March, 2016. Three weeks after The Reckoning… The new building stood near the edge of Wickham Muir’s property, at the base of Craigphadrig Wood. It measured 4 feet deep and 8 feet wide, with half the backside buried in a hillock to protect it from the elements. If it had been up to Kenneth Graham, it would have been little more than a dugout with a lean-to door, but the majority of the ghosts—or rather, men—had agreed that a confessional deserved more dignity. The penny-pinching Graham, who had been given the charge of the building, scrounged about the ranch for wood that could be reused. Combining his old stuff with the new, the result was so mottled, Wickham’s wife and his two older sisters volunteered to paint it a somber brown. In an homage to Father Donne, they’d given the roof a steep, church-like pitch, but sadly, the chocolate-colored shack with the dark pink windowsills resembled more of an outhouse. With red eyes. It was the face of a repentant drunkard or a harlot, depending on a man’s state of mind when he hiked up to meet the priest. Thankfully, Father Donne was allotted a four-wheeled buggy each time he arrived on the ranch, else the man would be little more than a bag of bones, considering how often he was requested. Having been imprisoned on Culloden Moor for centuries, with their sins, the remainder of Culloden’s 79 were loath to be caught dead a second time with blood on their hands. GİVER GİLLECROİSD WAS grateful for the partition erected in the center of the shack, for it helped him hide his face from Father Donne while he explained his dilemma. But he was even more grateful for the small hole caused by a knot in the wood that helped him check on the priest. At the moment, the man looked a bit peely-wally. “Are ye all right, Father? Should I call someone?” Giver stepped around to pour the man a drink from the flask in his sporran.
Father Donne, a man ten years his junior, was still dazed when he took the glass and upended it, but he came right to attention when he realized he’d been given whisky. He coughed and sputtered, but at least he was blinking again while he filled his glass with water from the pitcher. He gasped. “Be seated, I beg ye.” Giver settled once more on the other side of the partition and waited for the throat clearin’ to subside. “Forgive me, Father, if I’ve misspoken. I was under the impression Wickham’s sisters had explained our past—” “They did. They did. I still suffer a bout of doubt now and then, when I’ve been away from the ranch for a few days, but very little faith is required when I’m on the premises, aye? As for the Muirs, I am always amazed by whom the Lord uses to accomplish his will.” Giver snorted.
“No one ever suggested our miracle was the Lord’s will, Father. I suspect he merely tolerates it. Surely ye’ve heard either Lorraine or Loretta say that if God didn’t want them to interfere, He’d stop them. And they would be the ones to know, aye?” “Just so, just so. But let us return to yer worries. I put it to ye that ye might feel great relief if ye’d share yer weighty secret with yer fellow Highlanders. Ye’ve made yer confession to God and ye’ve paid a much higher penance for it than I could ever impose. If ye still lack peace, I suspect it lies with them.” “They will banish me for certain. I cannot imagine a worse fate.
” “Ye may be surprised.” “Surprised by a left hook, perhaps.” He didn’t worry about one such reaction, but twenty or thirty all at a go would make a mince of him. “Was Wyndham McLeish a good friend? Is that why his departure has ye upset?” “Nay, Father. He was merely one of The 79. But he found his woman, they say, and that was the end of it. I fear…” He shook his head, angry he couldn’t find the right words to explain. “Is it possible ye fear the women of the twenty-first century?” “I do not.” “Do ye fear ye shall never find a woman of yer own?” Giver chuckled. “No, Father.
But I cannot allow myself to be so…” “Selfish?” “Nay.” “Loved?” “’Tis not quite the word.” “What then?” Then it came to him. “Happy.” “Ah. I see.” The priest began humming, a noise that went on and on. And though Giver peeked through the hole again, he could not guess what the man was thinking while he rocked forward and back. But humming was somehow required. Finally, the buzzing ceased.
“Do ye trust me, Mr. Gillecroisd?” “Certainly.” “Then why must ye continue to punish yerself, when I tell ye God has accepted yer penance and ye’re forgiven?” “I dinnae ken, Father,” he confessed, then he wondered aloud, “do ye suppose it is not to God whom I must make amends?” “Then who?” “My mither? For it was she who named me, she who hoped I would be an honorable man. She whom I have failed.” “But Giver, don’t ye suppose it would be her, most of all, who would want ye to be happy?” “I couldnae say. Perhaps she would rather I be worthy.” “So…once ye’re worthy, then will ye allow yerself some happiness.” “Auch, nay, father. By the time I make amends for so many years of thieving, I’ll be long dead. Again.
” “Ah.” The humming started up again, but Giver said nothing, hoping that the habit might produce some helpful advice for him. “Then yer reckoning is an eye for an eye? A year for a year?” “Aye.” “But that is not God’s way, my son. To the harlot, he said, ‘Go and sin no more.’ He did not say, ‘repent one year for each year ye have sinned.’” Giver groaned. “Father, ye don’t understand.” “I think I do. And in all my years as a man of the cloth, I have yet to hear of a man committing the blasphemy ye’re suggesting.
” “Ho! What blasphemy?” “Of refusing to accept God’s forgiveness. Of refusing to accept the gift paid for by His son’s blood.” “Father!” But the humming had resumed. And for a long while, Giver wondered how he could be guilty of such a thing when all he wanted was to make amends. The humming stopped with a gasp. “I have it.” Giver jumped to his feet. “Tell me!” “’Tis pride, Giver Gillecroisd. Ye’re too proud to accept God’s forgiveness. And ye must lose yer pride, man, or I fear for ye, I do.
” L C H A P T E R O N E ate April, 2016 She’d been summoned. Shaking like a leaf and struggling not to vomit, Pippa Reardon climbed out of the black town car in an older part of Edinburgh. The buildings all around were built of gray stones at least four feet thick. The architecture looked French. Definitely pre-18 th century. The driver pointed at the next building to the north, then tipped his hat. “I’ll be here when you’re finished, Ms. Reardon,” he said, the puff of his breath leaving a cloud in the air. Time was ticking. She couldn’t just stand there in her new navy suit and matching heels when he was waiting.
Instead of her new clothes giving her courage, they made her feel conspicuous, outlandish. But it was too late to worry about that. Brave your way through, Pippa. Her driver probably thought she was on familiar territory—a Reardon picked up from the airport and delivered to Reardon Holdings. But the truth was, she hadn’t even known her father had offices in Edinburgh until he’d sent for her. A liveried doorman saw her into the building, the interior of which was made of perfectly sculptured marble and long provincial blue carpets meant to swallow the echoes. He escorted her to the elevator and pushed the buttons for her. On the top floor, another man extricated her from the cage within a cage and pointed her to large double doors. Centered in the middle of each door was a gold plate with a flourished letter R. Yes, the R would be for Reardon, but not for her.
If she’d been a son, it would have been a different story. When she reached for one of the gold handles, the doors slid apart like they didn’t wish to be touched. Heaven forbid she leave a fingerprint. She was greeted with a smile and a nod, then wordlessly ushered through a set of walnut brown doors, handed off to a second secretary, then escorted through two more sets before she stood inside the inner sanctum. Maybe they’d been alerted to watch for a woman with unruly red hair. Maybe not. No one seemed to know or care who she was, only that she was expected. Just like their relationship. Alexander Reardon had dealt with her all her life because it was expected, not because there was any shared blood between them. No love lost.
No time wasted. All business, and fine with her. Only this time, she wasn’t some teenager who needed bailing out of trouble. This time, he’d summoned her. And whatever he had in mind, she didn’t plan to cooperate. What she should have done, clearly, was to refuse the summons. But her curiosity got the best of her. Once that was satisfied, though, she was out of there. “Ms. Philippa Reardon,” announced Secretary #2, then backed out of the room, pulling the doors closed as she went.
Seated at a huge mahogany desk that faced the wall to Pippa’s right, an older man with thinning hair waved vaguely without looking up from the papers in his hand. The morning sunlight came through the long windows and bounced off his glass lenses as his chair swiveled toward her. She’d never seen him wear glasses, and his hair had been full and darker the last time they’d been together—for a brief Christmas dinner in New York, because hey, even Alexander Reardon had to eat. She might have relaxed a little if she could pretend he was someone else. But that face was unmistakable, and the sight of it made her stomach drop again. His complexion had lost a bit of color from the long winter, but it would be as tan as leather after his spring hunting trip. “Sit down, M…Philippa.” The near-mistake—almost calling her Ms. Reardon—pulled him out of his concentration. He tossed his papers onto the desk and stripped off the glasses with one hand.
His smile was more embarrassment than welcome. “Hello, Philippa. Thank you for coming.” He made it sound as if she’d come across town on her lunch hour, not taken a leave of absence from National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. and flown across an ocean for him. She sat, but mostly because her shoes weren’t as comfortable as they should have been for the price she’d paid. “You’re welcome…sir.” She wanted to call him Mr. Reardon, to return his impersonal greeting, but there was no use being rude right away.
He’d ordered her to come. She’d already obeyed. Let him state his business, then she’d refuse to care about it. Walk away and never look back. Stick with the plan. His lips jumped ever so slightly. He’d noticed the pause. “Are you well?” “I am. And you?” His gaze locked with hers. “I have not called you here to discuss my will, if that’s what you’re asking.
” “Healthy then? Good.” She let her attention wander around the room, seeing nothing, watching him from the corner of her eye. His nostrils flared briefly, and then his entire demeanor changed into something she’d never dealt with before. He smiled. “Forgive me. You’ve had a long journey and we haven’t seen each other for—” “Five years. Christmas dinner. New York.” “Yes. I remember.
I should have…” He shook his head. “The truth is, I spend most of my time here in Scotland now. The hunting…” She’d said the last in unison with him. Instead of being perturbed, he smiled again, as if he were pleased she understood him so well. “There. We’re not such strangers after all. Come, let’s get comfortable.” He stood and gestured to a sitting area with mocha leather couches, wingback chairs of red plaid, and an elaborately carved table of black wood that deigned to allow a stack of National Geographic Magazines to sit upon it. “Of course we’re strangers, Father.” The F word sat like a hair on her tongue, but there was no getting it off again without making unflattering faces.
“And I’m comfortable here.” After a pointed glance at the yellow-framed magazines, he lowered himself back into his chair like a snake backing into its skin again. He couldn’t hide his relief. She’d let him off the hook for whatever fatherly display he’d had planned. His sigh was a bit dramatic. “Let’s get right to it, shall we?” “Yes. Let’s.” “I have been put in a position I hadn’t expected. A number of my holdings are deeply intertwined with the tourism of my beloved hunting grounds, so I now find myself on the board of Scotland Forever.” She sensed those last two words left him wanting to scrape his tongue as well.
He’d always called the land his hunting grounds, ignoring the fact they were located in a country in which he didn’t belong. Acknowledging the city hadn’t been a problem. Naming the country made him uneasy, and since he seemed prepared for her to pounce, she obliged. “Tourism? In Scotland?” Pippa had to bite her bottom lip to keep from grinning. Her father was now involved with something literally pedestrian. He forced his chin up. “Yes. It seems owning a number of castles leads to such things.” Yes. Like reckless sex leads to unwelcome responsibilities.
“Scotland Forever,” she repeated, just to keep the words in the air between them. “What has that got to do with me?” He took a deep breath, a long blink, and looked her dead in the eyes. “You may laugh, but everyone on the board must find something new to promote. They want plans in motion for the time when the Outlander filming comes to an end.” “Father!” She couldn’t resist. “You just referred to a television show! No! Even better, a romance novel!” He gave his head a tight shake. “This is not the time for joking, Philippa.” The leather of his chair creaked as he leaned back and steepled his fingers in front of him. “Obviously, I will not be involved, but I am happy to pay you to fill this assignment. I realize you may think it beneath you, as a professional reporter—” “Journalist.
A National Geographic Society Journalist.” She shook her head. “You’ve probably never read anything I’ve written.” “Of course I have.” He pressed a button, but said nothing else. Two seconds later, Secretary #2 flung the doors open, then held onto the handles while she waited for orders. Her boss pointed to the stack of magazines on the table and the woman scooped them up and brought them forward, shoved them into Pippa’s hands, then disappeared again. It had all been planned, obviously. It was a conversation he’d anticipated. Pippa had no choice but to glance through the issues—the only issues her reporting had been published in.
It matched a personal stack on the shelves in her own apartment. “Someone’s done their homework.” She turned the top one over and skimmed the name and address on the mailing label. Alexander Reardon, an Edinburgh address. “Aw. You brought these from home.” Her father sighed again. “There is no pleasing you, Pippa.” “Don’t call me Pippa now, Father.”