A bubbly ingenue falls heir to a remote, storm-drenched castle in a foreign land. All hers – if she can outlast the dangerous and too delicious competing claimant. Strange happenings, a curious (and disconcertingly attractive) caretaker, plus sensuous nightmares may be far more than California girl Brittany Brannigan can handle.
Brittany’s day and night time adventures have a pinch of horror and more than a dash of romance. Originally written for Stake through the Heart: New Exploits of Twilight Lesbians with a tongue-in-cheek nod to Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.
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?
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 the get go. 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 took this writing class and they said the important thing was 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 leaving out the boring part about how it all came to pass: 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-part episode of Masterpiece Theatre. But 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 Glasgow. I had to run for the train and 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 I was 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 the same woman. 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 (I know, 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. except it was written over 300 years ago — before the U.S. of A. even existed! — after 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. Shillings and pence aren’t troubling me. Even if I don’t get the castle, I get five thousand pounds which will pay for this really spiffing trip to England. Scotland. Scotland’s in England, or is it the other way around? I can never remember. It seems kind of complicated because after Florence Eldridge chopped off Katherine Hepburn’s head and Bette Davis doesn’t marry Errol Flynn, one man became king of both. 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 counting my cell minutes, and still have a bundle for some necessities when I got 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 just take her out. It’s incredible what I see out the window — cows and country houses, stuff like that. If it weren’t for the train I was on I’d expect to see Conestoga wagons.
I don’t suppose they ever used Conestoga wagons here.
The previous stops taught me that when it is 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 gentlemen 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 celebrating foliage pinged my gaydar. Their scruffy ruggedness would turn heads in San Francisco, but I prefer creatures with clits. And breasts. And brains. Financially self-sufficient is always a plus, believe you me. 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. The sweater that had seemed oppressively hot when I left home 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. The cab driver responded, I am not making this up, with, “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 was a charming city, 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 places I wanted to see tonight and in the morning, but I did need to sort out a place to stay and buy my transit ticket to Durness via Wick. I tried to get my old camera into position to take some pictures but the cabbie swooped so quickly along the roadway that I knew my cell phone’s little built-in digital 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 right out to buy a real digital camera, if not here in Inverness, then when my bus got to Wick tomorrow.
My journey included such romantic names, even the ones I couldn’t pronounce, like Craig Phadraig, Clò Mór, Kinlockbervie and Tongue. Well, I can pronounce Tongue. I’ve been told I use it well too, ahem, but I digress. All of the cities 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 — okay, 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 and 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. The steps I made my way up, thumping my cases after me, were grooved and worn. On the right was another set of obviously modern stairs, wooden, with a handrail in 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 just wanted a sense of style. There was a metaphor somewhere in beginning this grand adventure by climbing steps probably older than the Revolution.
“Are you alright?”
I glanced up and there she was, the buggery-bollocks woman from the train. She was following me. But I’d seen her get off the train. Perhaps this was a twin? What was her game? “I’m fine,” I finally answered.
“What a coincidence. You were at the station in Glasgow, weren’t you?”
“And on the same train.” I wondered if she’d admit it.
“Well, if you arrive in Glasgow and are going on to Inverness, there’s just the one train. The odd part is you standing here on the same steps as me.”
I got back into motion and finished the climb and yet, standing next to her she was still twelve inches taller. I wondered how tall 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.