when he was angry, surprised or tired. His father had been Scottish and his mother French, and Hugo had moved to France with his parents as a child to escape war. That was where he had later met Domnhall and they had become best friends.

“What are you doing?” Hugo asked. The sight was so strange that his mind had trouble coming up with a plausible explanation for what his eyes were seeing. “What is all this?”

Abigail froze where she stood by the window, her grey eyes wide in shock. She glanced over Hugo’s shoulder as though she expected to see others there, but no one had followed him, not yet, at least. In the end, they were bound to look in that room, too.

“I’m leavin’,” Abigail said calmly, as though it made perfect sense for her to leave on the day of her wedding. “I cannae stay here, Hugo. I cannae go through with this weddin’.”

For a few moments, Hugo remained silent, too stunned to speak. So, Billie had been right after all. Abigail had been planning something foolish and she had been close to executing her plan, too. He had no doubt she would have jumped out of that window had he not forced his way into the room.

When he regained his wits, he groaned, burying his face in his hands. “You cannot be serious. What was your plan? Were you going to climb out of the window? And then? What do you think your family would do? Your sisters?”

At least Abigail had the decency to look embarrassed at that, averting her gaze. “I would come back, eventually. I wouldnae let them think I was dead.”

“Billie already thinks something has happened to you,” Hugo said. “She is just down these stairs, screaming at everyone to find you.”

Abigail’s expression turned into a mask of guilt, the corners of her mouth sloping downwards at the thought of her beloved sister. Out of the four of them, she and Billie were the closest and Hugo knew that if there was any way he could talk Abigail out of this, it would be by appealing to her love for Billie.

This wasn’t a rash decision Abigail had made in the span of a moment, he knew. For all he considered her spoiled and selfish, she was also calm and collected like Billie, thinking things through before she acted. If she had come to the point of trying to escape like this, then it could only mean she had been planning it for a long time.

“I will come back,” she insisted. “I promise. But I must leave now an’ ye can either try tae stop me, in which case I would rather fall right out o’ this window or ye can try tellin’ them the truth after I am gone, in which case I will disappear.”

“Is there a third option?” Hugo asked with a sigh, since neither of those things seemed particularly enticing to him.

“Let me go,” she said. “Tell them… tell them ye came too late. Tell them I was already gone.”

“I can’t let you leave like this,” Hugo insisted. Though he doubted Abigail would jump out of the window like she had threatened, he didn’t want to try his luck. She seemed perfectly serious when she said she wouldn’t go through with the wedding. “It’s… it’s dangerous, Abigail, you understand that, no? Who knows what will happen to you out there?”

“Naething will happen tae me,” she said. “Naething worse than what will happen tae me here.”

That is rather dramatic. Surely, death is worse than marriage.

“There are things ye dinnae ken,” Abigail continued when she sensed his hesitation. “An’ I’d explain them, but I must go now.”

That caught Hugo’s attention. He didn’t know what it was Abigail was talking about, but he certainly wanted to. “What does that mean? What things?”

“Things!” she said. “I have nae time fer this. I’m leavin’.”

“Wait.”

Hugo couldn’t believe he was about to do this. It was a stupid plan, so much so that he could hardly believe he had even thought of it, but he couldn’t let Abigail leave the castle alone and stage her own abduction. Perhaps if he went with her, he could persuade her to come back or at least keep her safe until she decided it was time to return on her own.

“I’ll come with you,” he said.  

 

Chapter One

Three hours earlier…

It was a dreary morning, grey clouds hanging low over the Robertson lands. Abigail had hardly managed to sleep at all the previous night, tossing and turning as thoughts of her upcoming marriage plagued her.

Ever since the king himself had decreed that she was to wed Finnian Chattan, brother of Laird Niall Chattan, Abigail had spent several sleepless nights. It had been two months since then, a quick engagement even by such standards, and somewhere in that time Abigail had begun to while away the hours by coming up with all sorts of ways to escape the marriage.

She could pretend to fall ill and stage her own death. She could forge some documents that claimed she was already married. She could fake a kidnapping, throwing the blame of her escape onto someone else’s shoulders.

None of those plans would work, of course. She didn’t delude herself into thinking she could escape this marriage, though she wished she could.

With two of her sisters married for an alliance and the other wedded to the man who would inherit the Robertson Clan, Abigail had thought that perhaps she could get what she wanted and marry for love. Their clan was strong because of her sisters’ marriages; there was no need for her to find a man with uncountable wealth or sprawling lands. He would have to be a noble-born, of course, or at least have grown up in similar circumstances, but her options would be wider and the choice her own.

The king’s order had come out of nowhere, though, and had instantly shattered her dreams of ever finding love. At first, she had tried to be open to the idea, thinking that perhaps Finnian could be a good match for her, like her sisters’ husbands had been a good match for them, regardless of the circumstances of their marriages. The fact that it was arranged by the king didn’t necessarily mean that Abigail wouldn’t grow to love her husband or that he wouldn’t grow to love her.

That hope only lasted until the moment they had met. At thirty years of age, he was almost an entire decade older than Abigail, but he was a handsome man, tall and broad, with dark hair and eyes that gave him an air of mystery. He wasn’t the kind of man Abigail was usually attracted to, but she had to admit he was objectively handsome.

His looks weren’t the issue; far from it, in fact. It was his personality. Finnian could be dismissive at times, but he was also quick to anger, not only towards the servants but also towards Abigail herself. The more time she spent around him, the more certain she became that she didn’t want this marriage at all. She could never love a man like that.

She doubted he could ever love her.

When the morning of the wedding came, Abigail left her chambers to visit her mother’s. Every now and then, when life was particularly difficult for her, she visited those rooms just to feel surrounded by the love of the woman that had given birth to her, even if she had never known her. She had nothing but those items in the room, left there undisturbed since her death under her father’s orders, and a few portraits around the castle to give her a sense of what she had looked like when she was still alive.

It was the only place where she felt truly safe, as though no one could harm her as long as she was behind those doors.

No one else visited the chambers anymore. Abigail had caught her father there a few times in the past, looking at the things his wife had left behind, his eyes shining with unshed tears. A few times, her sisters had come with her to visit the rooms. But all of them had memories of Miriam Robertson to revisit whenever they missed her. They didn’t need that place like she did.

On her way to the chambers, Abigail walked by the guest wing. In one of those rooms, her betrothed would soon be getting ready for their wedding, just like Abigail should be doing, but the mere thought of wearing her dress made her stomach churn with disgust. As she passed by his chambers, she noticed that his door was slightly ajar, allowing her to peek inside just enough to see his brother sitting by the window.

Abigail didn’t like Niall either, though they didn’t know each other well at all. There was something about him that unsettled her, a chill to his gaze and in the way he spoke.

“It willnae be easy tae kill them afterwards,” she heard Niall say. Though she couldn’t see Finnian, concealed as he was by the door, she could hear his response.

“I ken that. He is the laird o’ the clan, Niall. Dae ye truly think I would find it easy?”

Are they talkin’ about me faither?

Niall had said something about killing someone. Could it be that they were planning to kill her father?

But what could that possibly get them that they didn’t already have? Abigail was more or less a willing bride and everyone had agreed to this marriage. Her father had put up no resistance, even though he had assured Abigail he would find a way out of this marriage for her if that was what she wished. Knowing they couldn’t go against the king’s desires, Abigail hadn’t let her father disobey the man and risk his wrath.

It had struck them all as odd that the king himself would be involved in all this, since Abigail was the last of her sisters and hardly that important, but nobody had questioned it. She couldn’t help but wonder if it had something to do with what Niall and Finnian were discussing now—was the king more involved than they thought? Was there a scheme shared among the three men?

“It is important that ye kill Cormac soon after,” Niall said and it was then that Abigail’s blood ran cold. There was no more denying that Niall and Finnian had a plan to hurt her family and they were going to use her to get to them. Cormac, her sister Keira’s husband, was meant to be the next Laird Robertson through his marriage to Keira. He was supposed to inherit the clan after Abigail’s father either stepped down from the position or passed.

They want the clan fer themselves. They wish tae kill me faither an’ Cormac an’ then take it by marriage right.

Cold sweat drenched Abigail’s brow and her heartbeat quickened to a sickening rhythm, fear wrapping like a vice around her and stealing the breath from her lungs. All this time, they had been fooling her entire family. All this time, they were planning to kill people Abigail loved just for their personal gain.

“I will,” Finnian assured his brother. “We have talked about this plan enough times fer me tae ken what tae dae even after ye return home. I dinnae need ye tae hold me hand through it. I can handle it, Niall.”

“I hope that ye can,” Niall was quick tae say. “Otherwise all this effort will go tae waste an’ our clan will be ruined.”

“Our clan is already ruined,” Finnian said. “We have nae gold, hardly any land… we willnae last the winter like this. There isnae even enough food. Dinnae fash, I ken I must dae this soon. By the end o’ winter, they will both be dead.”

“Winter?” Niall asked with a humorless, hollow laugh. “We dinnae have that much time.”

“Any sooner than that an’ perhaps people will suspect,” Finnian pointed out. “With Abigail as me wife, I will be able tae have Laird Robertson or Cormac send food and textiles tae us.”

“I dinnae wish fer charity,” Niall said.

“Then ye shouldnae have brought us tae this point,” Finnian said, his tone full of malice.

For a while, neither of them spoke but instead fell into an uncomfortable silence. Even so, Abigail had already heard everything she needed to, to know she couldn’t accept this marriage anymore.

If she married Finnian, then her father and Cormac and perhaps everyone else she loved would be in grave danger. Abigail could go to her father and tell him everything she had heard them discuss, but even so, they would have no real proof. It would be the word of a woman who was openly against her upcoming marriage versus the word of a man the king favored. Her family would believe her, of course, but no one else would.

How can I stop him? What can I dae?

She could flee the castle and hide somewhere Finnian would never find her, but that would only cause trouble for her father. He would have to be the one to explain to the king that his daughter had gone on her wedding day, despite the fact that everything seemed to have been going well up until then. He would have to be the one to deal with the rage the king would hold for the Robertson Clan after his orders had been ignored.

Simply fleeing wasn’t an option. She needed a better way, something that would keep her father safe not only from Finnian, but also from the King. There had to be something she could do, something to stop Finnian and his brother.

Suddenly, there were steps coming from the other side of the door and Abigail fled quietly down the hallway, reaching the sanctuary of her mother’s room. She locked the door behind her, even though she knew it would prove to be a flimsy barrier if her betrothed truly wish to come in, and then she fell to her knees next to the bed.

What can I dae? Anythin’… anythin’ but this.

It had been a few days since Abigail had last thought about one of her escape plans, those very same plans that she had thought could never possibly work. They had been nothing but a way for her to entertain herself in the dark of the night, but now they seemed like the only weapon in her arsenal.

Faking her death was not only difficult, but it would also hurt her family too much. Abigail didn’t want her father and her sisters to think she was gone. She couldn’t forge papers either. That would take precious time she didn’t have; let alone skill she didn’t possess.

At first, the thought of faking a kidnapping seemed ridiculous to her, but the more she turned the idea in her head, the more convinced she was it would be the only way forward. In the long hours she had spent with these plans, going over them meticulously for lack of anything better to do, she had orchestrated the entire thing and now knew precisely what she had to do to make it seem as though someone had kidnapped her. This would not save her and her family for long but it’d buy her time.

Forgive me, Maither, fer yer things.

Taking a deep, calming breath, Abigail grabbed a few porcelain figurines from the table, smashing them onto the floor. She didn’t care too much about them if she didn’t think of their connection to her mother, and so it was quite easy for her to destroy them. However, she knew she couldn’t bring herself to smash much of anything else.

She had managed to make enough damage, even cut her own hand to spray some blood and make it believable, when the door was kicked open. Abigail had expected to see Finnian and Niall there, coming to kill her for uncovering their secret, but it was only Hugo.

“Mon Dieu!” he exclaimed upon entering.

Unlike Finnian, he was the kind of man that Abigail found attractive, with his luscious blonde hair and dark eyes, the broad shoulders and the handsome features of his face. Despite that, though, he left a sour taste at the back of Abigail’s mouth whenever they spoke. They didn’t know each other well, but Abigail had the impression that he didn’t like her much.

“What are you doing?” Hugo demanded as he took in the chaos of the room.

“I will explain,” Abigail had assured him and she had headed for the window, hoping that Hugo would cover for her at least for a few hours, even if he refused to keep her secret.

But then he had surprised her by asking her to wait and telling her he would go with her.

“But your plan isn’t believable enough,” he said, as Abigail was still reeling from his promise. Why would he want to go with her? He could barely stand to be around her most days. “Have you ever heard of a silent abduction? We must make it seem as though we were truly taken out of here after a fight.”

“How will we dae that?” Abigail asked, trying to push every other concern from her mind. Before anything else, she had to deal with her escape.

Moving closer to her, Hugo pinched her arm before she could do anything to stop him. Abigail yelped, half in pain and half in surprise, but then there were a few seconds when she could do nothing but stare at him in disbelief.

Then, she raised her hand and slapped him hard across the cheek, smirking when Hugo’s head snapped to the side, a pained groan escaping him.

“Why did you slap me?” he all but shouted before he seemed to remember their situation. “I’m not the enemy here!”

“Perhaps,” Abigail said with a small shrug, terribly pleased with herself. “But I always wished tae dae this. Besides, if someone attacked me, I wouldnae simply take it without fightin’ back.”

Briefly, Hugo froze in surprise, staring at Abigail with wide eyes. Then, his lips stretched into a small smile and for a few moments, Abigail couldn’t help but stare at them, her own mouth going dry.

She only snapped her gaze back to the rest of him when he moved, grabbing a china plate from the mantle that had been used as decoration. After a moment of hesitation, he threw it at the wall, the sound of the plate breaking jarring in the quiet of the room.

“We have a plan, then,” he said, and Abigail couldn’t help but return that smile, already triumphant.

 

Not at all Likely Extremely Likely

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    • Thank you my dear Oralia! I’m thrilled you enjoyed the preview and liked the plot. I hope you love the rest of the book just as much!

    • Thank you my dear Lori! I’m thrilled you enjoyed the preview and liked the plot. I hope you love the rest of the book just as much!

  • I can’t wait to see what plan Abigail and Hugo come up with. You’ve caught my attention, Fiona!

    • Thank you my dear! I’m thrilled you enjoyed the preview and liked the plot. I hope you love the rest of the book just as much!

    • Thank you my dear Valerie! I’m thrilled you enjoyed the preview. I hope you love the rest of the book just as much!

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