Here is an exclusive and tantalising extract from ‘Jessamine’ by Shani Struthers – a gothic romance of the highest calibre: a ‘Wuthering Heights’ for the modern day. Click on a cover image to purchase this brilliant novel.
The mist seemed to be getting heavier. She felt as though she was in another land entirely, a kingdom of clouds. The loch – where was it? Should she turn left now, off the path and towards it? Surely she hadn’t overshot the mark? Whilst she was contemplating, she heard voices – people shouting, two or three of them, in the distance but not too far.
Jessamin stood absolutely still, barely breathed. Were they in trouble – tourists perhaps who had lost their way? What was the best thing to do? Try and reach them or double back, raise the alarm and get help? Maccaillin had warned her about the dangers of hill walking in the highlands, how quickly the weather could turn, how easy it was to become disorientated. Perhaps that’s what had happened to them.
The shouting stopped. Had she imagined it? Surely walkers wouldn’t be out at this hour? She lifted one hand up to her temple. Her head throbbed, felt clammy despite the cold. Thinking it wise to turn back after all, she was stopped in her tracks again. There was shouting! She hadn’t been mistaken. It was coming from just beyond, distressed sounds and most definitely human, not the sound of sheep distorted.
Jessamin called out. “Hello! Who’s there? Can I help?”
As she drew nearer she could just make out the loch. It looked stagnant somehow, surreal, not welcoming at all.
“Hello,” she tried again. There had been no response the first time.
The shouting ceased. It seemed to be coming in such random bursts. But surely if she could hear them, they’d be able to hear her? If so, why weren’t they shouting back? Letting her know their exact whereabouts?
Continuing to move forwards, carefully so, the last thing she wanted to do was trip again, the silence continued. Perhaps she’d been mistaken. When she’d fallen, she had only grazed her hands, she hadn’t hit her head – she wasn’t confused although she did feel slightly dizzy. She’d call out once more, wait for a few minutes, then go back, report what she’d heard and leave it to those more skilled than her to deal with it.
Pleased with her plan, she put it into action. No reply. She waited. Even the sheep quietened down as if they were colluding with her, listening too.
She was about to turn away when a figure on the far shore caught her eye. Squinting, she realised there was not just one figure there were two and then a third. They were nothing more than shapes in the mist not looking at her but at each other.
“Hello!” She all but screamed at them this time. Her hands raised, she also started jumping up and down on the spot and waving furiously as she did so.
There was no way they wouldn’t be able to see her, they weren’t that far away. One of the figures appeared to be lying between the other two – had that person fallen and hurt him or herself? Certainly something was going on. Although they were no longer shouting, they were talking heatedly, a dark, accusatory tone to their exchange that sent shivers racing up her spine. All her screaming had made her throat sore, then the coughing started up again, a loud, retching sound; she was making a racket. But still they refused to acknowledge her. She couldn’t cross the loch and the mist was too dense to allow her to circumnavigate it. She’d get herself to Comraich. Face Maccaillin. He’d know what to do.
Backing away, Jessamin spied a fourth figure – looming over the three figures in front of him, staring at them, his hands wide as if in supplication.
“Hello!” she tried one last time.
To her astonishment, the fourth figure lowered his hands and turned towards her, albeit maddeningly slowly. Nonetheless, she was hopeful again and resumed waving.
“I’m going to go and get help. Stay where you are. I won’t be long.”
Instead of acknowledging her, the figure continued to stare. Strangely, she could make out nothing about him at all. He was more of an outline than anything else but she had the distinct feeling he was male – anger, shock and confusion rolling off him and towards her. Despite not being able to distinguish his features, she felt his eyes lock onto hers, bore into her. Searching deep within but searching for what, she didn’t know.
Instinctively, she began to back away from the loch, glad now that they were on the other side; that they too would have trouble reaching her. Wouldn’t they? Panic flared. What if they were local, if they knew the landscape well, if they rushed as one entity towards her? Suddenly she realised she didn’t want to see them, she didn’t!