Friday Night Book Club: Read an excerpt from Lucinda Riley’s new novel, The Moon Sister
More about the book!
The Friday Night Book Club: Exclusive excerpts from Pan Macmillan every weekend!
Staying in this evening? Settle in with a glass of wine and this extended excerpt from The Moon Sister, the highly anticipated fifth book in Lucinda Riley’s bestselling Seven Sisters series.
About the book
‘Being in nature made me feel alive, made my senses sharpen and soar, as if I was rising above the earth and becoming part of the universe. Here at Kinnaird, I knew that the inner part of me that I hid from the world could blossom and grow …’
Often called ‘a snowflake’ by her sisters, Tiggy feels more at ease caring for animals rather than in the company of humans. She withdraws to the isolation of the Kinnaird Estate in the Scottish Highlands to nurse her deer, wildcats, and other animals back to health. Although she studied to be a zoologist, she has a deep spirituality and a sixth sense that she has learned to hide from others.
When she meets Chilly, the ancient gypsy who lives on the estate, he sees her dark hair and brown doe-like eyes and recognises a fellow gitana – a Spanish gypsy – and tells her that it was foretold long ago that he would be the one to send her back home to Granada in Spain … Tiggy is told the story of her ancestor Lucía Albaicín, the greatest flamenco dancer of her generation, and she slowly gathers the confidence to embrace her sixth sense and her talent for healing.
The Moon Sister follows The Seven Sisters, The Storm Sister, The Shadow Sister and The Pearl Sister.
Read the excerpt:
‘I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard my father had died.’
‘I remember where I was too, when it happened to me.’
Charlie Kinnaird’s penetrating blue gaze fell upon me.
‘So, where were you?’
‘At Margaret’s wildlife sanctuary, shovelling up deer poo. I really wish it had been a better setting, but it wasn’t. It’s okay, really. Although …’ I swallowed hard, wondering how on earth this conversation – or, more accurately, interview – had veered on to Pa Salt’s death. I was currently sitting in a stuffy hospital canteen opposite Dr Charlie Kinnaird. Even as he’d entered, I’d noticed how his presence commanded attention. It wasn’t just that he was strikingly handsome, with his slim, elegant physique clad in a well-tailored grey suit, and a head of wavy dark-auburn hair; he was simply someone who possessed a natural air of authority. Several of the hospital staff seated nearby had paused over their coffees to glance up and nod respectfully at him as he’d passed. When he’d reached me and held out his hand in greeting, a tiny electric shock had shot through my body. Now, as he sat opposite me, I watched those long fingers playing incessantly with the pager that lay between them, revealing an underlying level of nervous energy.
‘“Although” what, Miss D’Aplièse?’ Charlie prompted, his voice exhibiting a soft Scottish burr. I realised he was obviously not prepared to let me off the hook I was currently hanging myself on.
‘Umm … I’m just not sure Pa’s dead. I mean, of course he is, because he’s gone and he’d never fake his death or anything – he’d know how much pain it would cause all his girls – but I just feel him around me all the time.’
‘If it’s any comfort, I think that reaction is perfectly normal,’ Charlie responded. ‘A lot of the bereaved relatives I speak to say they feel the presence of their loved ones around them after they’ve died.’
‘Of course,’ I said, feeling slightly patronised, although I had to remember it was a doctor I was talking to – someone who dealt with death and the loved ones it left behind every day.
‘Funny, really,’ he sighed as he picked up the pager from the melamine tabletop and began to turn it over and over in his hands. ‘As I just mentioned, my own father died recently, and I’m plagued by what I can only describe as nightmare visions of him actually rising from the grave!’
‘You weren’t close then?’
‘No. He may have been my biological father, but that’s where our relationship began and ended. We had nothing else in common. You obviously did with yours.’
‘Yes, although ironically my sisters and I were all adopted by him as babies, so there’s no biological connection at all. But I couldn’t have loved him more. Really, he was amazing.’
Charlie smiled at this. ‘Well then, surely that just goes to prove that biology doesn’t play a major part in whether we get on with our parents. It’s a lottery, isn’t it?’
‘I don’t think it is actually,’ I said, deciding there was only one ‘me’ I could ever be, even in a job interview. ‘I think we’re given to each other for a reason, whether we’re blood relatives or not.’
‘You mean it’s all predestined?’ He raised a cynical eyebrow.
‘Yes, but I know most people wouldn’t agree.’
‘Me included, I’m afraid. In my role as a cardiac surgeon, I have to deal on a daily basis with the heart, which we all equate with emotions and the soul. Sadly, I’ve been forced to view it as a lump of muscle – and an often malfunctioning one at that. I’ve been trained to see the world in a purely scientific way.’
‘I think there’s room for spirituality in science,’ I countered. ‘I had a rigorous scientific training too, but there are so many things that science hasn’t yet explained.’
‘You’re right, but …’ Charlie checked his watch. ‘We seem to have wandered completely off track and I’m due in clinic in fifteen minutes. So, excuse me for getting back to business, but how much has Margaret told you about the Kinnaird estate?’
‘That it’s over forty thousand acres of wilderness, and you’re looking for someone who knows about the indigenous animals who could inhabit it, wildcats in particular.’
‘Yes. Due to my father’s death, the Kinnaird estate will pass to me. Dad used it as his personal playground for years; hunting, shooting, fishing and drinking the local distilleries dry with not a thought for the estate’s ecology. To be fair, it’s not entirely his fault – his father and numerous male relatives before him were happy to take money from the loggers for shipbuilding in the last century. They stood back and watched as vast tracts of Caledonian pine forests were stripped bare. They didn’t know any better in those days, but in these enlightened times, we do. I’m aware that it will be impossible to turn back the clock completely, certainly in my lifetime, but I’m keen to make a start. I’ve got the best estate manager in the Highlands to lead the way with the reforestation project. We’ve also spruced up the hunting lodge where Dad lived, so we can let it to paying guests who want a breath of fresh Highland air and some organised shoots.’
‘Right,’ I said, trying to suppress a shudder.
‘You obviously don’t approve of culling?’
‘I can’t approve of any innocent animal being killed, no.
But I do understand why it has to happen,’ I added hurriedly. After all, I told myself, I was applying for a job on a Highland estate, where the culling of deer was not only standard practice, but the law.
‘With your background, I’m sure you know how the whole balance of nature in Scotland has been destroyed by mankind. There are no natural predators, such as wolves and bears, left to keep the deer population under control. Nowadays, that task is down to us. At least we can perform it as humanely as
‘I know, although I have to be totally honest and tell you that I’d never be able to help out at a shoot. I’m used to protecting animals, not murdering them.’
‘I understand your sentiments. I’ve had a look at your CV and it’s very impressive. As well as gaining a first-class degree in zoology, you specialised in conservation?’
‘Yes, the technical side of my degree – anatomy, biology, genetics, indigenous animals’ behavioural patterns and so on – was invaluable. I worked in the research department at Servion Zoo for a while, but I soon realised I was more interested in doing something hands-on to help animals, rather than just
studying them from a distance and analysing their DNA in a Petri dish. I … just have a natural empathy with them in the flesh, and although I have no veterinary training, I seem to have a knack for healing them when they’re sick.’ I shrugged lamely, embarrassed to be blowing my own trumpet.
‘Margaret was certainly very complimentary about your skills. She told me you’ve been caring for the wildcats at her sanctuary.’
‘I’ve done the day-to-day stuff, yes, but it’s Margaret who’s the real expert. We were hoping the cats would mate this season as part of the re-wilding programme, but now the sanctuary is closing and the animals are being rehomed, it probably won’t happen. Wildcats are incredibly temperamental.’
‘So Cal MacKenzie, my estate manager, tells me. He’s not at all happy about adopting the cats, but they’re indigenous to Scotland and so rare, I feel it’s our duty to do what we can to save the breed. And Margaret thinks that if anyone can help the cats adjust to their change of habitat, it’s you. So, are you interested in coming up with them for a few weeks and settling them in?’
‘I am, although the wildcats alone wouldn’t really be a full-time job once they’re in situ. Is there anything else I could do?’
‘To be honest, Tiggy, so far I haven’t had much chance to think through future plans for the estate in detail. What with my job here and trying to sort out probate since my father passed away, I’ve been up to my eyes. But whilst you’re with us, I’d love it if you could study the terrain and assess its suitability for other indigenous breeds. I’ve been thinking about introducing red squirrels and native mountain hares. I’m also investigating the suitability of wild boar and elk, plus restocking the wild salmon in the streams and lochs, building salmon leaps and so forth to encourage spawning. There’s a lot of potential, given the right resources.’
‘Okay, that all sounds interesting,’ I agreed. ‘Although I should warn you, fish aren’t a speciality of mine.’
‘Of course. And I should warn you that financial realities mean I can only offer a basic wage, plus board, but I’d be very grateful for any help you can give me. As much as I love the place, Kinnaird is proving a time-consuming and difficult proposition.’
‘You must have known the estate would come to you one day?’ I ventured.
‘I did, but I also thought Dad was one of those characters who would creak on forever. So much so that he didn’t even bother to make a will, so he died intestate. Even though I’m his only heir and it’s a formality, it means another pile of paperwork I didn’t need. Anyway, it’ll all be sorted by January, so my solicitor tells me.’
‘How did he die?’ I asked.
‘Ironically, he dropped dead of a heart attack and was helicoptered in to me here,’ Charlie sighed. ‘He’d already left us by then, borne upwards on a cloud of whisky fumes, so the post mortem indicated later.’
‘That must have been tough for you,’ I said, wincing at the thought.
‘It was a shock, yes.’
I watched his fingers grab the pager once more, betraying his inner angst.
‘Can’t you sell the estate if you don’t want it?’
‘Sell up after three hundred years of Kinnaird ownership?’
He rolled his eyes and gave a chuckle. ‘I’d have every ghost in the family haunting me for life! And if for no other reason, I have to try and at least caretake it for Zara, my daughter. She’s absolutely passionate about the place. She’s sixteen and if she could, she’d leave school tomorrow and come up and work at Kinnaird full-time. I’ve told her she has to finish her education first.’
‘Right.’ I looked at Charlie in surprise and immediately adjusted my view of him. This man seriously didn’t look old enough to have kids, let alone one who was sixteen.
‘She’ll make a great laird when she’s older,’ Charlie continued, ‘but I want her to live a little first – go to university, travel the world and make sure committing herself to the family estate is really what she wants.’
‘I knew what I wanted to do from the age of four, when I saw a documentary on how elephants were being killed for ivory. I didn’t take a gap year – just went straight to university. I’ve hardly travelled at all,’ I said with a shrug, ‘but there’s nothing like learning on the job.’
‘That’s what Zara keeps telling me.’ Charlie gave me a faint smile. ‘I have a feeling the two of you will get on very well. Of course what I should do is give this up’ – he indicated our surroundings – ‘and devote my life to the estate until Zara can take over. The problem is, that until the estate’s in better shape, it doesn’t make financial sense to pack in my day job. And between you and me, I’m not even sure yet if I’m cut out for life as a country laird.’ He checked his watch again. ‘Right, I must go, but if you are interested, it’s best you visit Kinnaird and see it for yourself. It hasn’t snowed up there yet, but it’s expected soon. You need to be aware that it’s as remote as it gets.’
‘I live with Margaret in her cottage in the middle of nowhere,’ I pointed out.
‘Margaret’s cottage is Times Square compared to Kinnaird,’ Charlie replied. ‘I’ll text you the mobile number for Cal and also the landline at the Lodge. If you leave messages on both, he’ll get one or the other eventually and call you back.’
The beeping of Charlie’s pager interrupted my train of thought.
‘Right, I really must go.’ He stood up. ‘Email me with any more questions you have and if you let me know when you’re going up to Kinnaird, I’ll try to join you there. And please, think about it seriously. I really need you. Thanks for coming, Tiggy. Bye now.’
‘Bye,’ I said, then watched as he turned away and weaved through the tables towards the exit. I felt weirdly elated, because I’d experienced a real connection with him. Charlie seemed familiar, as though I’d known him forever. And since I believed in reincarnation, I probably had. I closed my eyes for a second and cleared my mind to try to focus on which emotion stirred first in me when I thought of him, and was shocked at the result. Rather than being filled with a warm glow about someone who might represent a paternal employer like figure, another part of me altogether reacted.
No! I opened my eyes and stood up to leave. He’s got a teenage daughter, which means he’s far older than he looks and probably married, I chided myself as I walked through the brightly lit hospital corridors and out of the entrance into the foggy November afternoon. Dusk had already begun to fall over Inverness, even though it was only just past three o’clock.
Standing in the queue for the bus that would take me to the train station, I shivered – from cold or the tingle of excitement, I didn’t know. All I did know was that I was instinctively interested in the job, however temporary. So I found the number Charlie had given me for Cal MacKenzie, pulled out my mobile and dialled it.