Somewhere in Northern Scotland
Present time, August 1990
The smell of rust and oil was dominant in the air. Half an hour passed since they left the city port. Yet they’ve seen no end on the sways of the vessel. Feeling cramped in the captain’s cabin, Mia decided to cool off and walked out on the deck. The breeze brushed her pinkish cheeks, carrying the smell of the sea, which hardly bothered her by now.
There was a sense of freedom in the wind. With her eyes close, she easily dreamt it was true. She was free and away from the bustling street of the city, which was filled with people as they go about their daily routine. The rustling of crowds and the roaring sound of horns during rush hour felt suffocating. It used to give her comfort in being surrounded by people. For years, her work included her presence in front of an audience. For a moment, she could still hear an echo of applause. Now, it felt like a detached dream or a memory.
Then it was gone.
A loud ripped from the engine startled her awake. In reality, she wasn’t close to freedom. Though her aunt hadn’t viewed the island the same way as she did.
Another throaty sound of the engine, the rusty floating vessel carried them closer towards their destination. She lingered by the front railing, not a hint of seasickness kicking in. Unlike her youthful and spirited aunt, her face was devoid and paled in comparison to her own. There were times she showed signs of throwing up, yet in the hour they were at sea, she never once asked for a bucket.
“Mia! Mia! Where are you?” Her aunt’s shrill voice was drowned by the sound of the waves splashing on the side of the boat. “Mia!”
On the third time, Mia heard her aunt. She looked up towards the captain’s cabin and found her peering over the rusted steel door.
“Don’t lean too far or you might fall!”
“I’m fine, aunt Leanna.”
“Why don’t you come up here? It is much safer!”
“Mia! Come up here, will you!”
She sighed in defeat and turned away from the view. Mia walked up the steps and joined her in the captain’s cabin. Her aunt’s pale face nearly matched her platinum blonde hair. She thought about how it never occurred to her she hated traveling by sea. Since she visited yearly here, she might have overcome her fear. But her sickly face was proof she had not.
“Do you need any medicine, auntie?” Mia asked out of worry.
“I’m fine, dear. It will pass. Besides, we a few minutes away from disembarking.”
“Okay. But if you need anything, just tell me.”
“Thank you, Mia.”
Mia sat in silence, waiting for another ten minutes before she got a better view of the island. It was then she got up in anticipation. Leanna mindlessly followed closer where Mia stood by the main exit. Her sickness subsided. Her cheeks slowly shown more color.
“You’ll love it here. It’s peaceful and away from city life.” Leanna said. “The air is fresh and the people are welcoming. You do not have to worry about who you were. Here, you can be yourself.”
“How many times did you visit here, auntie?”
“I always come back every other year. But for the past five years, I always come back once a year to stay for three months.”
“Because I can work here peacefully. And I consider it as part of my home.”
It perked her interest. Mia knew her aunt had various houses around the globe. The reason doesn’t connect to her job, but because she married a rich man. And this one particular place they’re headed is one of the islands north of Scotland. There were many such islands, to her knowledge, and her aunt Leanna did name the place before their departure in America. However, she still forgot. It would be rude if she asked for it again. So, she’d humored her until she unearthed it from memory.
“I won’t say my place is like the mansion you lived as a child. You could say it is more of a cabin.” Leanna added. “But it is cozy and have everything we need.”
Mia turned. Her interest shifted.
“Do you also have other houses in places that you’ve regularly visited?”
“Yes. At least five on cities and towns I liked and frequently visit.”
“Does Uncle Kevin know about it?”
“He had. He doesn’t mind. And he liked it. That way he can stay there when he does some business in the city.” Her lips looped into a sad smile.
Mia was quiet for a moment, feeling rash bringing him up suddenly. “Do you remember him whenever you visit this place, auntie?”
It had been years since her aunt’s husband died, leaving her alone but wealthy and well taken care of. However, after his passing, she noticed her favorite aunt never stayed in one place for too long. Always traveling for leisure or work. She never called one particular property a home, until now.
“I do. This was one of our favorite homes.” She quietly admitted. There was a distant look in her eyes.
Mia gave her aunt a comforting smile and place a hand on her back, giving it a brief comforting caress. “Thank you for inviting me here, auntie. I truly appreciate it.”
Leanna smirked. The sadness in her eyes evaporated. “I think this place will do you some good, Mia.”
“I hope so,” she replied dryly and turned her attention back to the view of the island.
She chuckled and moved further out of the captain’s deck.
As she expected, it did the trick. The mood between them shifted. Mia was smiling from ear to ear as she held out her hand to Leanna, which she took without hesitation. They stayed there in silence. Their body swaying in tune with the boat as they approached the dock.
The port wasn’t grand like the one they boarded from the Mainland. It had what you expected from a small island with the only mode of transport was through boats than planes. The dock was busy with delivery. Boxes of wooden crate unloaded from the ship. It was also the only passenger boat that had daily trips on the island.
After the captain gave them the signal to disembark, Leanna’s energy perked up. Her cheeks returned to its rosy flush, and her blue eyes sparkled like the tamed sea on midday.
They rolled and hauled their luggage, which totaled five between the two of them. The clothes alone may last them for at least two weeks before Mia had to think about doing laundry. She contemplated the chores to be done at her Aunt’s cabin. She’d imagine the place to be dusty and covered in cobwebs, unused for most of the year.
As they reached the end of the harbor, an unfamiliar woman waved enthusiastically in their direction. Her silver hair stood out from the dull array of dirt, wood, and soot. Behind her, an old rusted blue truck was parked. Since they were the sole human passenger of the only boat in the harbor, the woman could be waving at them unless she was one of the crew’s relatives.
Mia looked around the harbor, but no one returned the woman’s greeting. It was then her aunt looked up and smiled. Her face brightened, and lips widen in a sporty grin.
“Adelia!” Leanna called out as the old woman approached them, beaming as well.
“Leanna! Ye’ve made it!” Adelia called back. “How did yer trip go? Since ye made it here, ye did fine, I suppose.”
The woman’s Scottish accent wasn’t thick as Mia thought. She’d heard a few heavy accented locals arriving at the airport and on their way to the harbor. But it seemed her aunt’s friend wasn’t one of them.
“It was, thankfully.” Leanna dryly replied but her smile never left her face. “Oh, I did inform you I’m not alone on my trip this time.”
Adelia turned to Mia. “Aye, I can see that.” She held out her hand to her. “Welcome, my dear. I’m glad ye’ve come and joined with yer aunt for her visit this year.”
Mia grabbed her outreached hand and shook it before letting go. “I’m happy to be here. This is quite a lovely place. Very picturesque and all.”
“Ye haven’t seen the rest of the view yet. Wait until we drive up to yer Aunt’s cabin. It’s a view that’ll take yer breath away,” she remarked with a smile. “Now, come. Let’s put these in the car. It is a long drive up there.”
“It always is.” Leanna agreed with a chuckle.
Once they tucked and secured the bags on the back of the truck, Adelia took the wheel. Leanna sat upfront with her on the passenger side. Mia had no choice but to sit at the back with some of the luggage, which they didn’t trust being jostled and expose by the damp air, sensing some light rain coming soon.
As the truck climbs up the terrain of the island, taking a trail of unpolished gravel road, the journey got a bit bumpy. Per Adelia’s words, the view was breathtaking. Mia no longer minded the rocky ride as her eyes glued outside the window. An endless field of evergreen grass ran along beside them, overlooking the seas. Further in the distance, she made up the shape of another island—or more like the mainland. The distance of real civilization compared to the barren land she’s in made her miss the city. But she wasn’t here by force. She was given a choice to be here, to be surrounded by the beautiful endless field of grass.
The trip to the cabin took an hour. But the drive wasn’t dire with Leanna and Adelia giving her details about the small town in the area and the people in it. When they were near the end of their drive, something caught Mia’s eye. She couldn’t believe what she seeing and pointed out to her companions.
“Is that what I think it is?” Mia exclaimed in disbelief.
“Och, it is,” Adelia replied with a smile.
“That’s Kingsley Castle.” Leanna pronounced proudly. “It’s a known tourist attraction on the island, other than the view and farmlands.”
“A castle on an island? Why is it here?”
Rather than Leanna, Adelia took over the conversation again. “The Kingsley Castle was built in the eighteen century by an English aristocrat for his mistress. Throughout the years, the family used the castle as a refuge through wars, and home, for a time, before they started making a lot of money. I’m not sure what sort of business that made them wealthy. But it kept them from losing this place. It is still owned and run by the same family who built it, mind ye. Presently, the family no longer retain their aristocracy title. However, with the money, it allowed them to keep the castle in good condition. Now, they’ve made it a tourist attraction and also a vacation home of some sort.”
Leanna nodded along at Adelia’s narrative. “Believe it or not, I did actually meet one member of the family who owns the castle, and I think you’ve heard of him too, Mia.” She giddily stated.
“Really? Who is it?” Mia preyed her eyes away from the medieval architecture.
Adelia seemed intrigued as well, which strike Mia as odd, given Leanna and she was well acquainted for many years. She concluded the meeting with the mystery person was recent. Too recent that it made her think about the name’s connection with someone she knew. Someone with that surname.
“What does this person look like?” Adelia inquired a moment later, snapping Mia out of her stupor.
Leanna looked smug, remembering her encounter with the young man. “He was young enough to be my son, close to your age Mia, yet older by at least five or six years. I felt charmed and entranced by his appearance. If I closed my eyes, I could vividly see it. Dark brown hair, strong jawline, high cheekbone, thick eyebrow, and eyes the color of deep blue sapphires. Any woman of any age would find him undeniably attractive. Plus, he was… very amiable and poised.” Leanna breathes dreamily.
Mia noted her aunt’s description of the Kingsley man and smirked. “Drop dead gorgeous, I see.”
Leanna turned around and give her niece a cheeky grin and winked. “He truly was.”
Mia rolled her eyes and smirked. “Goodness, auntie. Keep it to yourself, will you?”
Adelia chuckled and reverted the topic to the Castle owner. “And what is his name?”
“Erik Alexander Kingsley.”