Choosing the Highlander

By: Jessi Gage

Chapter 1

Scottish Highlands, 1981

Connie followed her twin sister around a chunk of rock in the hillside. Above them, the monoliths forked up into the pre-dawn sky, like prongs on the setting of a solitaire ring.

An unbidden image from two nights ago flashed in her memory: a diamond, round in cut and utterly flawless. Its two carats of tasteful brilliance winked at her from a bed of ivory satin, mocking her with the offer of all she had hoped and planned for but that she could not bring herself to accept.

It was the fault of the couple at the next table, the man who had gazed at his date with such fondness Connie’s breath had stuck in her throat, the woman whose cheeks flushed every time her companion brushed his knuckles over her temple or kissed the back of her hand. The meal on their table had been incidental. Love had been the main course. Adoration had glowed around them like a halo, invisible yet impossible to miss.

I want that.

The uncharacteristic thought had sent her into an emotional tailspin. Love had not been on her list of considerations when selecting a potential mate. Her parents didn’t have love, but they had everything else and they had given Connie and her sister a childhood filled with privilege and opportunity.

Give her a man who worked hard and had a head for business, like her father, a man who held the same core beliefs as she, desired the same lifestyle as she. Above all, she desired a man who would respect her choices and support her goals.

Dependability. Compatibility. Respect. Her parents had taught her these were the foundations of a solid relationship, not the shifting emotional sands of love and affection. Those things were for shortsighted fools.

Oblivious to the couple behind him, Milt had gotten down on one knee after the dessert course. His proposal flowed effortlessly as ice wine. Of course the words came easily to him. The Chicago District Attorney’s office paid him top dollar to retain him as Assistant DA. Milt had many talents, producing convincing arguments foremost among them.

Connie had barely heard the proposal. Her eyes kept wandering to the loving couple.

“Wow. This place is gorgeous!” Leslie’s wonder yanked Connie back to the present.

Her twin put on a burst of speed as they neared the top of the hill. Her black dress and storm-cloud gray shawl made her look like a haunting spirit as she disappeared around another bend in the trail full of switchbacks.

Connie followed, glad to put Milt’s proposal out of mind.

She’d chosen sturdy sandals for the walk but wished she’d slipped into the linen slacks she’d worn on the plane yesterday. Despite their need for a good pressing, they would have offered more protection against the prickly shrubbery than her knee-length denim skirt. By the light of day, her lower legs were bound to look sunburned for all the scratches she’d endured.

Oh well. What was a little pain when Leslie was having the time of her life? It wasn’t every day Connie got to enjoy her twin, who spent her days—and her trust fund—traveling to whichever remote region struck her fancy while Connie built her career in the city.

After the proposal, when the urge to flee Chicago—and Milt—had struck, Connie grabbed the postcard Leslie had sent from her latest destination and phoned the hostel where she was staying.

“Of course, I’d love to see you, Con!” her sister had crooned over the crackly connection. “Why don’t you fly out to Scotland? If you leave now, you can make it in time for the summer solstice sunrise. Doesn’t it sound completely romantic? Watching the earliest sunrise of the year from an ancient Druid site? Oh, come on, Con. Come with me. It will be so much fun!”

Getting up before dawn to hike a scrubby hill and watch the sunrise after an international flight was the farthest thing Connie could think of from fun. But it sounded preferable to hiding out in her condo and dodging Milt’s calls, so she’d hopped on a plane and met her sister in Inverness yesterday evening. A few hours of sleep and a change of clothes later, and here they were, at Druids Temple, with Inverness—and breakfast—a four-mile bike ride toward the sea.

Cresting the top of the hill, she found Leslie spinning in a circle in the middle of the stone formation. Her sister had her arms spread wide and her face upturned to the velvet-blue sky, which had rolled up its carpet of stars in preparation for the coming day. It was as if she was dancing with the Earth, itself.

For all Connie knew, that might be exactly what she was doing. Wicca was Leslie’s new passion. Earth and elements were part of the discipline, or so she had gathered from Leslie’s excited chatter on the taxi ride from the airport.

Connie had to smile at her sister’s exuberance. And she had to admit that the place was, in fact, gorgeous, even if the hour was ungodly.

The circle of standing stones rose up around them like a ring of witnesses to history. How many centuries had these stones presided over the acres of rolling meadowland below? How many generations of shepherds had guided their goats and sheep under the watchful gaze of these sentinels? How many sunrises, like the one burgeoning below the rosy-orange horizon, had turned these rocks into dynamic time-pieces?

Leslie stopped spinning and faced Connie with a breathtaking smile. Her sister might color her auburn hair black and cover her slender body in dark Goth-style clothes, but she’d never been able to pull off the dispassionate air of her cohort. Which was why Connie suspected the Wicca phase wouldn’t last long. Just like the bohemian musician phase, the backpacking through Peru phase, and the sexual adventures in Amsterdam phase that Connie would have preferred never to have heard about.

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