A taster for Tall, Dark and Kilted by Lizzie Lamb.
‘I’d like you to come up on the hills with me. There’s something I’d like to show you,’ Ruairi said.
‘More etchings?’ Fliss raised her eyebrow.
Brocken Spectre - if we’re lucky.’
‘A what spectre? Like Most Haunted?’ Now her curiosity was piqued.
‘What should I wear?’
‘Plenty of protection against the -’
He bent down and took the mug from her slack fingers, his face just inches from hers. Fliss sensed that he badly wanted to kiss her and his ardent look showed how much he wanted to climb into bed with her and conclude last night’s lovemaking. But, clearly he thought better of it, because he turned on his heel and left her to finish her coffee and cold toast alone.
An hour later, they made their way along a ridge towards a triangulation point high above Kinloch Mara. They walked in silence, aware only of the uneven ground, the damp atmosphere and drop below them hidden by enshrouding mist and cloud. The grass was wet and Fliss was glad of her waterproof walking gaiters, otherwise, her jeans would have been sodden. Out of breath from having walked up a punishing incline, she stopped and pressed her hand into her right side where a painful stitch was making itself felt.
‘I am so out of condition,’ she said and flopped onto a large boulder.
‘Here,’ Ruairi rooted around inside his rucksack, found a bottle of water and passed it to her. She took a large swig from it and handed it back. Without taking his eyes off her, he drank from the same bottle and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. The gesture was highly erotic and Fliss felt as if she’d been kissed by proxy when she took her turn with the water bottle. His searing look made it plain that last night’s interrupted lovemaking hadn’t been consigned to the past; it had simply been put on hold.
‘I’m surprised you don’t bottle your own water off the hills. Remember the episode of Only Fools and Horses where
and Rodney sell tap water as Peckham Spring Water? Maybe you and Murdo could
set up a profitable sideline doing that. Aren’t landowners supposed to
diversify or die?’ Fliss made the joke to cover her churning emotions - this
man rocked her to her core, even when he was just drinking from a water bottle!
‘Diversify, yes; break the law? No.’ He held out his hand and pulled her to her feet. ‘Come on. Not far now until you see the spectre.’
‘Is this one of those rituals where the heir is shown some hideously deformed monster mummified behind a brick wall on coming of age and is sworn to secrecy? Like the monster of Glamis?’ She gabbled on as goose bumps travelled the length of her arms - was he really going to show her a ghost?
‘I’m impressed that you know your Scottish history. But no; it’s nothing like that. Wait and see.’
They climbed higher and were soon above the clouds with the sun on their backs. Ruairi’s grip on her hand tightened as they climbed the last few feet to the summit. Then, taking her by the shoulders he looked down into her eyes.
‘Do you trust me?’ Her teeth were chattering with a mix of fear and anticipation but she nodded. He positioned her so that the low sun warmed her back and the mist-shrouded valley was in front of her. ‘Close your eyes and put your hands out like you’re flying. Now don’t move. I’m going to take a few steps away and then I’ll ask you to open your eyes.’
She heard the long grass brush against his waterproof gaiters, smelled the crushed blades beneath his boots and heard the wind singing in her ears. Behind her closed eyelids it was semi-dark, but she wasn’t afraid; she knew he wouldn’t place her in any danger. Holding her arms out like Kate Winslet on the prow of the Titanic, she gave a nervous giggle.
‘Aren’t you supposed to say: “I’m King of the World”?’ She rocked on the balls of her feet in borrowed boots that were too large for her. ‘Oops.’
‘Okay. Open your eyes.’
It took a few seconds for her to become accustomed to the light, and then she saw it. Not a ghost or a spectre, but her own form cast as a huge shadow onto the cloud bank below her. She wiggled her arms up and down like she was indeed flying and her shadow followed suit. When she saw the nimbus around her ‘shadow’s’ head - all red, gold and green, like a pre-Raphaelite saint’s, she drew in a breath and instinctively reached out for him.
He’d taken precious hours out of his busy schedule to bring her here and share something special with her. Her eyes pricked with tears and she knew in that instant that she was falling, deeply and irrevocably in love with this proud, complex man.
‘Oh My God. What is it?’
She clung to him as if she couldn’t believe her eyes or trust her brain to make sense of the tumultuous feelings rocking her. Their shadows merged onto the clouds and the nimbus of light encompassed them, making it seem like they were literally standing beneath the arc of a rainbow.
‘It’s called a Brocken Spectre and it’s a natural phenomenon.’
‘But how - how does it happen?’ she asked in a whisper.
‘Okay - here’s the science bit. First, the weather conditions need to be perfect - like today. The spectre - in this case, you - must climb to a
high point while the
morning sun is low in the sky. That’s why I got you out of bed so early.’
‘I get that bit, but . . .’ Ruairi pulled her into his side and silenced her with a kiss.
‘The spectre must stand with her back to the sun so the shadow is formed. The spectre’s halo - or glory - occurs when droplets of water are suspended in the air and sunlight reflects off them, shines back toward the sun and . . . us.’
‘Wow.’ The word was inadequate and hardly described the spectre or what she was feeling.
‘Wow - indeed. You make me feel King of the World - know that?’ Unexpectedly serious, Ruairi turned her round and looked as if he was committing her face to memory. Then he drew her into his arms and kissed her. If they hadn’t been lost in the kiss they would have seen themselves surrounded by glory as the light shimmered and diffracted around them. Ruairi was first to break off. ‘Forgiven?’
‘Nothing to forgive.’ To hide the catch in her voice she moved away from him and their shadows broke apart. ‘But, Ruairi how can this work - you and me?’ He turned his back on the Brocken Spectre as if it was too distracting, and looked instead across the wide acres of Kinloch Mara just visible through the shifting mist.
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Tall, Dark and Kilted - Notting Hill Meets Monarch of the Glen - 2012
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