Opening chapter - I’m Coming for Ye
From the cover of my hiding place, I silenced my phone and tapped out a message to my brother, my hands shaking. I need to get out of here. Where are you?
“Elinor! Come here, you stupid little b*tch.” Richard’s voice reverberated through the halls, and an almighty crash followed—a table thrown over, or a bookcase, perhaps.
On cramped limbs, I shrank back in the musty cupboard, the strip of daylight under the door slicing over my ballet flats. Coming home had been a huge mistake. If he found me, my bid for freedom was over.
My phone lit with an incoming message. Not from James—the number was unknown.
Ella, I’m Gordain. Your brother sent me. I’m coming for ye by helicopter. Keep out of your uncle’s sight. I’ll be landing soon.
Gordain? I knew the name, though I’d never met the man. He was James’s closest friend and a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Relief washed over me. The military ate rescues for breakfast, right? I might make it out of here in one piece.
I replied, all the while listening for any sounds of Richard closing in. His unhinged voice had come from the mansion’s central entrance hall, the echoes from the marble floors and high ceiling giving him away. He was close. Far too close for comfort.
I’m hiding in the ballroom. He’s hunting me.
Gordain’s reply arrived instantly, and I pictured him chopping up the air, joystick down, zooming to my side. Sit tight, lass. I’ll find ye.
Thank God, I didn’t know how much longer I could hide. Or what Richard would do if he found me. I’d never been good at following orders, but on this occasion, I’d listen.
I waited, arms wrapped around my knees, my pulse an accelerated thrum in my ears. Outside, the commotion had stopped. No smashing or crashing came from the depths of the vast Fitzroy mansion.
But I wasn’t dumb. I knew my uncle.
Earlier this afternoon, after he’d arrived, he’d hit the bottle. I’d kept out of his way, hell-bent on a personal mission of my own, taking a little piece of revenge before I left. I should have escaped when I had the chance. Richard wouldn’t give up easily on trying to find me. Not if he spotted what I’d done.
A dull clunk came, maybe from a glass being placed on a wooden floor. Suspiciously near. Was he in the ballroom? I twisted to peer through the gap under the cupboard door. A shadow moved by the windows.
Landed. I’m closing in on the house. Where’s Richard?
I typed back, careful to move the minimum possible for fear of him hearing. Right outside my hiding place. I’m stuck. If I leave, he’ll find me.
Don’t move. I’ve got this.
I held my breath. Gordain couldn’t just walk in here and grab me. Richard wouldn’t allow it. Then a memory hit me, and my heart gave an almighty thump.
Richard had a gun. A rifle. I’d seen it when I’d visited one summer holiday.
He might be armed, I typed fast.
A dragging noise sounded nearby. “Elinor!” Richard blared.
Oh God, oh God. I froze, digging my nails into my legs, clamping my lips shut.
A smash broke the silence. Then another. But it wasn’t my uncle; it came from a distance, like a window had been broken at the front of the house.
“What the f*cking hell was that? She’s not getting away that easily,” Richard slurred, so near I could almost smell the alcohol fumes on his breath. After a beat, his footsteps moved away, then the ballroom’s double doors swung out with an unmistakable thud.
Had he gone?
My phone lit up. Come out. Stay low and quiet.
God! It had been Gordain, creating a distraction. In a cautious crouch, I pushed the door ajar and peeked outside. Nothing moved in the opulent room.
I twisted back, grabbing the handle of the bag stashed alongside me. Metal clanked as the loot shifted. I stopped, wincing.
Then a figure loomed large at the window.
I supressed a shriek, shooting my hand up to cover my mouth.
At pace, the shadow forced open the ballroom’s French doors and crossed the room on silent feet. I sucked in a breath and drew myself upright.
Gordain McRae, RAF pilot, Highlander, and my brother’s closest friend, stopped dead in front of me.
Holy macaroni. My heart skipped a beat.
With practiced motions, he grasped my waist and pulled me close, his gaze taking in the space and the pair of open doors leading to the hall. Neat, efficient actions. In total command.
I couldn’t remember the image I used to have for this guy, but it was nothing like the man holding me. Big. Muscles rippling under his tight t-shirt, the name of a band scrawled across his broad chest.
“Listen. Here’s what we’re going to do.” He ran his free hand over his shorn fair hair, then his fierce gaze finally fell on mine.
For a second, neither of us said anything. Or moved.
My experience of men, real men, was beyond limited. The boarding school I’d recently left had been a ladies-only college, and it had been a trek to the nearest village. I’d certainly never been close to a hard-bodied, hard-breathing, rugged example of the gender like Gordain.
That was my excuse for freezing up. For staring at the line of his jaw and having the most compelling urge to touch his light scruff.
But what was his?
He blinked and broke the spell. “I… Right. Ella. We need to get out of here. Richard’s on the second floor. I tossed a rock through a window. He staggered up the stairs.”
A howl came from a distance. “Elinor!” my uncle bellowed again. “You smashed my f*cking window. You will pay for that.”
Gordain stiffened. With urgency, he ushered me towards the door. “Let’s get going. We’ll get to the heli and be away before the arsehole even registers you’re gone.”
That was the plan, but I had another priority. I stooped and grabbed my bag. “Wait, I’m almost done.”
Gordain paused, his eyebrows drawing in. “We need to leave. Now.”
“I have one more thing to get.”
“Are ye kidding? We have maybe a minute until he’s back.”
“Help me, then! I’m not leaving without it.”
Gordain stared, his disbelief melting at whatever he saw in my eyes. Steely determination, I hoped.
Interest crept into his serious expression. “What do ye need to grab?”
I expected him to demand that I leave it—if he wanted to pick me up and throw me over his shoulder, I wouldn’t stand a chance. But he didn’t. My energy came back in a rush.
“My violin. I’ve already got the contents of my parents’ safe. All the paperwork on my and James’s inheritance. A few priceless antiquities.” Excitement rippled over me, and I leaned in. “Richard will notice. He knows every piece of art, every vase. Our heritage is his world, and knowing I stole it is going to drive him nuts.”
Gordain’s gaze slid to a darker mien. He took my arm, his fingers warm. “How about a compromise. Tell me where the violin is, and I’ll be the thief. You get out of here.”
Good enough. “It’s in the entrance hall on a table.”
It had been my mother’s, and even though it wasn’t particularly valuable, I’d kept it with me through the long years following the destruction of my family. I’d held on to it as a grieving child, bested it as a rebellious fourteen-year-old, and played the heck out of it as a young woman.
If my life had a symbol, it was that instrument.
“That’s the direction your uncle’s in.” Gordain shook his head. “Not worth the risk.”
He didn’t know. I hadn’t explained. “No,” I said, placing my hand on his. “It was Mum’s—”
The unmistakable rattle and yowl came of a stringed instrument being smashed. Horror struck me.
Oh God, no.
The sound reverberated through the ballroom. I leapt towards the inner doors and instantly fell back again. Dragged by Gordain. He held me against his broad chest.
“Don’t,” he urged.
“Elinor!” Richard called, his voice closer, as if he was coming down the stairs. “You can’t hide forever.”
Smash. The tinkle came of small pieces of wood landing on the marble floor.
I sobbed, unable to help the upset wrenching from my throat.
“Sh*te. I’m so sorry. But we have to go.” Gordain took my face in his hands and made me stare at him. Another crash came from the hall.
“I want to kill him,” I uttered, but my rescuer said nothing. The look in his eyes told me he understood, except how could he? Richard had broken my violin. In a house full of antiquities and relics, it was the one thing I valued.
Gordain grabbed my hand and slung the heavy bag over his shoulder like it was weightless. He kept me at his side, half dragging me out of the French doors.
Then I got with the programme and found my feet.
We sprinted along the side of the house. Around the corner, we emerged into the car park. Richard’s green Jaguar sat on the gravel.
My anger spiked.
I dropped Gordain’s hand and darted to the flower bed, picking up a rock. My chest heaved, and tears spilled down my cheeks.
“Ella!” Gordain growled.
I raised both hands above my head and ran at the car. The rock left my fingers.
It bounced off the windscreen.
“No!” I exclaimed, hoarse. Dismay flattened me as the rock rolled harmlessly away. That wasn’t supposed to happen.
Gordain jerked to a halt at my side. He crouched, and when he straightened, two enormous edging stones left his grip and took out the Jaguar’s windscreen with an almighty crack.
Glass exploded in a savage-edged shower, raining onto the gravel at our feet.
I stared, agog, then switched my astonished gaze to Gordain. His muscles rippled where he lowered his arms. He… He’d…
The alarm blared.
“F*ck!” we both yelled in unison.
Gordain whooped then snatched up my hand again, pulling me with him as he retrieved the bag. “Aye, f*ck! Now run!”
We fled the estate’s formal gardens and entered the parkland—still owned by my family but borderless and wild. Better suited for hiking than running. Gordain set a fast pace, and I did my best to keep up, glad for the early morning jogging routine I’d gotten into.
On a patch of flat ground behind the first rocky ridge, the helicopter waited, the last of the evening light reflecting off the glass cockpit. Gordain boosted me inside then climbed into the pilot’s seat. He stretched over to strap me in, then began a process of flipping switches and pressing buttons.
Ridiculous maybe, but only now, with my sweat cooling and adrenaline churning in my stomach, did I realise I was about to fly. The blades above our heads rotated, speeding up. The sound levels escalated to deafening proportions.
“Holy sh*t,” I whispered.
Gordain swung a look at me, somehow hearing me over the racket. He handed across a wireless headset.
“At last, I get to take a Fitzroy up in the air,” he said, his voice clear as day through the headphones. Then he grinned, the effect dazzling. “Are ye ready?”
“I have no idea.” Despite everything—the rush in which I was leaving the estate, the rage my uncle had flown into, the million and one other things that had gone wrong, and my poor, poor, violin—a rush of excitement ignited my blood.
The sheer delight dancing in Gordain’s eyes told me he felt the same. With a last glance around us, he moved the controls, and the helicopter took to the skies.
We rose, speeding over the ground. Up, we soared, skirting the craggy edges of the national park, dizzying in the rate the aircraft moved. Soon, the Belvedere house and estate was a speck in the distance far behind us.
In the air, no one could chase us. I was safe.
I switched my gaze to my hands. The tremor remained, and I hated it, the fear that man had instilled in me. The panic even his name brought. For a moment this afternoon, I’d truly believed Richard would hurt me. He had been backed into a corner. He’d lost everything. What did it matter if he took out that loss on me?
“Your brother called me from the road, but I’m behind in how all this went down. Tell me, what happened?”
Gordain’s voice brought me out of my funk.
I inclined my head. Safe, Ella. Saved. “First of all, thank you. I didn’t say that yet. You don’t even know me and you came all this way—”
I stopped as Gordain’s hand found mine. Reaching the short distance between our seats, he gave my fingers a squeeze, and it should have felt reassuring, it had certainly been intended as friendly, yet heat painted my cheeks.
Whew. His touch sent ripples of an unknown sensation through my veins. Nice, the feeling. Warm and vital.
“It was nae trouble, and my pleasure,” Gordain’s voice dipped low. He released my fingers and cleared his throat. “I know about your brother, but what about you? Why was your uncle after your hide?”
I raised a shoulder. “Control. He’s still my legal guardian, until we can get the lawyers to change it. I’m supposed to be locked away in boarding school, but I’m never going back.”
“We’ll be prepared if he comes after ye.”
If Richard showed up at the McRaes’ castle home—the location Gordain was flying me to—could he demand to take me away? It was unlikely; I was hardly a child. What I did know for sure was Richard would use me in any way possible to get to my brother.
“His priority is James. It always has been. He’d only want to use me as a pawn.”
That, in a nutshell, summed up the relationship I had with my only living relative, aside from my brother. Even with James, I barely had a connection. We’d been raised separately after our parents died.
For ten years, I’d hardly had anyone. A fresh new world lay ahead of me.
“James is waiting for you with his lady. And ye have us now.” Gordain answered my sad little thoughts. “You’re not alone.”
My shuddering breath took me by surprise.
He glanced over. “Are ye okay?”
“One day, I’ll kill that a**hole for everything he did to my family.”
A low chuckle came from my rescuer. “You’re nae similar to your brother at all.”
If that was a compliment, I had no idea. But the spark in his eye stirred something deep in my belly. Gordain’s gaze dipped to my lips, and the same thing happened as in the ballroom. His focus found my eyes and we both stopped moving, staring for a long moment that gave me a rush of chemicals, fizzing and wild.
Then he huffed a laugh and gave his full attention back to the helicopter’s controls.
I linked my hands in my lap and summoned my strength.
Of two things, I was sure. One, now I was almost eighteen years of age, my life started here. I’d leave behind the awful existence my uncle had abandoned me to and never look back. Richard Fitzroy would pay for what he did to us, one way or another.
And two, I was a mess, my emotions spiralling. In under an hour, I’d rocked from despair to elation, and right now, I was in danger of developing a hefty crush on my brother’s best friend. That had to stop.
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