When Niamh Macdonald’s world crumbles, her roots call her home.
A feel-good holiday romance set in the Scottish Highlands at Christmas.
When artist Niamh Macdonald uncovers her boyfriend’s affair, she leaves her job and city life behind and flees home to the sleepy hamlet of Arden in the Scottish Highlands. Having inherited her late grandmother’s cottage, she vows to make a fresh start and pursue her dream of a career as an artist.
Love is the furthest thing on her mind until she bumps into her old friend, Alex Mackenzie, heir to Arden Castle. Sparks fly between the pair but swiftly wane when Alex inadvertently scuppers Niamh’s business plans. Niamh retreats to consider her options.
Can she make her home in Arden and can she ever forgive Alex?
Niamh MacDonald was almost home. As she drove by fields and hedgerows, smoke rose in straggly lines from croft chimneys at the foot of the mountains. With her foot, she squeezed the brake pedal as she approached Loch Melfort, the ocean waters of which lay flat and still; lead-grey, reflecting the mountains and the blue cloudless sky. Cold, uninviting, yet the scene warmed her heart and a smile emerged on her lips for the first time since leaving Leeds.
The late autumn sunlight glared through the windscreen as she turned into the drive of her late grandmother’s cottage, Arden House. As she swung into the drive, she drove slowly over the rutted, stony tree-lined track now mostly covered with a fine carpet of grass. Above the towering pines, a buzzard glided through the infinite cloudless sky. She squinted into the light as she parked, casting a furtive glance at her gran’s old silver Range Rover that sat in the open fronted barn at the side of the house. Goodness, that wouldn’t start now. Was it even road worthy? Niamh huffed out a breath.
She clambered out of her black Honda CRV, her thighs tight, lower back aching from the long drive. She tugged her blue pinstriped shirt down and wiggled her hips as she hitched up her skinny black jeans. Thirty minutes away from Oban and she was in a remote haven surrounded by mountains, lochs, wildlife, and a castle. The local village housed one public inn, a village store and post office.
The wind puffed, shaking the boughs free of autumn’s leaves, sending them scuttling around her feet like confetti in hues of scarlet, gold, and amber. Suddenly, she felt the ache of loss and failure and sucked in a deep breath. All the dreams she’d had and clung to. She’d studied art at university, dreamt of holding extravagant exhibitions, travelling the world, painting her way, selling originals like hot cakes.
Reality was a harsh taskmaster. Working in pubs, supermarkets while painting in every spare minute and holding scrappy two-bit exhibitions in downtown art galleries which yielded minimal sales. Still, she’d tried her best and often told herself she needed to keep going. She remembered a rather crude expression of her grandmother’s, who often said, “In Churchill’s own words, keep buggering on.”
Niamh smiled, a pang nipping her heart. When she was fourteen, her parents died in a car accident, so she’d gone to live with Gran. The landscape of the Highlands inspired her over the years. The mountains and hills rose all around, their energy simmering in the air. Her heart bloomed. In Arden, she grieved, and later, fell in love for the first time.
On a grey drizzly day, descending from Glencoe, she’d slipped on loose scree and sprained her ankle. Her friend, Anna, didn’t know what to do. Niamh had insisted on getting to her feet and leaned on Anna for support. As she hobbled along, a young man emerged from the mist. Dark hair, coffee-bean eyes, with long lashes. Such a handsome face. ‘Do you need help?’ he said. Of course, Anna jumped at the offer, squealed like a little girl in delight whereas Niamh longed for the ground to swallow her whole, her cheeks burning as he gazed into her eyes. ‘I’m Alex,’ he said. ‘Here, put your arm round my shoulders.’ Then he slipped his arm around her waist before helping her down the mountain. Their friendship bloomed and matured like the fine rambling roses in Gran’s Garden. Niamh hid her growing attraction as they hung out together during school holidays and at weekends. Later, university beckoned for them both. Alex left for St Andrews and she to Leeds. They both promised they’d write, but that soon petered out.
The past eleven months had been bleak. Catching her partner, Tom, in a clinch with a younger woman at his office party a few months back was the icing on the cake. Afterwards, she discovered it wasn’t his first indiscretion. How could she have been so blind? Her bruised heart ached, but it would heal in Arden.
Suzy Henderson is the author of The Beauty Shop, Madame Fiocca, and SPITFIRE, novels which are set during the turbulent times of World War Two.
Her debut novel, The Beauty Shop, was awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion. It is based on the true story of pioneering plastic surgeon, Sir Archibald McIndoe, and the Guinea Pig Club – an exclusive club for RAF pilots and airmen who required plastic surgery as a result of their war injuries and were under the care of this enigmatic New Zealander.
Madame Fiocca is also based on a true story. This gripping adventure follows the tempestuous life of SOE heroine, Nancy Wake before and during the Second World War.
Suzy lives with her family on the edge of the Lake District, where she can be found rambling around lakes, country lanes or roaming the fells. Armed with a pen, a love of reading and a growing obsession with military and aviation history, she is often lost in the 1940s, writing historical fiction.