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September 18, 2018

The Storyteller

VRW’s HOLT Medallion – Best Novella Finalist – 2019

A Highland Romance Novella

Ghosts of Culloden Moor # 45

Struan Cameron has spent the last 270 years trapped between life and death on the battlefield of Culloden Moor. His role as the Storyteller has kept many of the other ghosts from going mad. But now, the powerful Muir witch has offered him the chance to see an end to his time on the moor and he plans to take it. He is given up to two days - back as a man of flesh and blood -- to perform some task for the witch that will earn him a chance for revenge or release. With the touch of her hand, the witch sends him. . . to Maine.

Fiona Masters has lost everyone important to her in a terrible accident that she believes was her fault. Mired in pain and grief, she decides she cannot live another day and plans to take her own life. With all the arrangements made and the gun in hand, she is stopped by a tall, handsome, sexy Scottish warrior who bellows at her in Gaelic! Believing she is caught up in a situation like 'A CHRISTMAS CAROL' and its ghosts of past, present and future, Fee allows this Highlander into her life, knowing there's nothing he can do to change her mind or make her want to live. . . Or can he?

Two strangers who have suffered similar loss and grief find that they do have some comfort to offer, but at the end of two days, will either of them be alive?

Please read THE GATHERING first - it sets up the series and has valuable bits for readers beginning this series.

CHAPTER ONE

November, 2015
Southern Coast of Maine, near Serenity Harbor

The tears fell unbidden but not unexpectedly. Fiona Masters did not brush them away as she glanced around the living room of the large cabin once more. Her life had been lived here, with her family and friends, and so it seemed somehow right that it should end here, too.

Photos of her family spread around the room reminded her of those happy times. Times she had no idea would end when or how they did. Times when she believed in happily-ever-after. Times when she thought she would have years or decades with those she loved.

Pulling in a ragged breath and letting it go, Fee memorized the smiles and the faces of her parents, her sister and brother, her ex-fiancé even, before turning and walking out. The crispness of the cool autumn morning here on the coast of Maine was a balm to her soul, but it was too little and much, much too late.

The tightness that stiffened the muscles in her leg reminded her with every step away she took.

The thick scars that still painfully crisscrossed her hand as she clutched the walking stick reminded her. The way she tucked her head down and away as she walked was another. Scarred, empty and weary of struggling, Fee had returned here to end her life and end the pain and shame and suffering of the last three years.

Fee followed the steep path up to the cliffside, having a care to take her time and watch her steps. The three years of physical therapy had not restored the strength and agility damaged by the injuries to her leg. Fee touched her coat and felt the outline of the gun there.

It had taken weeks of practice to learn to control the gun with her right hand. The scar tissue and damage to the muscles in her left, her dominant hand, made it impossible to curl her fingers around the trigger. So, after depending on her left hand all her life, Fee would have to take this final action using her right one.

After what seemed a long time, she struggled across the final paces to the edge of the ocean. The Atlantic was in fine form this morning, tossing waves against the impervious Maine coast where it met the bay. Finally reaching the top, Fee eased her way to the very edge and stood there, staring out at the relentless ocean.

Not long ago, standing here like this would have refreshed and energized her. It had been her habit to watch the movement of the water, to try to count the countless whitecaps as the winds pushed the water to batter the rocks below. Now though, even after several minutes of staring out across to the eastern horizon, the emptiness in her did not fill.

Fee understood that that emotional void would never be full. Too much loss, too much tragedy and too much damage had emptied her and left her unable to face a life such as it was. She slipped her hand inside that pocket again and touched the gun that would see her out of physical pain forever. Pain was a good thing, her counselor had told her. It spoke of something other than relentless emptiness and that, the counselor assured her, meant she could heal.

Well, that counselor was wrong.

Fee glanced below to the rocks at the base of the cliff. Those were her ‘plan b’ if for some reason the gun didn’t work or her aim was off. Flinging the walking stick on which she depended away, she slid her fingers around the gun and pulled it from her pocket. It was loaded—she’d done that before leaving her parents’ cabin—so all she needed to do was place it against her and pull that trigger.

Lifting it to her head, Fee cocked the trigger and touched the short barrel to the base of her neck. Then, remembering what she’d read, she moved it under her jaw, aiming it differently. Expecting to feel fear or trepidation or doubt, yet all she felt was … nothing. Balancing with the sun and wind and sea at her back, Fee closed her eyes and swallowed, tightening her finger on the trigger.

“Are ye daft, lass?”

A loud, furious voice stopped her finger and made her open her eyes. A large man strode toward her, his long strides covering the ground at an amazing pace. “Give that over now!” he yelled.

Surprised by his arrival, his size and his speed, Fee pulled the trigger of the Ruger.

Unfortunately for her, the continued shouting in some foreign language and the sight of him startled her and her aim was off.

Unfortunately for him, she shot him in the arm.

She wobbled at the edge of the cliff, watching as he barely slowed in his approach.

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