Read Cauldstane Online

Authors: Linda Gillard

Tags: #Romance, #Mystery


Gillard, Linda
Linda Gillard (2014)
Romance, Mystery


Reviews for CAULDSTANE...

"Absolutely modern and gloriously gothic... There's a remote and decrepit Scottish castle, (with a curse attached, of course), a wicked stepmother, a feisty but emotionally vulnerable heroine, more handsome men than you can shake a sword at, and a very dangerous ghost."
KATHLEEN JONES, author of Margaret Forster: A Life in Books

"The castle is a character in its own right, as evocative as Manderley, and a perfect setting for this gothic tale of love and the struggle between good and evil."


Praise for Linda Gillard's other novels...

"The emotional power in these novels makes this reviewer reflect on how Charlotte and Emily Bronte might have written if they were living and writing now."

"STAR GAZING was a joy to read from the first page to the last... Romantic and quirky and beautifully written."

"HOUSE OF SILENCE is one of those books you'll put everything else on hold for."

EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY - "A love story filled with passion and paint-stripping honesty."

THE GLASS GUARDIAN - "I love the combination of a love story with a ghostly twist to the tale... An old, crumbling house, snow falling all around and a handsome ghost...curling up with this book on a dark night would be perfect!"

UNTYING THE KNOT - "Another deeply moving and skilfully executed novel... Once again, Gillard had me committed to her characters and caught up in their lives from the first few pages, then weeping for joy at the end."

A gothic novel in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier, Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt...



Linda Gillard

award-winning author of Kindle bestseller



“If you live in fear, you fear to live.”


When ghost writer Jenny Ryan is summoned to the Scottish Highlands by Sholto MacNab – retired adventurer and Laird of Cauldstane Castle – she’s prepared for travellers’ tales, but not the MacNabs’ violent and tragic history.


Lust, betrayal and murder have blighted family fortunes for generations, together with an ancient curse. As the MacNabs confide their sins and their secrets, Jenny learns why Cauldstane’s uncertain future divides father and sons. 


But someone resents Jenny’s presence. Someone thinks she’s getting too close to Alec MacNab – swordsmith, widower and heir to Cauldstane. Someone who will stop at nothing until Jenny has been driven away. Or driven mad.


“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Especially a dead woman.









Linda Gillard

For my son Ralph





First published as a Kindle e-book in 2014

Copyright © 2014 Linda Gillard


The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved.


All characters, events and places in this publication

are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons,

living or dead, is purely coincidental.



Cover design by Nicola Coffield.











Ghost: T
he outward and visible sign of an inward fear.

The Devil’s Dictionary

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)















times I think I can still hear – very faintly – the strains of a harpsichord. Impossible, of course. There’s been no harpsichord at Cauldstane for over a year now. Meredith’s has never been replaced. Never
be replaced.

I suspect it’s not so much that I hear music, rather that I
remember it. It’s proved impossible to forget, though God knows, I’ve tried. We’ve all tried.

It’s tempting to think I’m experiencing some sort of aftershock, hearing the ripples of a “big bang” that will echo down the years, perhaps until I die. If sound waves went on and on, becoming weaker, then I might believe I
could actually hear something, hear those keys touched by long-dead fingers, years after the sound was made. But Rupert, who knows about such things, says sound doesn’t go on forever. Eventually it’s absorbed, both by the medium it passes through and by the things the sound waves encounter. In the physical world we know, nothing lasts forever – a thought I find strangely comforting.

’s harpsichord is long gone, so if her music persists, it’s only in my head.

Meredith? Where is




By rights, Sholto MacNab should have been dead. Several times over. The fact that he wasn’t, that he was very much alive, furnished me with a career opportunity, a modest fee and a remarkable home. He invited me to come and stay at Cauldstane Castle so I could ghostwrite his memoirs for him. Dyslexic in an age when few had even heard the word, Sholto had grown up unable to spell and had only a nodding acquaintance with punctuation – an affectation, he said, for which he had neither time nor use.

Sholto was more familiar with short wave radio than email, so when
I received my contract of employment, it was accompanied by a misspelled covering note that I now treasure. It said,
So glad your on board. Evry castle should have its ghost.

Just as every old Highland family should have its curse – something Sholto failed to mention
. But even if he had, I would still have taken the job. I didn’t believe in curses. Or, for that matter, ghosts.




If you were of a superstitious turn of mind, you might claim Sholto’s life had been devastated – twice – by the MacNab curse, but he himself had managed to cheat death at the South Pole and death in the desert. He’d been bitten by poisonous snakes and mauled by a grizzly bear. (“Not
,” he’d said with an airy wave of his hand, as if his insane tendency to put himself in harm’s way was behaviour typical of a Highland laird.) Frostbite, starvation, dehydration and life-threatening injury had been Sholto’s constant companions during a lifetime of global adventure. Another was a family snapshot – torn, creased and stained with something that might have been blood. The photograph showed his late, long-suffering wife, Liz with their two sons: Alexander and Fergus.

A radiant Liz
looks down at her younger son, Fergus, who waves his teddy at the photographer. In the background, half obscured and seemingly unaware of the camera, Alexander scowls and brandishes a plastic sword at an invisible enemy.

I never met Liz. I wish I had.
Even in an old photograph she looks the sort of woman you’d like to have as a best friend. Kind. Understanding. Forgiving. (With Sholto for a husband, she’d have needed those qualities.) But Liz died many years ago, not long after that battered snapshot was taken. It was very hard on the children, but it was especially traumatic for Alexander – only eight when the accident happened – because the poor boy grew up believing it had been his fault.




Sholto MacNab didn’t advertise. He approached the Society of Authors and asked if they could refer him to a discreet ghost writer who’d be prepared to come and live
en famille
in a draughty Highland castle with primitive plumbing. He was frank about that at least. There were other things I had to find out for myself.

Sholto ha
d said he didn’t want a biographer as he wished to take credit for the book and all the profits from its sale. He was equally clear he didn’t want a woman. His life story was testosterone-fuelled and some of his anecdotes were distinctly off-colour. There were rumours of the castle being haunted, so Sholto had told the SoA he didn’t want some neurotic woman having hysterics, or worse, ghost-hunting in her spare time as part of her research for a gothic romance.

I’ve always been
careful to conceal my gender in the professional sphere. Readers and editors are inclined to jump to conclusions about content and style, so I write as “J. J. Ryan”. Until they meet me, everyone assumes I’m a man, even though my CV includes “autobiographies” of both male and female celebrities and I’ve been careful to cover a wide spectrum, from fashion to the Foreign Office.

The profile the
SoA had on record indicated that I was interested in writing about travel and extreme sport. I’d ghostwritten a popular memoir for a busy scientist who didn’t believe in God, curses or things that went bump in the night. Sholto concluded therefore that J. J. Ryan was sceptical, adventurous and male. He was right about two out of three.

didn’t communicate by phone. To begin with, the SoA put us in touch and I was thrilled to receive a letter of inquiry from the Laird of Cauldstane Castle, Sholto MacNab, adventurer and eccentric. As he loathed computers – Sholto tended to dismiss anything at which he was not expert – we communicated by fax. Shortly before I set off for the Highlands, I received an email from Fergus, Sholto’s younger son. Replying to his questions about travel arrangements, I signed off as I always did for professional purposes: “J. J. Ryan”.

When I alighted from the sleeper in Inverness, I found
Fergus MacNab waiting at the barrier with a sheet of paper saying RYAN in large letters. I approached, smiling, delighted by the sharp northern air, the sunshine and the swooping gulls. I was in holiday humour. Everything had gone well so far. Even the sleeper was on time.

As I approached,
Fergus smiled back. I’d done my homework and knew him to be thirty-eight (my junior by a few years) and single. I knew he’d been educated at Gordonstoun and had studied at the College of Agriculture in Aberdeen. Even at a distance I could see he resembled neither of his parents, but was a throwback to his grandfather, Ninian, who’d been dark, blue-eyed and handsome, but compactly built in a typically Celtic way. However something about his easy and appraising smile suggested Fergus might have inherited his father’s mantle as a ladies’ man.

I deposited my case at
his muddy-booted feet and offered my hand. ‘How do you do? I’m Jenny Ryan.’

The smile vanished
. He gazed over my shoulder as other passengers approached the barrier and I watched hope fade from his eyes. He looked at me again and said, ‘
J. J. Ryan?’

‘Yes, that’s right. Is something wrong?’ I indicated his piece of paper. ‘You
appear to be expecting me.’

We were expecting a

‘Really? Oh dear. I hope you aren’t too disappointed
.’ Fergus was now looking at me as if I presented an enormous problem, one he hoped wouldn’t be his. I began to feel embarrassed and slightly annoyed. ‘Women can write too, you know. Some of us quite well.’

‘Oh, aye,
I don’t doubt. I mean, of
you do! I’m sorry, Miss Ryan—’

‘Please call me Jenny.
You, I assume, are Fergus MacNab?’

took my hand and shook it firmly. ‘Aye, that’s right. Sholto sent me to fetch you. I must apologise for my manners, Miss Ryan—’

‘Jenny. Or J.J
. if that’s less painful for you.’

‘Och, no
, Jenny’s fine! It’s just that we – that is, Sholto was expecting a man. He was definitely
a man.’

‘I see. Well
, I’m afraid that crucial piece of information wasn’t passed on to me and I suppose the Society of Authors didn’t realise I was female. It’s not a dark secret, it’s just that I don’t like to be pigeonholed as a writer, so for work purposes, I try to disguise my gender. I have to say, people aren’t usually dismayed when they meet me. Sometimes they’re pleasantly surprised.’

Fergus recovered graciously.
‘I’m sure if anyone could turn my father’s chaotic life into a coherent narrative, it would be you, Miss Ryan. I was just anticipating his…’


was more the word I had in mind. He’s very anxious to get on with this book. We’re running out of time.’

Oh? I hope he’s not unwell?’

o, he’s fine, just short of cash. He’s convinced himself these memoirs will become a bestseller. He’s already wondering who’ll play him in the TV series.’

‘I see
. So no pressure then.’

smiled. ‘If you took it on, Jenny, this would be no easy writing assignment, but I can promise you it would be very entertaining.’

‘But you think
I’m unlikely to get a rapturous reception at Cauldstane.’

His expression was pained.
‘I’ll break the news to him as gently as I can.’

‘I’m not sure
I want to put you to the trouble. Mr MacNab has already paid my expenses so I can just turn round and go home if you think meeting him would be a waste of time. But I insist on a cooked breakfast before I do. Would you care to join me for coffee? You can watch me eat while you decide whether your father can cope with the terrible shock of meeting me.’

I reached for the handle of my case but Fergus got there first.
‘I don’t know what to advise. My father has pretty old-fashioned ideas about working with women. He’s seventy. He can be… unpredictable. And rude. The fact is, he’s always been a law unto himself. And he still is.’

‘I can’t wait to meet him,’ I said, as w
e set off across the concourse, heading for the station café. ‘I’m sure our encounter will be highly educational – on both sides. But first I need sustenance. ScotRail’s idea of breakfast certainly isn’t mine.’

ergus held open the door to the café and the blessed aromas of coffee and bacon hit my nostrils, persuading me that the day – and possibly my trip – might yet be salvageable.




I got the impression my stock rose with Fergus as he watched me demolish the full Scottish breakfast he’d insisted on buying me. I despatched a second cup of coffee, then claimed I was ready for anything, including the wrath of Sholto MacNab.

I followed
Fergus out to the station car park where he indicated a muddy Land Rover that had seen better days and many miles. I climbed in, telling myself I didn’t really want this job anyway. Writing the memoirs of a cantankerous old chauvinist who couldn’t spell? And for a niggardly fee too. Who in their right mind would want to spend months doing that?

I was clear it was
just curiosity taking me to Cauldstane – that and a desire to show Fergus MacNab I wasn’t intimidated by his illustrious father.

I was quite clear. Until I saw Cauldstane.




I’d seen pictures of Highland castles of course, but I’d never visited one, let alone one that was still a family home. I think of myself as well-travelled and hard to impress
, but Cauldstane impressed me. Entranced me.

If I say, “Think of Disney”, you’ll envisage something colourful and vulgar
. But remove the colour from a Disney castle, but not the quirkiness; batter it with centuries of weather, most of it wet; ravage its walls with cannon balls hurled by Cromwell’s army and you might end up with a typical Scottish tower house, sixteenth-century in origin, surviving – only just – into the twenty-first as family home, money pit and national treasure.

Scotland is littered with them in varying states of dilapidation, so they aren’t regarded as national treasures except by their devoted owners and admirers. The National Trust for Scotland maintains the best and Historic Scotland maintains some that are architecturally significant but ruinous. Anything in between depends for its survival on the dedication and funds of the family who are faced with hard choices. They can watch their home decay. They can try to sell up to someone with more cash and less sense, who might care to exploit centuries of history as a picturesque background for wedding photographs. Or the family can invest money they don’t really have and go down the wedding venue/spa hotel/conference centre route themselves. At least that way they get to stay on site, albeit in an attic flat or one of the estate houses.

I knew little about all this then. When I first caught sight of Cauldstane, I didn’t see a building
and a way of life in its death throes. Cauldstane stood, heroic, long-suffering, defying all that the centuries had thrown at it. (Wet and dry rot have proved more damaging to many a castle than the depredations of enemy artillery.) I saw an ivy-clad tower, much taller than it was wide, with more windows than I could easily count, the whole topped by conical-roofed turrets and looking, from a distance, like a child’s toy.

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