I inherited a castle in Scotland! Well, sort of. It’s that or a life-changing pile of cash. I’m a California girl and getting the castle is probably a long shot — the other claimant is a local. Portia Tennielle is also compelling and sophisticated. She’s invaded my dreams. They are very good dreams. Mostly.
This whole situation could be the beginning of something wonderful, if not for the bad-tempered daughter of the caretaker. Ms. Perfect Melanie Drake seems to think she knows everything, is annoyed by my very existence, and is not in the least bit attractive.
It’s only for 30 days. I’ll be fine. This will be fun.
Join Brittany Brannigan on a breathless journey through a storm-drenched castle, dungeon dreams, and all sorts of things that go bump in the night.
An earlier version of this novella appeared in Stake through the Heart: New Exploits of Twilight Lesbians with a tongue-in-cheek nod to Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.
Edited by Julia Watts. Published by Romance and Chocolate Ink.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I am a Jane Austen fan, and it’s her Northanger Abbey that inspired this novella. Breathless ingenue sees horror and intrigue around every dark corner… In my version, she’s not always wrong.
Or is she? Cue the scary organ music!
I am an heiress… A dark woman
follows me … Steak and Stilton
pie … Arrival in Inverness…
The important thing is that you believe what I’m telling you because, frankly, it’s unbelievable from beginning to end. It’s not like it’s a complicated story or anything, and I still don’t know how it ends, but it’s completely and totally true.
I’ve taken several writing classes, and they all say the important thing is to write what you know and leave out the boring bits. That’s two important things, I realize that now. But here’s what I know and I’m skipping over the boring parts: I inherited a castle in Scotland!
You don’t want to know about my grandfather’s great aunt’s adopted nephew-by-marriage who died without issue and the long series of accidents that lead to me being the heir. Trust me, it’s a forty-episode season of Downton Abbey that’s 100% the boring bits that should be left out.
Anyway, here I am on a train in the Scottish countryside, trying to imagine the twists of history that caused all those deaths that let this incredible thing happen to me. It’s a bit freaky thinking about karma and fate and payback so I’m not thinking about it.
What I’m thinking about right now is that I can’t understand a thing anyone says and I’m hungry. Plus, there’s this tall, dark woman who keeps staring at me. I think I saw her at the train station in Edinburgh. The airlink shuttle to the train had taken longer than they said it would, and I had to run for the train. She seemed to be following me because she was running too. She’s attractive but hardly my type — too old. Too serious, I’ll bet. I trod on her foot when the train started to go and she said, “Buggery bollocks” and I said, “Sorry,” so I don’t know why she’s staring at me.
I wonder if she’s the other heir.
Sorry, I hadn’t gotten to that part. I didn’t mean to leave it out as it’s not at all boring.
See, there are two heirs. We have to live in the castle for thirty nights and then one of us will inherit and the other gets a bundle of cash and a ticket home.
The other heir, P. Tennielle of Manchester, England U.K., is some kind of artist. The “P” stands for Portia, how British is that? The photos of her were badly lit but the staring woman could be her. What a way to start off, me tromping on her foot. But she doesn’t know it’s me. Right now, to her, I’m just a clumsy American, not B. Brannigan of the Lodi Brannigans, currently attending university in Berkeley, California, U.S.A.
The “B” stands for Brittany, by the way. Maybe when we meet officially at the solicitor’s office in Inverness, she won’t remember me. That is, if Dark Lady turns out to be Portia Tennielle.
My best friend, Susie Bling (that’s hysterical, isn’t it?) is nearly an attorney and she said the will is completely screwed up and would never fly in the U.S. It was written over 300 years ago — before the U.S. of A. even existed! Some sixth earl of someplace was “attaindered.” I tried to look that up online but after about two minutes I needed a latte, know what I mean?
I’m hoping Stilton is a cheese and that food bought on the train isn’t going to put me in the toilet for the next 24 hours. But lots of people in business suits are digging in so I’m taking my chances. It was pricey, if I have the exchange rate figured out, which maybe I don’t.
No worries, though, shillings and pence aren’t troubling me. Even if I don’t get the castle, I do get twenty thousand pounds. Plus, my expenses for travel and living for the month are all covered. It was going to be a really spiffing trip to England and Scotland. Scotland’s in England, or is it the other way around? I can never remember. It complicated because after Florence Eldridge chopped off Katharine Hepburn’s head in Mary of Scotland and Bette Davis doesn’t marry Errol Flynn in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, this other guy became king of both.
I know, films are not the best place to learn the boring bits of history. I planned to study up and get it right as I whiled away the days in not-quite-my castle.
Anyway, I can do pretty much as I like on this trip, including not worrying about burning through my phone’s data allowance, and still have a bundle for some necessities when I get home again. Like rent and food.
* * *
Steak and Stilton pie is tasty, and that’s a relief. Dark Lady got off the train at the last stop before Inverness and that was a relief too.
I guess when I edit this I’ll take her out.
It’s incredible what I see out the window — cows and country houses, sheep and steeples. It was like looking into the past. If it weren’t for the modern train I was on I’d expect to see Conestoga wagons.
Though I don’t suppose they ever used Conestoga wagons here.
The previous stops taught me that when it’s time to get off the train you’d better be near the doors and ready to jump, luggage and all. They barely come to a full and complete stop.
As I attempted to alight with some kind of dignity, I tripped on the smaller of my two suitcases. A nice older gentleman caught me. Scottish men went up in my estimation after two wearing T-shirts with “Caley Thistle” volunteered to manage my bags all the way to the taxi stand, giving me a chance to get my skirt back into place. I didn’t understand a word they said except the invitation for “a pint” which I had to turn down.
There was the solicitor waiting, for one thing, and they were cute but not my type. The matching shirts with a pretty flower pinged my gaydar. Their scruffy ruggedness would turn heads in San Francisco, but generally, like pretty much since I figured out what they do, I’ve preferred creatures with lady bits. And breasts. And brains. Financially self-sufficient is always a plus. But this story is not about my user ex who still owes me rent money.
Inverness sounded so romantic, but my first impression when we reached the street was that I was freezing. My sweater had seemed oppressively hot when I left home. Now it felt like tissue paper. I hoped there was a Target or Old Navy.
“Where to, miss?”
At least I think that’s what the cab driver said. I read the address for Roderick Macklin Stuart, LLB, off the letter I had carried with me from the moment I had opened it in my tiny studio apartment. This is what the cab driver said, and I am not making this up: “Will you hi-glock-lo-Monday-knee?”
I made a little sound and he said, “Right, then,” and off we went. Bang out of the station he made a right turn into certain death. We survived and then we did the same thing and I decided I should look out the window if I wanted to keep my sanity.
Inverness is like something off a postcard, and I could hardly believe I was being driven through it in a black cab like Supernanny’s. There was a cathedral silhouetted against the afternoon sky and a beautiful river that split the city in two. I had a list of sights I wanted to see tonight and tomorrow morning, but I did need to sort out a place to stay and buy my transit ticket to Durness via Wick.
I tried to hold my phone into position to take pictures, but the cabbie swooped so quickly along the roadway that I knew my cell phone couldn’t cope. As soon as I was paid by the solicitor for the funds I’d already spent to get here, I was going see about buying a real camera, if not here in Inverness, then when my bus got to Wick tomorrow. There was probably a Best Buy, or something like that.
The journey ahead included interesting and romantic names, even the ones I couldn’t pronounce, like Croftnacreich, Balnakeil and Tongue. Well, I can pronounce Tongue. I’ve been told I use it well too, ahem, but I digress. The cities all sounded charming and somewhat mysterious, but my final destination, the Castle Wrath, at the tip of Cape Wrath, on the Kyle of Durness, chilled the blood in my veins. In a good way, mostly.
I’m sure the location is charming — rats, I’ve used charming three times in two paragraphs. I’m sure the location is quaint, but a bit colder than I expected. I had looked up Cape Wrath on the Internet. According to DayTramps.com, it’s the heart of walking tours in the Highlands. That just makes me want to put on a tartan and dance. I wondered if there’d be men in kilts.
Then I wondered if Scottish butches wore kilts. It seemed like they ought to, and just thinking about it passed the rest of the scary cab ride. A kilt with a nice big cod piece, only they’re not called cod pieces on kilts, are they?
But then what I was really thinking about wasn’t called a cod piece on a butch either.
* * *
Grateful for the gift of life, I paid the cabbie and examined my surroundings. The buildings were quaint (darn it, now I’d have to think of another adjective) and undeniably old. Some were red brick, but most were stone or plain white. The steps I made my way up were grooved and worn, and my suitcases thumped loudly as I pulled them up behind me. On the right was another set of obviously modern stairs made of wood. The handrail was bright yellow, tacked on to please some building inspector, no doubt. Halfway up the old steps I slipped on the slick stone and nearly bashed my knee.
I didn’t glance over at whomever was going up the sensible wooden stairs. I was after a sense of style by beginning this grand adventure by climbing steps probably older than the Revolution.
“Are you all right?”
And there she was, the buggery-bollocks woman from the train. The Dark Lady was following me. But I’d seen her get off the train. Was this a twin? What was her game? I had to crane my head almost all the way back to meet her gaze. “I’m fine.”
“You were at the station in Edinburgh, weren’t you?” Her voice was very Royal Family. Quite cool and distant.
“And on the same train.” I wondered if she’d admit it.
“Well, if you arrive in Edinburgh and are going on to Inverness, there’s not many choices. The odd part is you standing here on the same steps as me.”
She thought I was following her? I finished the climb. Standing next to her she was still twelve inches taller. That made her somewhere around six feet, except in meters. “I have an appointment.”
“You’re an American, you’re at this address, at this hour, so you must be Brittany Brannigan.” She held out her hand. “I’m Portia Tennielle.”
Buggery bollocks, it was her.