Delaney Nichols is delighted with her life in Edinburgh, working at The Cracked Spinea shop that specializes in hard-to-find books and artifacts. With a job she loves, and her fast approaching marriage to devastatingly handsome Scottish pub-owner Tom Shannon, Delaney's life could be straight out of a fairy taleat least it would be, if the pastor meant to perform the wedding ceremony hadn't recently passed away. Outside the church where Delaney is searching for another reverend, she stumbles across Norval Fraser: an elderly man obsessed with the Loch Ness monster. Always attracted to the interesting and unusual, Delaney befriends Norval. But when his nephew is found dead, the police decide Norval's obsession has moved from monsters to murder.
With a wedding to plan, her family arriving soon from Kansas, and the arrival of an over-the-top Texan with a wildly valuable book, Delaney's plate is full to bursting, but she can't abandon her new friend. Determined to help Norval, she sets out to learn the truth. The Loch Ness buries its secrets deeply, but Delaney is determined to dig them upwhether Nessie likes it or not.
Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, The Loch Ness Papers is the fourth in the Scottish Bookshop series by Paige Shelton.
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The rain fell in sheets and the clouds grumbled angrily. I sought cover under a narrow brick awning, but the few moments I'd spent in the downpour had soaked me enough that my hair was sure to poof when it dried. I wrapped my arms around myself and sent the clouds an impolite thought or two.
It wasn't that I wasn't used to the rain. I'd been in Scotland for just over a year and I'd seen lots of rain. However, this July storm had caught me off guard.
Also, I was struck with an affliction; I had a hard time remembering to bring along an umbrella — a brollie, as some of my native Scottish friends called it. I'd purchased many over the past year, leaving behind forgotten brollies in my cottage, at my fiancé's house, and at The Cracked Spine, the bookshop in Grassmarket where I worked and spent most of my time.
After my evil eye up to the clouds, I looked around for a place I could pop in and buy yet another one. There were no shops nearby, no take-away restaurants selling fish and chips or fried haggis; no one seemed to be selling anything. But as I truly took notice of what was around me, my irritation with my ill preparedness as well as my desire to find a shop selling umbrellas dissipated. I'd never before ventured to this area inside the city of Edinburgh. Dean Village wasn't far from Grassmarket, just a quick bus ride, but it was as if I'd discovered yet another world. I'd disembarked the bus one stop earlier than planned because at that moment there had been no foreboding clouds above, and the walkway next to the Leith River, which ran through the village, seemed like the perfect place to stroll. It had been, just not for very long.
The village's old stone buildings, stacked on the slopes up from the river, reminded me of something someone would use as a model for a holiday display; sprinkle on some snow and voila! The 12th century architecture was all similar, except for the colors of the stones used. Some were white, some black, others red, and some even yellow. The varied colors gave the village a sense of playfulness and lent a cozy comfort to the close-set structures.
Originally populated with millers and weavers all those centuries ago, it was now mostly a residential neighborhood with old cobblestone roads, and structures repurposed to be apartment buildings and B and Bs. I'd learned that many buildings in Edinburgh had been rebuilt a time or two. The original wood structures had fallen victim to fire from flames that had been used to warm and illuminate. I wasn't sure if the stone structures I looked at today were original or replacements, and I made a mental note to research the answer.
Just as the enjoyable scenery began to perk me up, my eyes landed on what I suspected was my destination. Between me and the beautiful spires of the church on the hill were not only the river and the walkway, but a bridge and a forest. In all fairness, it was a small forest, exaggerated in my mind by the falling rain. It wouldn't have been a daunting trip under clear skies, but at the moment it seemed an expansive journey.
Fortunately, just as I was about to utter some unkind grumbles, the rain let up, and it transitioned from a downpour to a mist — the kind that still soaked you but did so slightly more politely than the torrential version.
"Go now!" I quietly exclaimed to myself, knowing my window of opportunity might close quickly.
I scurried up to the Dean Bridge and ran along Queensferry Road as cars and busses passed me by. I thought about trying to hail one, but truly, the church wasn't that far away. I could see its tall windows and the full view of its spires the second I stepped onto the bridge.
I had been told to use the red door on the side of the building located on Belgrave instead of the front doors. With my head down and my backpack lifted to cover at least a little of my hair, I took the corner onto Belgrave. Out of my lowered peripheral vision I spied the door, but not the person who must have just exited it.
"Oh!" I said as I skimmed a shoulder.
"Gracious," he said, his voice almost as wobbly as his legs.
I grabbed his arm gently to keep him from falling.
"I'm so sorry," I said, glad he stayed upright. "Are you all right?"
"Aye." He blinked up at me with clear blue eyes behind water-streaked glasses. A few strands of gray hair were slicked across the top of his head.
I continued to hold his bony elbow in my hand — I didn't want to let go until I knew he was steady.
"Aye, I'm fine," he continued. "Though I'd like verra much tae continue on. It's a wee bit blashie oot here."
I knew that "blashie" meant "rainy." I'd heard my landlords Elias and Aggie use the Scots word more than a few times now.
"Right." I looked around. "Can I help you get somewhere?"
"I think I'm fine. I live just across the way." He smiled with false teeth that shifted ever so slightly with the gesture.
He was old. I was caught between insisting on going with him and not offending him. Finally, since we were both so wet we couldn't get any wetter, I nodded.
"All right. Again, I'm sorry," I said.
"Not tae worry, lassie. It's not every day I get tae run into a young lovely." He winked.
I smiled and let go of his elbow. With sure steps that were a little hitched to the right — though maybe that was because of the big satchel he had over his shoulder — he walked around me. I thought for a moment that he was unsure of which direction to go, but after a brief hesitation, he seemed figure it out. I watched as he made his way across the street to a row of tall, narrow, brick apartments that reminded me of town houses, though I hadn't heard them described that way in Scotland. I thought about following just to make sure he was okay, but if Elias had taught me anything, it was that Scottish men, particularly those over sixty (and under too, probably), were proud enough that my offers of help might be more offensive than considerate.
I turned again and hurried toward the red door. Just as I put my hand on the knob I spotted something on the ground.
Inside a sealed plastic sandwich bag was a deck of cards. Protected from the rain by the plastic, the deck was facedown and secured with a rubber band. I crouched and carefully gathered the bag. I'd seen the illustration on the back of the top card before, and I knew it immediately. Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, in all her cartoonish glory, rose from the water and sent a vicious sneer to anyone who might be looking. I couldn't determine when the artwork had been created, but I'd researched enough about the old girl to know the deck of cards might come from as far back as the beginning of the last century.
I thought the cards might have fallen from the old man's satchel, but that was just a hunch. I took off in a slippery run across the street, but he was nowhere in sight. No one was in sight, probably because it was raining and no one in their right mind would remain outside. At least not without a brollie.
I needed to get in from the rain. I didn't hurry since I was now drenched to the bone, but with quick steps I made my way back to the church's door. I was glad it was unlocked as I did what I'd been instructed to do and made my way inside. Once there, I didn't know what to do but drip for a minute. As soon as I felt semi-presentable, I would seek out who I'd come to find, the woman who would hopefully help.
Despite the rain, the sweet man I'd almost knocked over, and the interesting deck of cards, I had a purpose in mind. I had a wedding to save.
"Did you fall in the river?" the woman asked with one of the lightest accents I'd heard since moving to Scotland. Maybe no accent at all. "Or is it really raining that hard?"
I'd seen her a few seconds after I'd entered the building. She'd passed by, doubling back when she realized someone was dripping in the coatroom. She wore faded jeans and a black sweater. Her hair was cut boyishly short and her black-framed glasses made her look both intelligent and, surprising to me, feminine.
"Raining that hard," I said. "I thought a stroll would be fun, but I ... well, you can see how that turned out."
"Here." She reached into a jam-packed shelf against a side wall, and somewhere in the mess of shoes, jackets, and other winter wear, found and grabbed a couple of towels. "Dry off. Though I feel like I should offer you a change of clothes."
"I'm okay." I dried my hands and extended one. "Are you Reverend Bellows, by chance?"
"That's me, but I prefer Reverend Nisa or just Nisa."
We shook; I cringed a little at my cold fingers. "Sorry about that. It's nice to meet you. I'm Delaney Nichols."
"Did we have an appointment, Delaney?"
"No." I put a towel to the ends of my ponytail, hoping I was calming and not feeding the frizz that was unquestionably in my near future. "I got your name from my fiancé's father, Artair Shannon. He told me to come in through the side door to find you quickly and easily. I need your help."
She smiled. "A lovely man. Well, any friend of his, and so on. Come through to my office."
I followed her down a hallway and into a small, pristine office. The bookshelves behind the desk were packed so evenly that they looked more like two-dimensional paintings than shelves with books. The desktop was vacant, even of dust, it seemed. Two colorful prints adorned two walls, both of them portraying golden and rosy sunsets. There were no windows, but the paintings were probably the reason the space didn't immediately feel closed off and claustrophobic.
"Have a seat," Nisa said.
I looked at the fabric on the chair. "Do you have any more towels?"
"It's fine. Please, make yourself comfortable."
I sat with a strained smile. I was going to soak the chair. I was going to soak everything in my near vicinity until I dried.
"How can I help you, Delaney Nichols?" she asked.
There was something about people who lived their lives for God. Not every religious person I'd met over the years had a welcoming and confident demeanor, as if they truly believed everything was always going to be okay, but Reverend Nisa had it. Artair had said I would like her immediately. It seemed he was correct.
"Since I showed up unannounced and don't want to take up too much of your time, I'll cut to the chase. Is there any chance you could officiate my marriage ceremony? Next Saturday." I smiled. I hadn't called first on purpose. I'd wanted to meet her, see her in person to know if I truly wanted to ask her to take on the task. Even if my bookish voices, those tricks of my intuition, remained silent, my gut instincts would surely kick in on their own and tell me if there was any reason at all why I shouldn't want her to be involved. My instincts had kicked in immediately, and I sensed that she would be a wonderful addition to one of the most important days of my life.
Her eyebrows came together. "In eight days?"
"Well, nine, if you include today. I know it's short notice, and though it's technically correct that you were my second choice, I didn't know about you at all until my ... original officiating choice ... well, he died."
"I'm so sorry."
"Me too. He was a sweet man. The reverend of a small country church."
"Yes, that's him."
"I knew him. He was a friend and his death came too soon." She fell into thought a moment. "Well, you do know Artair. And Dale was lovely ... Aye, I think I can help, if the church is available. Normally, I like to spend some time with the couple, but if you were working with Dale, I'm sure he already did that part."
"He did. Tom and I both adored him, and he seemed to be happy that we were getting married, happy that Tom was finally settling down." I cleared my throat, wishing I hadn't added that last part, even if it was true. Tom had dated many women over the years, and his love-'em-and-leave-'em reputation had been front and center with everyone, including Dale O'Brien, a lovely man who'd had a pint or two in Tom's pub over the years, and had been a friend of my boss, Edwin MacAlister.
"Tom? Artair's son?" Nisa asked as if she was trying to place him.
"I don't think I've met him. Is he older than you by a bit?"
I smiled. She thought my comment about him finally settling down meant he was older. In fact, it was another reason altogether. "No, he's handsomer."
She blinked but picked up on what I was saying quickly. She smiled too. "And you're sure he's ready?"
"I am. Dale was sure too."
Nisa nodded. "I'd love to help, however, I would like to meet with the two of you. Just briefly. I wouldn't feel right just jumping in blind. Can you understand?"
"Sure. Tom would be happy to meet. When?"
"This Saturday morning?" she said. "Here? Oh, I don't even know if the church is available next Saturday. You'd think I'd know these things, but I have a secretary. Let me check ..."
"Well, that's also something ... We would like to exchange vows in the bookshop where I work. Then have a reception at Tom's pub. It's not fancy, and it's not a church. How do you feel about that?"
"Neither of you attend a church?"
"No, but I grew up going to church. So did Tom, back before Artair started attending your church. Neither Tom nor I have gone in quite some time."
"I see. Well, I have no problem with your plan, but I would like to know why you and Tom don't just have a secular celebrant officiate."
"I'll let Tom answer for himself, but my reason is — though I don't attend church and though my beliefs aren't traditional, I still have some beliefs that make me want a splash of religion in the mix." I held my breath. I was being as honest as I could be, but I didn't want to offend her. However, that was another part of the reason I was there, dripping in Reverend Nisa's office, to see if she would be offended by my beliefs and thoughts.
"A splash? I like that. Those of us who work in this world understand that sometimes even a splash is a good start."
I smiled and nodded expectantly.
Nisa's eyebrows came together as she tapped a finger on the edge of her spotless desk. She didn't think for long. "Yes, I would be happy to help." She stood. "Let me check my calendar. My secretary isn't here, but she keeps my schedule in her office. Give me a minute."
At least that answered where she kept her calendar. After she left, I wondered about all the other items that belonged on a desk. Once I was alone I looked around with more vigilant eyes. Where were all the things? Though my desk wasn't too messy, it usually had at least a few items on it. Pens, papers, tissues, and in my case, maybe one or two of the rare and valuable collectibles that my boss, Edwin, had accumulated over the years. Of course, not everyone was lucky enough to get to have their office like mine, but I couldn't remember ever seeing a desk this ... vacant, nor an office this pristine. Reverend Nisa took the whole cleanliness next to godliness thing all the way up to the heavens.
My eyes finally landed on something I thought looked out of place. On a lower shelf, hidden mostly by the desk, were two books, askew on their sides as if they'd been put there hurriedly. I tilted my head and tried to read the spines. One book was written by a local author, Brodie Watson. In fact, Edwin and Brodie were "drinking mates," as Rosie, my grandmotherly coworker and Edwin's long-time friend, called them as she'd widen her eyes. I remembered being surprised by her exaggeration because, though I'd seen Edwin drink, I'd never seen him drink very much. At Rosie's description, Edwin had only lifted his eyebrows and muttered something about Brodie being a bad influence. I hoped to meet the esteemed author someday.
From my angle, the other book looked like a children's book, with a thin, colorful spine. I didn't want to get out of the chair and look, mostly because I would make telltale wet footprints on the tidy floor. I focused on the squiggly letters one at a time and said, "Oh!" aloud when I realized I was spelling "Loch Ness." The cards! Maybe they didn't belong to the old man; maybe they were Nisa's. I grabbed them out of my bag just as she came back into the office.
"I'm available both this Saturday morning to talk to you and Tom, and next Saturday for the ceremony," she said as she remained standing.
"That's great news. Thank you!" I stood too.
"Well, you are marrying into Artair's family, and he's one of the kindest people I've ever known. I look forward to meeting Tom, and maybe asking why he doesn't ever join his father for church on Sundays."
I nodded. "That seems fair."
"This Saturday morning, then?"
"Definitely." I cleared my throat. "I found something right outside the door as I came in. I wonder if they belong to you?" I extended the baggie-encased cards.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Loch Ness Papers"
Copyright © 2019 Paige Shelton-Ferrell.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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