Promised to the Highlander – Blanche Dabney

The icy cold highland breeze blew straight through the arrow slits. The chill hit Kerry Sutherland hard as she climbed the last few steps to the tower. It felt like the wind was trying to push her back down to the courtyard. So many things had tried to stop her from reaching her goal but she wasn’t turning back no matter what. Even if an actual medieval highlander appeared in front of her with his sword drawn, she’d just shove him out the way and keep going. She’d come too far to turn back. Pausing to catch her breath she glanced out through the arrow slit. Black clouds were massing over the distant mountains. The peaks had vanished from sight in the time it had taken her to climb from the courtyard. A storm was coming. She resumed her climb. In a moment she’d be there, standing in the spot she’d dreamed of so often since her childhood, the place where it all began. She held the book tightly in her hand. The Saga of Callum MacCleod. Her closest companion.

Situated at the top of the keep, the east tower soared above the rest of the castle ruins. Somehow it had survived centuries of battle and decay. A single tower that was still complete. At the very top, a room that contained the only intact window in the entire place. It even had its shutters as if it had only been days since they were installed not eight hundred years. The rest of the keep was a crumbling ruin but somehow the east tower and that window survived intact. Not just intact but pristine, frozen in time while the ravages of Scottish winters did for the rest of the building. The whole tower seemed out of place surrounded by such decay. It looked as if at any moment a burly Scottish highlander might sweep down from the tower with a stricken maiden in his arms, burst into the courtyard and ride away to freedom and a happy ever after. Kerry wasn’t expecting a happy ever after.

She just wanted to see the place where it had begun all those years ago. Her favorite book had spoken of the tower often and finally she was going to see it. All alone and able to imagine herself in the distant past, the laird Callum himself striding into the room and telling her she would be his bride whether she liked it or not. There was a lull in the whistling of the wind and for the briefest of moments she heard footsteps right behind her. Someone was coming up fast. She looked back but there was no one there. A trick of the stairs, she told herself. An echo of her own feet rebounding off the stone. That was all it was. Her cellphone began to ring as she continued her climb.

From nowhere an enormous sense of dread crept up on her, making it impossible to breathe. She felt absolutely certain that when she eventually looked down at the screen, his number would be there. He had tracked her down. She knew that was impossible. It couldn’t be him. She’d already erased him from her contact list. If only she could erase him from her memory as easily. She told herself it couldn’t be him. He was back at home picking his next victim, not chasing after her, not when the police had told him he’d be arrested if he didn’t leave her alone for good this time. Even with that certainty, she didn’t want to look down at the screen.

She told herself it was because she didn’t want to lose her balance on the stairs. The call could wait until she reached the room at the top. She continued to climb as the ringtone echoed incongruously around the stones. Gripping the rope that served as a banister, she tried to ignore the sound, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. It couldn’t be him. Amazing how he still held her captive, even all this time later. The fear ran deep. She thought back to the relationship ending. It had all been done in such a hurry. Running to her mom’s house, shoes in her hand, glancing back the entire time over her shoulder, expecting to find him coming after her.

The blood ran down her forehead, her left eye already swelling shut, making it hard to see anything at all. She ran faster, tears falling down her face. Not this time, she told herself. This time she wasn’t going back to him. Yet, even as the pain in her eye began to spread, she wondered if she was making a mistake. He did love her after all. Was it really his fault that he had a temper? Like he said, she should have known better than to provoke him. She shook her head. That was him talking, not her. She hadn’t provoked him enough to deserve nearly losing an eye.

He couldn’t love her, not properly. Not with her ear still ringing and her mouth still bleeding. He’d just ground down her self esteem long enough to make her think no one else would want her, that only he could take care of her. Not anymore, not with an arm that might be broken and an eye that was going to be useless for hours, if not days. Her run slowed to a walk as she tried to think of what her mom would say to her. In the end she needn’t have worried. Her mother had taken her in without a word of complaint, cleaned her injuries, put her to bed in her old room as if she’d never been gone. That all felt like it had happened a long time ago. The swelling had gone down on her eye though her vision still tended to blur first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The bruises had faded.

She was becoming herself again. It was crazy to think she’d ever considered going back to him, that her mom had to hold onto her while she begged to be allowed to leave, tried to fight to get out of the house and back into his arms when he came round and sobbed through the letterbox yet again. Sitting in her mother’s house, listening to him pleading with her to come out and speak to him, telling her how he couldn’t live without her, how it would never happen again if they could only talk for a minute. Sort it all out. Mom let go of her in the end, told her she had to make a choice. No one could make it for her. She could choose to go be with him, be trapped by her past. Or she could turn and look to her future. She stood with her hand on the front door handle. As he continued to plead with her she froze before letting go of it and running back into her mother’s arms, sobbing her heart out as she went He went away in the end but where he’d gone no one knew.

He just vanished. The phone calls to her mom’s house stopped. After a month she thought about going back to collect her stuff but she didn’t want to risk bumping into him. She knew she wasn’t strong enough. It was better to have a fresh start even if that meant having nothing of her own for a while. Her mom paid for the trip to Scotland for her a month later. “Go get away for a while,” she said, handing over the car key. “I’ll call you if anything happens. Go have a look at MacCleod castle like you always wanted? Get away from all this and pretend you’re Kerry in The Saga.” The next day she was there, in Scotland.

When she arrived at MacLeod castle, she headed straight for the tower. Reaching the top of the stairs she emerged into the garret like her heroine had done all those years ago. The Saga of Callum MacLeod was her favorite book of all time and she was finally there, where it had happened. She had often dreamed she was the heroine, sharing the name Kerry with Callum’s love, being the Kerry in the book, strong, powerful, more than a match for him. The bookcase at her mom’s house contained a lot of Scottish fiction. While she was recuperating she’d reread many of her old favorites. They were all good reads but only one featured a Kerry. A Kerry who’d stolen the laird Callum’s heart. Her father had his own theories about the story. He’d even written a paper about it.

In her head Callum was always a real hero, leaping from one battle to another and saving damsels in distress, damsels that coincidentally looked a lot like her. For her father, he was nothing more than a highland fable. “What do you think happened to Kerry?” she asked him once. “Did she just appear from nowhere like the writer said?” He smiled at her from his armchair. “You have to remember The Saga was written by a monk who barely knew Callum. It was a story handed down orally no doubt and each teller would have embellished the facts. All we really know for sure is that there was a man named Callum MacCleod. Whether he ever met a woman who led to him calling off his wedding?” He shrugged. “Who knows?” He tried to turn back to his book but Kerry wasn’t done. “You must have an opinion, you’ve got one on everything else.

” His frown turned into a smile. “All right, you want to know what I think? I think maybe there was a Kerry but I doubt it happened like in the story. I think that was only written to make the ending more powerful.” “I don’t know. I think he deserves a happy ever after. He went through enough with all those clan wars. I think he deserved to be with the one he loved at the end of it all.” “Even if that wasn’t his fiancée?” “He didn’t love her. That was just a marriage his parents arranged for him. He loved Kerry.

” “According to the writer. But unless someone comes up with a time machine any time soon, I guess we’ll never know what really happened.” Standing in the tower all those years later, Kerry wondered once again. What had really happened? She wanted to continue thinking about Callum but her phone was too distracting. Accepting the inevitable, she pulled it out and looked down at the screen, wincing as she did so. She sighed with relief. It wasn’t him. “Hi, Mom,” she said, pressing the cell to her ear. “Kerry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” “Mom? What’s happened?” She felt the old familiar anxiety coming back.

He’d done something to her mom, she just knew it. Her hand gripped the cell tighter. “What did he do? Did he hurt you?” “Me? I’m fine, don’t worry about me but I couldn’t help it, Kerry. He saw.” “Saw what, mom?” “He turned up yesterday at the house and I was expecting a parcel so I’d already opened the door before I knew it was him.” “Mom? What did he see?” “The brochure for the castle. He’d picked it up out of the recycling. He asked if you were there. Started ranting about the book, how you were obsessed with that piece of…well he wouldn’t stop swearing.” “Did you tell him I’m here?” “No, love.

I told him I was calling the police as that was theft going through my bins like that and he left.” She paused for a moment to compose herself. “Please be careful up there. I don’t know where he went.” Kerry’s blood ran cold. What if he was coming for her? Footsteps echoed up from the staircase behind her. She shook her head. It couldn’t be him. He couldn’t have made it so far so quickly. He would have had to drive all night and even then how would he know she was at the castle? Mom’s car, she suddenly thought.

She’d borrowed mom’s car. What if he’d seen it in the parking lot outside? She was suddenly certain it was him coming up the stairs. “I’ve got to go,” she whispered, hanging up the cellphone and trying to think clearly. The footsteps grew louder. It can’t be him, she told herself. It was just a tourist wandering around the castle like her. He wouldn’t come this far just to get to her. It was over. She’d told him, her mother had told him, even the police had told him. It was over and he had to stay away from her.

She looked for somewhere to hide. There was nowhere. Just four walls and a window. She leaned out. A sheer drop down to the grassy bank of the dried up moat at least forty feet below. No ledge to cling onto. Nothing. She turned back to face the staircase. There was no time to do anything else. A hand appeared in the doorway and then a man emerged from the darkness, stepping into the room.

The man she wanted to see least in the world. “Hello, Kerry. Enjoying your vacation?” “What are you doing here, Edward?” she asked, backing slowly away from him until she reached the window. He looked happy but his smile didn’t touch his eyes. They were filled with darkness. He was going to hurt her again. She wished her hands would stop trembling. “Did you think I’d forgotten about The Saga of Callum MacLeod? You banged on about it often enough. Your favorite book, remember? Godawful and clearly written by a talentless moron. Kerry the fair maiden and her highlander hero.

I could never compete with him, could I? I was only real and here while he was dead and buried eight hundred years ago. Why wouldn’t you want him over me?” “Are you jealous of a character in a book?” She kicked herself. Don’t give him anything. He’ll only use it as ammunition. “I’m not jealous of anyone.” He stood blocking the doorway. “You know you stabbed me in my heart when you left? How could you do that to me? Why would you hurt me like that?” “Don’t,” she said, shaking her head, trying to control her racing heart. “Don’t what? Don’t tell my partner how much she hurt me when she ran out of my life? It’s time to go home, Kerry. With me.” “I’m not your partner anymore, Edward.

” “Yes -,” he yelled before gaining control of his temper, “- you are. You don’t get to just walk away like this. After everything I’ve done for you, how could you? You made me look a fool at the golf club. I had to cancel the engagement party. Lost the deposit as well. I suppose you’re happy about that too?” “You hurt me,” she said quietly, unable to look him in the eye. She cursed herself. Kerry in The Saga would be brave enough to look her enemies in the eye. He took a step toward her. “You hurt me more.

You know I hate having to punish you. If you’d just do as you were told, it wouldn’t have to be like that.” “Leave me alone, Edward.” “It’s time to come home, Kerry. Put all this behind us.” “I’m not going anywhere with you.” “Yes you are.” The words were a distraction. He pounced as he spoke, his arms outstretched, reaching straight for her neck. He always went for her neck first.

She shrieked, leaning back away from him, forgetting she was in front of the window. Her legs tipped back over the sill and then with a sickening lurch in her stomach she fell out of the tower. For a brief moment time stood still and she could see his arms stretching toward her, almost touching but not quite. Then the moment passed and she began to plummet down to earth, the tower walls rushing past, the ground coming up far too fast. There was the sound of wind whistling past, then a thud, and then it all went black. When she opened her eyes she had no idea what was happening. All she knew was she was laid on her back with a splitting headache and two women in wimples looking down at her. “Praise the Lord,” one said in a broad Scottish accent, touching her on the forehead as she did so. “She lives.” She tried to sit up but she couldn’t manage it.

Behind the women she could see a castle tower. There was something familiar about it but she couldn’t place it. A jolt to her memory. A castle. She’d been on a trip to a castle recently. It couldn’t be the same one of course. The one she’d visited was ruined and broken apart from one tower. This place looked brand new. It had flags flying, a slate tile roof covering the keep, guards on the battlements, whitewash on the walls. “Call for the apothecary,” the older of the two women said to her colleague who ran off at once.

“Are you still with us, lass?” She tried to answer but the heavy veil was descending again. A second later all was darkness.


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