“Oh, look—I think she’s waking up. Thank the Lord.”
Connie frowned as the unfamiliar female voice reached her ears, then she cracked her eyes open, squinting against the light. She quickly came to the conclusion it wasn’t just the voice that was unfamiliar. The bed she lay in was unfamiliar, the room was unfamiliar, and she didn’t have the foggiest idea who the two people gazing concernedly at her were. She blinked. Nope—still the same. Still didn’t have a clue. Aware it was the cheesiest of clichés, she asked, “Where am I? And who are you?”
An attractive, red-haired woman Connie guessed to be in her late forties, maybe early fifties, and dressed in smart business attire gave a gentle smile and shuffled her chair a little closer to the bed. “Hello. Welcome back to the land of the living. You’ve had us very worried. You’re in the staff quarters of my hotel—I own and run Bowdley Hall Hotel. I’m Frances McKenzie. This,” she waved towards the man on the other side of the bed, who was probably ten years her junior and a couple of years older than Connie, “is my estate gardener, Will MacIntyre. He found you in the outbuilding.”
As Connie’s brain absorbed the words, spoken in a soft, lilting accent, something tickled at the edges of her consciousness. Something she ought to know, but couldn’t… quite… place.
As she struggled to a sitting position, her brain seemed to click into gear. Of course, she was in Scotland! It all came back to her—leaving him, ditching anything that could identify her, and scarpering for the wilderness of the Scottish Highlands with only the clothes on her back and as many possessions as she could cram into her rucksack. What she hadn’t betted on—and she should have known better, really, since this was Scotland, for heaven’s sake—was the weather. A pleasant, sun-bathed hike, almost pleasant enough to make her forget what she was running from in the first place, had rapidly turned into a hellish trek to… well, anywhere. The woman—Frances, had she said her name was?—owned the estate she’d stumbled onto, which had to include the barn, shed, whatever it was, that she’d crashed in… how long ago? Yet again, she had no idea. This was getting beyond a joke. Amnesia would have been less frustrating.
She went to speak, but a cough escaped instead. She clapped a hand over her mouth.
Without a word, Will retrieved a glass of water from the table beside her borrowed bed and handed it to her. Connie flashed him a weak smile of gratitude and started to gulp down the liquid, before remembering you were always supposed to sip in these situations, in case your stomach rebelled and you vomited. The last thing she wanted was to be sick in front of these nice people who’d helped her. Or worse—on them. She swallowed, then took a deep breath and then sipped carefully at the water until she’d had her fill.
“Here,” Will said gently, “I’ll take that.”
“Thank you.” Her smile was wider this time. “Sorry about that.”
He shrugged and put the glass back where he’d got it from.
Feeling a tad less discombobulated now, Connie turned to Frances. “Thank you so much for your help and hospitality. I’m really sorry for trespassing on your land. I was…” God, how could she word this without letting her whole sorry story come tumbling out? “walking,” that was the truth, at least, “when the weather turned horrid. I was nowhere near, well, anything, so when I saw the sign at the edge of your estate, I carried on, hoping I could take shelter in a shed or something.” She remembered all but barging the door down. “I hope I haven’t damaged anything. I’m happy to pay for any repairs.” As long as they only cost pennies, that is. My cash won’t last very long otherwise.
Frances gave a light chuckle and waved a dismissive hand. “It’s fine, honestly. It was obvious when Will found you what had happened, clear you weren’t up to anything nefarious. And there’s no damage, so please dinnae worry about that. Are you up to a few questions?” She lifted her eyebrows expectantly.
“Um, yes.” As long as you don’t ask me who I am or what I’m doing here. But of course, they’re going to be your first bloody questions, aren’t they? They’d certainly be mine, if our roles were reversed. “I’ll do my best,” she added, figuring she could act all sleepy or dopey to buy her some time to answer if need be.
Smiling warmly, Frances continued, “First, and most important, how are you feeling? You’d been exposed to the elements for quite some time before Will came across you. We wanted to take you to hospital, or at the very least call a doctor, but you wouldnae let us. You were very insistent.”