A McMillan Christmas
Book 7.5 of Morna's Legacy Series
On An Unknown Road In Scotland—December 18, 2016
I could barely see the road in front of me. Thick snowflakes the size of quarters fell so quickly that my windshield wipers couldn't keep up. Just as soon as one layer of snow was brushed away by the blades, another fresh coating took its place. To make matters worse, not only did the cheap tires on my standard rental feel less than secure on the icy Scottish roads, I was also helplessly lost.
The journey from the airport to my grandparent's new home in the Highlands was—according to them—supposed to take me three hours, tops. It was now two in the afternoon, and I was already on hour five of my drive.
The sudden vibration of the cell phone inside my coat pocket rattled me so much that I quickly pressed on the brakes and steered into the first pull-off I approached.
Pulling the phone out of my pocket, I hurried to answer before it sent my grandmother to voicemail.
"Hey, Gram. I know I'm late, but the weather is growing increasingly nasty as I continue north. In all honesty, it may be days before I get there. The visibility is very low and..." I trailed off as broken segments of my grandmother's voice interrupted my speech.
"Harper...Harper...I canna hear ye. Where are ye?"
Of course the reception was bad. As soon as I reached the edge of Edinburgh on my way out of the city, my signal dropped. Her phone call was the first sign that any reception had returned. It was part of the reason I was lost. Not only was the rental car place out of GPS navigation systems, the cell service was so nonexistent that I couldn't use the Maps app on my phone to get directions either.
"Gram, I'm going to call you back. I'm in a hole. Let me drive to the top of this hill, and I'll try to call you back."
I didn't wait for her answer. Ending the call, I shifted the car into gear and slowly made my way to a point of higher elevation ahead. It took longer than expected. I was forced to pull over four times for oncoming traffic. On the long, winding, one-lane road, I appeared to be the only one headed north. It only confirmed what I already knew—coming to Scotland was a mistake.
I suspected it the day I booked my ticket, knew it deep down when I boarded the plane, but watching all of northern Scotland fleeing south confirmed it completely. I was cold, frustrated, and near tears. I pulled over once again and returned my grandmother's call.
"Gram, is this any better? Can you hear me?"
"Aye, I can hear ye just fine. Do ye know where ye are?"
I didn't have the slightest clue. Five years had passed since my last visit to Scotland, and I'd only ever been in this part of the country with Kamden. At the time—fool that I was—I'd been too wrapped up in him to take much notice of what was going on around me.
"I really don't. I had to wait two hours at the rental car place, then all they had was a compact standard with no GPS. I've done my best to follow your instructions but, honest to God, I don't know how any of you get around. Nothing is clearly marked, and the weather is so bad I'm not sure I would be able to see the proper signage even if it was there."
Now thoroughly worked up, I struggled to take a deep breath and forced my tone to soften before I spoke once again.
"I'm sorry, Gram. I'm just ready to see you guys. Everything is fine. I'll get there eventually. It just might be midnight. Keep the lights on for me. Did you know the weather was supposed to do this?"
I should've checked it myself. I knew that Scotland had plenty of snow this time of year. Truthfully, too many memories had been playing through my head while packing for the weather to cross my mind.
Gram's long pause was answer enough. Eventually, when I said nothing, she relented.
"Aye, I knew there was a chance, but they hardly ever get it right. I was worried that if I told ye, ye wouldna come. All of this is my fault. I canna tell ye how sorry I am. Yer grandfather told me I should tell ye, but I just wanted to see ye so badly. Now I've had ye fly all the way to Scotland and 'tis verra likely I willna be able to see ye anyway."
Gram's voice trembled, and my heart squeezed uncomfortably. I hurried to reassure her.
"Hey, it's okay. You can't take responsibility for the weather. Of course you'll get to see me—it just may be tomorrow instead of tonight. It will be okay. We are still days away from Christmas, and I'm staying through the New Year."
"Oh, my sweet girl, ye doona understand. I tried to call ye as soon as I saw that yer plane had landed to tell ye to get a hotel at the airport where ye could stay until ye got another flight home, but it never went through."
"A flight home? Why would I book a flight home?"
"Harper, we are completely snowed in. The road to our house is impassable, and I expect it to get far worse before it gets any better. Most of Scotland will be buried under snow come morning."
My grandmother continued to talk, but I no longer listened as her words replayed in my mind. Snowed in? Impassable? What was first an annoyance now presented itself as a real danger. At this time of year, it would be dark in only a handful of hours. If the vast empty land that lay behind me was any indication of what lay ahead, I doubted I would be able to find lodging anywhere close. If the road to my grandparent's house was impassable, then surely many other roads would be, as well.
"Harper, can ye hear me? Are ye listening?"
The worry in my grandmother's voice pulled me back into our conversation.
"Yes, I'm sorry. I'm listening. I'm just...I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to find anything before I reach roads that are too covered in snow, and I don't think I have enough gas to keep my car warm overnight."
The quick shuffle of the phone as it shifted hands told me just how frightened my grandmother must be for me. She'd never been one to handle any sort of crisis well, and my grandfather, God bless him, was always there to step in and save the day for her. If only all men were as wonderful as him.
I smiled as his deep, calm, and reassuring voice came over the phone.
"Ye and yer grandmother are cut of the same cloth. Both of ye lassies take a deep breath and calm down. Do neither of ye have any faith in me at all? I willna let ye freeze to death in the snow. If we can figure out just exactly where 'tis ye are, I'm certain I'll be able to think of a place ye can go. I know this country as well as I know the moles on my arm. If ye truly are good and lost, why I'll find myself a snowmobile and will go in search of ye."
I smiled at the confident humor in his voice. He must've been just as worried as Gram, but he hid it well. I would've given just about anything to see him zooming over the snow-laden countryside astride a snowmobile right then.
"Okay, thank you for that. I've no doubt that you would come and find me if it truly did come to that, but let's hope it doesn't. I really have no idea where I am. How do you expect me to tell you?
"Firstly, bundle yerself up real nice and leave yer car running. Ye have winter hiking boots on, aye?"
"Brush the snow off the top of yer hood and climb atop so that ye may see better. Keep yer phone shielded in the hood of yer coat and tell me what ye see."
The prospect of stepping out into the freezing cold didn't thrill me, but I knew that in order to pinpoint my location, I would have to get a better grasp of my surroundings. I touched on the speakerphone and lay my phone on the dash so that I could ready myself for the wintery air that awaited me outside.
"All right, give me just a second. Can you hang on? Don't hang up. I'll let you know when I can see something."
"O'course, lass. I'll not be going anywhere until we've seen ye safely settled somewhere this night."
With my coat zipped, head covered, and gloves on, I placed the phone in my pocket, reached in the backseat for the window scraper, and stepped outside. I'd only been parked for ten minutes, and several inches of snow were already accumulated on top of the car. It took some effort to brush the bulk of it off. Once I managed, I climbed up onto the vehicle and reached back into my pocket for my phone.
"Okay, I'm here. Let's see..." I stalled while taking in the landscape around me. I sat parked at the top of a hill with a deep valley to my left and high terrain to my right. Rolling, snow-covered hills lay ahead. "All right. I just drove up a pretty steep climb so if I look behind me, it's a deep slope down. To my left is a large valley. There are no buildings or landmarks that I can see from that direction. Ahead is a winding road with three distinct dips and peaks. To the right, it's pretty much just straight mountainous terrain. I hope the snow doesn't cause any rocks to slip because I'm pretty certain I would be toast if any fell."
There was a brief period of silence. I could just imagine Gramps stroking his thick beard with his thumb and pointer finger as he tried to picture all that I told him.
Eventually when he spoke, his tone was filled with even more humor than before.
"Did ye say there are three distinct peaks in the road ahead?"
I lifted my hand to my brow to block some of the snow and strained to make certain.
"Turn yer head upward. Is there a rock at the top of the mountain that resembles a monkey?"
The snow made it difficult to see, but if I concentrated, I could make out the hint of such a shape. A memory tugged at the edge of my consciousness.
"Yes. The snow blurs it a bit but, yes, I do think I can see it."
"Lass, I know just where ye are. I believe ye know, as well."
The memory returned full force. I'd looked over this exact deep valley and stared up at the monkey rock once before.
I knew exactly what lay ahead—McMillan Castle...and the man who broke my heart.
© Bethany Claire