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IT WAS COLD. Much colder than Rosa had expected, actually. When she'd arrived the night before, she'd put the cold down to the drizzling rain, to her own feelings of anxiety and apprehension. But this morning, after a reasonably good night's rest and a bowl of Scottish porridge for breakfast, she didn't have any excuses.
Where was the heatwave that was supposed to sweep all of the UK through July and August? Not here in Mallaig, that was definite, and Rosa glanced back at the cosy lounge of the bed and breakfast where she'd spent the night with real regret.
Of course part of that unwillingness to part with familiar things was the knowledge that in the next few hours she was going to be stepping into totally unknown territory. An island, some two hours off the coast of Scotland, was not like visiting some local estate. That was why she was here in Mallaig, which was the ferry port for the Western Isles. In an hour she'd be boarding the boat--ship?--that would take her to Kilfoil, and she still didn't know if that was where Sophie was.
Fortunately, she'd brought some warm clothes with her, and this morning she had layered herself with a vest, a shirt and a woollen sweater. Feeling the chill wind blowing off the water, she guessed she'd have to wear her cashmere jacket as well for the crossing to the island. She just wished she'd packed her leather coat. It was longer and would have kept her legs warm.
Still, at least it was fine, and she could survive for two hours, she told herself, leaving the guesthouse behind and walking down the narrow main street to the docks. Crossing the already busy car parking area, she went to the end of the jetty, wrapping her armsabout herself as she gazed out over the water.
For all it was cold, the view was outstandingly beautiful. The island of Skye was just a short distance away, and she wondered if those purple-tipped mountains she could see were the famous Cuillins. She didn't know. In fact she knew very little about this part of Scotland. Despite the fact that her grandfather Ferrara had been imprisoned near Edinburgh during the war, she had never been farther north than Glasgow. She did have aunts and uncles and cousins there, but her visits had been few and far between.
Now, she realised she should have been more adventurous when she had the chance. But she'd gone to college in England, married an English boy and lived inYorkshire for most of her life to date. It was easy to make the excuse that she hadn't ventured very far because of her widowed mother and younger sister. But the truth was she wasn't an adventurous sort of person, and Colin had always been happiest spending holidays in Spain, where he could get a tan.
Of course she couldn't make Colin an excuse any longer. Three years ago, when she'd discovered he'd been cheating on her with his boss's secretary, Rosa hadn't hesitated before asking for a divorce. Colin had begged her to reconsider, had said that she couldn't destroy five years of marriage over one solitary lapse. But Rosa knew it hadn't only been a solitary lapse. It wasn't the first time she'd suspected him of seeing someone else, and she doubted it would be the last.
Fortunately--or unfortunately, as far as Rosa was concerned--they'd had no children to be hurt by the break-up. Rosa didn't know if it was her fault or Colin's, but she'd never been pregnant. Of course during the turmoil of the divorce Colin had blamed her for his unfaithfulness. If she'd spent more time with him, he said, and less at that damn school with kids who didn't appreciate her, their marriage might have stood a chance. But Rosa knew that was only an excuse. Without her salary as an English teacher Colin would not have been able to afford the frequent trips to the continent that he so enjoyed.
Anyway, it was all in the past now, she thought ruefully. And, although sometimes the things Colin had done still hurt a little, on the whole she was getting on with her life. That was until the phone call yesterday morning that had brought her on this possibly wild goose chase to Kilfoil. But her mother had been desperate, and frantic with worry, and Rosa had known she had no choice but to do as she wished.
She sighed, resting her hands on the bars of the railings, staring out across the water as if the view might provide the answers she sought. What if her mother was wrong? What if Sophie wasn't on the island? Would there be some kind of inn or hostelry there where she could spend the night until the ferry returned the following day?
She'd been told the ferry booking office opened at nine o'clock, and that she should have no trouble getting a ticket to Kilfoil. Apparently the majority of the traffic from Mallaig was between there and Armadale, the small port on Skye where they all disembarked.
But that wasn't the ferry Rosa needed. She would be boarding the one taking tourists and backpackers to islands farther afield. Dear God, she thought, it sounded so remote, so inaccessible. For the first time she half wished her mother had come with her. It would be so good to have someone she knew to talk to.
Liam drove the Audi into the car park and swung his legs out of the car. Then, holding on to the roof with one hand and the top of the door with the other, he hauled himself to his feet and looked around.
The wind off the water was knife-sharp, but he didn't notice it. He'd been born in Hampstead, but he'd lived in Scotland for the past ten years. Ever since his first book had been such an astounding success, actually, and he was used to the climate. A famous Hollywood director had read his book and liked it, and had optioned it for the iconic blockbuster it had become. But that had been when his life in London had gradually--and ultimately violently--become impossible to sustain.
He ran a hand down over his thigh, feeling the ridge of hard flesh that arced down into his groin even through his worn jeans. He'd been lucky, he reflected. Of the many wounds he'd had that one could have killed him. Instead, although the knife had severed his femoral artery, causing an almost fatal loss of blood, and sliced through enough nerves and sinews to leave him with a permanent weakness in his left leg, he'd survived. It was his attacker who'd died, turning the knife on himself when he'd been confident he'd achieved his objective.
Liam grimaced, determinedly shoving such thoughts aside. It had all happened a long time ago now, and since then none of his books had aroused such a frenzied response in his readers. He took a deep breath of cold sea air, glad that he'd chosen to drive back from London overnight to catch this morning's ferry to the island. There wouldn't be another ferry until Thursday, and he was impatient to get back to Kilfoil and to his work.
Locking the car, he flexed his shoulder muscles and stretched his legs, feeling the stiffness of driving almost non-stop for ten hours in his bones. He had pulled off into a service area around 3:00 a.m. for coffee, and slept for twenty minutes before resuming his journey. But it wasn't the same as sleeping in his bed.
His attention was caught by the sight of a lone woman leaning on the railings at the end of the jetty. It was her hair that had drawn his eyes: deep red and wildly curly, it refused to be controlled by the ribbon she'd tied at her nape. But she seemed hardly aware of it. She was gazing out towards Skye, as if she hoped to find some kind of answer in the mist gathering over the rain-shrouded hills.
Liam shrugged. She was obviously a visitor, dressed for summer in the Highlands, he thought ironically. But, while they had been known to have temperatures well into the eighties, at present the northerly breeze was creating a more predictable sixty-five.
Jack Macleod, who ran a fleet of sailboats that he hired out to tourists, hailed Liam as he left the car and started across to the ferry terminal. "Now, then, stranger," he said, grinning broadly. "We were beginning to think you'd changed your mind about coming back."
"You can't get rid of me that easily," said Liam, hooking his thumbs into the back pockets of his jeans, his chambray shirt parting at the neck to reveal the dark hair clustered at his throat. "I got back as soon as I could. Spending too long in overcrowded cities doesn't appeal to me any more."
"Didn't I hear you'd gone to London to see the medic?" Jack asked, regarding his friend with critical eyes. "Nothing serious, I hope."
"A check-up, that's all," said Liam quickly, not wanting to discuss his private affairs in public. He was aware that their voices had attracted the attention of the woman at the quayside, and she was looking at them over her shoulder.
She sensed their awareness of her interest and looked away, but not before Liam had registered an oval face and unusually dark eyes for a woman of her colouring. Of course her hair colouring might not be natural, which was probably the case, and although she was tall she was much too thin.
"You'll be getting this morning's ferry," Jack was continuing, unaware of Liam's distraction, and he forced himself to concentrate on what the man had said.
"If I can," he agreed, accepting Jack's assurances that Angus Gallagher would never turn him away, and when he looked back towards the jetty the woman was gone.
Rosa went back to the bed and breakfast, collected her things and was back at the terminal building in time to book her passage to Kilfoil. She supposed she looked like any other tourist, in her jeans and trainers, with a backpack over her shoulder. The other backpackers, queuing for their tickets, didn't give her a second glance. Unlike the two men she'd seen earlier in the car park. Well, one of them, anyway. He'd certainly given her a thorough appraisal.
And found her wanting, she was sure. She'd definitely sensed his disapproval. But whether that was because he'd found her watching them, she couldn't be absolutely sure.
Whatever, he had been attractive, she conceded, remembering his height--well over six feet, she estimated--and the broad shoulders filling out his crumpled shirt. She guessed he was one of the fishermen who, in increasingly smaller numbers, trawled these waters. He hadn't looked like a tourist, and the man who had been with him had been wearing waders, she thought.
Still, she was unlikely to see either of them again--unless one of them was the captain of the vessel she was hoping to sail on. Maybe someone on the ferry would remember a pretty blond girl travelling out to Kilfoil the previous week. Dared she ask about Liam Jameson? She didn't think so. According to his publicity, the man was reputed to be a recluse, for goodness' sake. So why had he been attending a pop festival in Glastonbury? For research? She didn't think so.
Her mind boggled, as it always did when she thought about what her mother had told her. Sophie had pulled some stunts before, but nothing remotely resembling this. Rosa had thought her sister was settling down at last, that she and Mark Campion might move in together. But now that relationship was all up in the air because of some man Sophie had met during the pop festival.
Rosa got her ticket and moved outside again. The rain that had been threatening earlier seemed to be lifting, and the sun was actually shining on the loch. A good omen, she thought, looking about her for the ferry she'd been told would be departing in three-quarters of an hour. Pedestrian passengers would be embarked first, before the vehicles that would drive straight onto the holding deck.
She saw the man again as she was waiting in line at the quayside. He had driven his car round to join the queue of traffic waiting to board. Unexpectedly, her pulse quickened. So he was taking the same ferry she was. What a coincidence. But it was unlikely he was going to Kilfoil. According to Mrs Harris at the guesthouse, Kilfoil had been deserted for several years before a rich writer had bought the property and restored the ruined castle there for his own use.
Liam Jameson, of course, Rosa had concluded, unwilling to press the landlady for too many details in case she betrayed the real reason why she was going to the island. She'd told her that she planned to photograph the area for an article she was writing on island development. But Mrs Harris had warned her that the island was private property and she would have to get permission to take photographs.
She lost sight of the man when she and her fellow passengers went to board the ferry. Climbing the steep steps to the upper deck, Rosa shivered as the wind cut through even her cashmere jacket. God, she thought, why would anyone choose to live here if they had the money to buy an island? Barbados, yes. The Caymans, maybe. But Kilfoil? He had to be crazy!
Still, she could only assume it gave him atmosphere for his horror stories. And, according to her sister, they were shooting his latest movie on the island itself. But was that feasible? Had the story Sophie had told Mark any truth in it at all? Rosa wouldn't have thought so, but her mother had believed every word.
If only Jameson hadn't involved Sophie, she thought unhappily. At almost eighteen, her sister was terribly impressionable, and becoming a professional actress was her ambition. But although she always maintained she was old enough to make her own decisions, she'd made plenty of bad ones in the past.
If she had met Jameson she would have been impressed, no question about it. His books sold in the millions. For heaven's sake, Sophie devoured every new one as soon as it came out. And all his films to date had been box office successes. His work had acquired a cult status, due to an increasing fascination with the supernatural. Particularly vampires--which were his trademark.
But would he have been attending a rock festival? Stranger things had happened, she supposed, and Sophie had certainly convinced Mark that this was a chance she couldn't miss. Why she hadn't phoned her mother and told her, why she'd left Mark to make her excuses, was less convincing. But if she had been lying, where in God's name was she?