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Once Upon a Tartan
  • Текст добавлен: 9 октября 2016, 02:01

Текст книги "Once Upon a Tartan"

Автор книги: Grace Burrowes

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Текущая страница: 7 (всего у книги 20 страниц)


The MacGregors had earned coin until the previous summer by opening Balfour House to paying guests while the royal family was in residence at nearby Balmoral Castle. From Quinworth’s perspective, this was more contemptible than if they’d resorted to trade.

It was one thing to labor for one’s bread or to make a profit off those laboring for their bread. The land alone could no longer sustain the lifestyle the upper classes maintained, and even Tye’s father acknowledged that much. To make money out of nothing more than social and geographical convenience, though, was in Quinworth’s estimation indefensible—a complete disregard of the standards and dictates of social propriety.

Tye suspected his very practical mother would have had a thing or two to say about such a conclusion, if she’d been on hand to hear it.

Tye found the MacGregors’ choices resourceful, and doubted his own family could have been creative enough to seize such an opportunity in the wake of famine, massive emigration, and decades of political persecution.

“Welcome to Balfour House.” A tall, black-haired woman with a gracious smile on her lovely face and an arm around Ian MacGregor’s waist greeted Tye on a wide stone terrace. “Ian warned me you could be his cousin in coloring and height.”

“Augusta, my heart, may I make known to you Tiberius, Earl of Spathfoy, and Fee’s uncle. Spathfoy, my lady and I bid you welcome. I hope you’re hungry, because the kitchen has been bankrupting the larders the livelong day in anticipation of feeding a genuine English lord.”

Tye bowed over the countess’s hand. “A courtesy lord only, and I hope a courteous lord. Your home is beautiful.”

“My wife is beautiful,” Balfour said, smiling shamelessly at his lady. “The house is just a place to raise our children. Come along. Augusta will want you to see some of the gardens before she lets us down a wee dram in anticipation of the meal.”

“Ian will try to get you drunk,” the lady interjected, slipping a hand through Tye’s arm. “It’s his duty as host to ply you with whisky, and mine to ply you with food. What brought you to the Highlands, my lord?”

It was another gauntlet, with husband and wife handing off the examination of the witness as neatly as two seasoned football players would pass the ball between them down the field.

How was his family? Andhis dear mother?

Was he missing the social whirl in Town?

Only as the meal wound down—and an excellent meal it was, too—did Tye understand they’d been toying with him, amusing themselves in a manner only a closely attuned married couple might consider entertaining.

“I must excuse myself,” Lady Balfour said, getting to her feet. “My routine calls for a stop by the nursery at this hour, so I’ll leave you gentlemen to your port. Lord Spathfoy, I bid you good night. Once I get to the nursery, it sometimes takes Ian prying me away from our son bodily before I’ll leave that baby.”

Balfour leaned in to kiss his wife’s cheek, and Tye heard him whisper something in her ear in Gaelic about dreams and lectures. The lady smiled prettily and withdrew, her husband watching a part of her anatomy Tye dared not even notice.

The Scots were daft, and apparently marriage to a Scot resulted in daftness even in women raised among the English aristocracy. Tye wondered what his mother might have said about the effect on a Scottish woman of marrying an English noble.

“If you prefer port, Spathfoy, I’m bound as your host to provide it, but I’ve some whisky I typically bring out only for special occasions, if you’re game.”

“I’m a special occasion?”

“To your family you likely are, but it’s plain to me I haven’t gotten you drunk yet, so I’m resorting to my best stratagems.” Balfour offered this comment with such candid good cheer, Tye almost believed he was teasing. Almost.

“And why must I become inebriated?”

“Let’s take our drinks on the back terrace, shall we? I love the gloaming, and if the dew is falling just so, I’ll hear my wife singing the bairn a lullaby. I can become inebriatedon that alone.”

Balfour was shameless about his family attachments, which was so different from what Tye had been raised with, Tye couldn’t find it in himself to be appalled.

They stopped by a library, which wasn’t exactly crammed with books, and Balfour opened a sideboard and passed Tye a decanter. “We’ll use glasses in case her ladyship tries for a sneak inspection from the nursery window.”

“Somehow, Balfour, if she’s spying from the window, I doubt she’ll be doing so for the sake of evaluating our etiquette.”

Balfour smiled wolfishly. “Perhaps she won’t be.” Tye was surprised when the man did not wink but led him through French doors straight to the terrace.

“You are a guest under my roof and distant family, so I will appreciate some honesty,” Balfour said as he took a bench at the edge of the terrace. He poured them each a drink and passed one to Tye, who remained standing. “To your health.”

“And yours.” Tye sipped his drink cautiously, but God in heaven,it was sublime libation. He took a place beside Balfour on the stone bench. “What isthis?”

“We’ve taken to calling it the laird’s cache. My master distiller and I came across about twenty barrels of this when we were doing an inventory last year. I suspect it’s at least twenty years old, but McDowell claims it’s twice that. We’re decanting it one barrel at a time.”

They sipped in respectful silence for some minutes. Tye tried to mentally describe the flavors gracing his palate, but it was pointless when faced with such variety and subtlety. The drink didn’t burn its way into his vitals, it illuminated him from the inside out—like a certain young lady’s smile.

“Do your royal neighbors know you’ve drink like this to offer your guests?”

“Oh, of course. We send over a few bottles in welcome every summer. Albert is a man of refinement, so at least we know it isn’t going to waste.”

More silence as Balfour topped off their drinks. “I’m plying you with my best whisky, Spathfoy. I expect a few honest answers in return.”

Ah, so the real questioning was going to begin. “I am generally considered an honest man.”

“Did you know Matthew Daniels has initiated a suit to assume legal guardianship of Fiona?”

Tye let the glow of his last sip of whisky fade before he answered. “I did not.”

Balfour’s disclosure made sense though. This might account for Quinworth’s sudden interest in the child. A marquess might ignore his granddaughter, but only as long as nobody else—no other wealthy, titled Englishman, for example—was stepping into the breach. Still, Tye felt a spike of resentment that his father had sent him into battle less than well informed.

“Neither did I. I’m not sure Mary Fran knew. Matthew is devoted to the child.”

As Quinworth had not been; as Tye had not been. “That is commendable.”

“To see the girl leave Balfour House about tore the heart from my chest.”

Scottish hyperbole, no doubt. “She’s a delightful child.” Which was English hyperbole.

“She’s a damned force of nature, like her mother. She’s also the first good thing to happen to this family in nigh fifty years. I say this, though it means I must overcome my reluctance to admit anything good could come of yet another decent Scottish girl’s rape at the hands of an English soldier. Excuse me. Perhaps I am the one becoming inebriated.” He lifted his glass to peer at his drink. “I meant seduction, not rape.”

Tye set his glass down between them on the stone bench. “You accuse my late brother of rape?”

“No… no, though I’d like to.” Balfour’s tone was thoughtful. “I accuse him of seducing an innocent, getting her with child, and having every intention of leaving the girl ruined if she refused his suit.”

“Now this is interesting.” Tye kept his tone speculative, though the insult intended was blatant. “My family regards Fiona’s origins as an example of yet another loyal English soldier being led astray by a local woman intent on insinuating herself into the coffers of his wealthy and titled family.”

“Interesting, indeed. I think I would have noticed my own sister doing this insinuating you mention, particularly when we haven’t a Quinworth copper to show for it—nor a single letter or note from the wealthy, titled family since Fiona’s birth years ago.”

A valid argument. Tye remained silent while Balfour poured him another two fingers.

“Mary Fran was barely eighteen, her virtue something I, my three brothers, my grandfather, and assorted uncles and cousins would all have staked their lives on. She was headstrong, true, but not wicked. The woman knows not how to scheme when direct measures will serve. You have sisters, Spathfoy.”

God yes, he had sisters. If he’d had no sisters, there was no power on earth that could have sent him on this fool’s errand for Quinworth. “A woman at eighteen generally knows her own mind.”

“And is this why English law forbids her to wed without parental consent until she’s twenty-one?”

Now why would a Scottish earl bother himself with English law? Tye took another sip of his drink, and in his head began to count to one hundred in Gaelic.

Balfour gazed up at the darkening sky. “I read law, Spathfoy, lots and lots of it, with lots and lots of English barristers and solicitors. Here is what I want you to ask your dear papa: What Scotswoman in her right mind, much less the daughter of an earl, would cast herself into the arms of a penniless English soldier if she were intent on marriage? As I heard it, your own mother, who was no more wellborn than Mary Fran, was reluctant to take on a marquess and hasn’t exactly remained at his side since the nuptials.

“Your brother was pretty,” Balfour went on, “but prettier, wealthier officers were thick on the ground. Mary Fran was the highest-ranking eligible female in the shire. She had no need of Gordie Flynn’s hand in marriage. She took her flirting too far perhaps, but Gordie was older, more worldly, and arguably raised as a gentleman. My sister married well beneath her justified expectations and very much against her preferences.”

He sipped his whisky placidly, but his arguments settled into Tye’s thinking brain and blended with several other trains of thought.

The marquess had not told Tye that a guardianship suit was pending. What else had the marquess failed to tell his firstborn son and minion? That Balfour was a lawyer certainly didn’t help matters at all.

Mary Frances MacGregor, as described by her brother, was wellborn enough to have no need of association with the Flynns, something the marquess had also never acknowledged in Tye’s hearing.

And there was more. In a casual tour of the house, Tye had seen a portrait of Mary Fran as a young mother. The lady was gorgeous, putting Tye in mind of his own mother’s height, red hair, and feminine figure. This too, would have given her more marital options besides a marquess’s younger son sporting around in regimental colors.

And eighteen in a proper household could be innocent—very likely had beeninnocent.

“More whisky?” Balfour was the soul of good manners now that he’d rattled swords and upset Tye’s enjoyment of very fine spirits.

“No, thank you. This is drink to be savored.”

“It is. Just as Fiona is a child to be loved.”

Damn the man. “I cannot fault my father for attempting to redress what could be seen as previous neglect of his granddaughter.”

“He can redress all the neglect he wants—set up a trust fund, send you along on annual inspections, have Fee down to visit her aunties when she’s old enough to sit still on the train. An old man is entitled to deal with his regrets. He’ll not be taking our Fee, though, not unless Mary Fran herself tells me to allow it.”

“And that good woman is not here, is she?”

Balfour drank in silence, his gaze going to a window on the third floor. “Ask your father what he’s truly about, Spathfoy. The child’s happiness matters more to me and mine than your father’s consequence or his queer starts. Meaning no disrespect to present company, your brother was a cad and a bounder, and your father had the raising of him. Taking possession of Fee as if she’s some prize of war will not bring Gordie back, nor will it change what Gordie was.”

And this was most damning of all, because Tye had known his brother—he better than his father had known him, though perhaps not better than his mother. Tye had seen his younger brother for the spoiled, self-indulgent boy he’d been.

He’d seen Gordie’s venal streak, and borne the brunt of it more than once, and he’d desperately hoped some years in the military would mature the selfish streak into something more honorable.

So Tye compromised. Balfour had treated Tye honestly. Tye offered a truth in return: “If my brother dealt with Lady Mary Frances in a cavalier fashion, it would disappoint me. While it might surprise my father, it would not surprise me.” He rose from the bench. “I thank you for a wonderful meal, and for sharing a memorable drink with me, though if I tarry much longer, I’ll lose the light for my journey home.”

“We’ll call for your horse, but let me fetch you a bottle for your papa’s cellars before we send you on your way.”

That was Scottish of Balfour. They were a tightfisted race of necessity, but Balfour was making a statement: even a marquess condemned to lose a legal battle was entitled to a last, decent drink.

The man was entirely too trusting of the marquess’s honor. Balfour’s earlier point had been telling: Gordie’s honor had been wanting, and Gordie was Quinworth’s son. Tye was on his horse and headed down the lane before it occurred to him: he, too, was Quinworth’s son.

* * *

“I will be more than relieved to see your son weaned, Husband.” Augusta MacGregor shifted over to give her spouse the warm side of the bed, though in moments, his sheer size and brawn would have the whole thing toasty.

“I will be relieved as well, Wife, though likely for different reasons. It does send the lad to his slumbers, though.” He moved about, rocking the bed until he was wrapped around Augusta from behind.

“Was Spathfoy very tiresome?”

“The man needs to indulge in good spirits more often, but no, he wasn’t any worse than he was raised to be. Maybe a little better.”

Augusta felt Ian’s lips trailing over her neck, then his nose. He was particularly adept at the nose-kiss, or nuzzle, and especially… “That tickles, Ian.”

“A sweet spot.” He kissed the place right below her ear that made Augusta both sigh and shiver. “I think Spathfoy was honestly surprised to hear Matthew has brought suit to become Fee’s guardian.”

Augusta caught her husband’s wandering hand before it lifted her nightgown any higher on her thigh. “You were surprised. I’m Matthew’s cousin, and I was surprised. Do you think Hester knows?”

“That one.” Ian squeezed Augusta’s fingers, then freed his hand from her grasp. “For the life of me, I can no longer read her, Augusta. Last year, she was full of mischief, carefree, and happy to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. This year, she seems blighted.”

“Blight kills.”

“She’s not a potato vine, my love.” His hand started its stealthy stroking over her hip again. “I believe our Hester has caught Spathfoy’s notice.”

“Did he ask about her?”

“He stood before the daguerreotype we had taken of her at our wedding, and he’d have to be blind not to notice the changes in her. She was petite a year ago. She’s a shadow now.”

“And a cranky shadow.” Augusta shifted ever so slightly, so her backside nestled more snugly against a certain part of her husband’s anatomy. “Did you learn anything from Spathfoy over the manly tot of truth potion?”

“He’s not his younger brother. I left enough insults in the air to be risking my good health, but Spathfoy is cannier than that. I couldn’t bait him, and if I’m not mistaken, he was trying to pass along some information without being blatantly disloyal to the marquess.” He shifted as well, so there was no mistaking his arousal. “My love, I never did get that lecture on proper deportment.”

“I had hopes my good example might be inspiration enough.”

But a thought was trying to edge its way through her growing arousal. “Do you think Gordie had despoiled other innocents?”

Ian went still. Bodily, this manifested as a simple absence of movement, but Augusta was his devoted wife, and even lying on her side facing away from him, she could feel his mind focus on a single still point as well.

“Wife, you are brilliant. I would bet the rest of the laird’s cache that’s exactly what Spathfoy was intimating. He said he wouldn’t be surprised to find Gordie had taken advantage of Mary Fran—disappointed, but not surprised. My wife is a genius.” He rolled her to her back and caged her with his much larger body.

His kisses were tender, enthusiastic, and captivating. His kisses were part of what had endeared him to her when their chances of lasting happiness had seemed so dim.


“Your Brilliance?”

“Have we heard from Mary Fran and Matthew?”

He lifted up and scowled down at her. “We have not. I will worry about that in the morning, Wife.”

“Will you also worry about any will Gordie might have left?”

He smoothed a big hand over her hair and sighed gustily, some of the lust seeming to go out of him. “My heart, I thought you wanted a large family, though why you’d aspire to such a thing when one baby has already turned this household upside down is beyond the understanding of a simple man such as myself.”

“You areworried.” Augusta urged him down against her chest and wrapped her arms around him. “Did Gordie leave a will?”

“I’ve people looking into it. Gordie was an officer, so making a will ought to have been something he saw to in the ordinary course. The question is, was it a will that provided for the guardianship of any minor children, and if so, what did it provide?”

“You think he’d leave his children in his father’s care, don’t you?”

Ian settled more closely on her, though even preoccupied, he was careful of her breasts. “Gordie was a heedless, selfish younger son. Such prudence and consideration would have been foreign to his nature.”

“But you’re worried.” She stroked a hand through his thick, dark hair. “You’re worried for Fee, for Mary Fran, and even for Matthew.”

“No.” He lifted his head to meet Augusta’s gaze. “In the morning, I might be a wee bit concerned, but right now, I’m in bed with my wife, and the only thing worryingme is that I might once again be left with only the dubious comfort of my wife’s example of proper deportment.”

As it turned out, that example was not among the comforts to befall the Earl of Balfour, and by the time he fell asleep entangled with his loving wife, neither did his lordship feel the least bit worried.

* * *

Hester watched from her vantage point as Spathfoy led his horse into the stables. He was talking to the animal, though she was too far away to hear exactly what was said. No doubt it was a lecture of some sort on proper equine deportment.

Her perch on a garden bench gave her a clear view into the barn. By the lantern hanging in the aisle, she could see Spathfoy didn’t wake the lads but tended to the animal himself—and didn’t skimp either. The saddle and bridle came off and were properly stowed, then a grooming ensued from one end of the gelding’s glossy dark hide to the other.

Then—this surprised her—a scratching about the beast’s withers and shoulders amid more talk.

Spathfoy left the horse in the cross ties while he scrubbed out, dumped, and refilled a water bucket. He picked out each hoof, which could be a messy proposition for a man in informal evening attire, then forked some hay into the stall.

Hester wasn’t sure the grooms would have been quite that considerate, which was perhaps why Spathfoy was tending to his mount himself: an English lord in unfriendly territory needed a sound horse for his eventual retreat.

After making a circuit of the stables for which purpose Hester could not divine, Spathfoy started up the path, and still he didn’t notice her sitting on her bench in the moonlight.

“Good evening, my lord.” She hadn’t intended to speak, but lurking any longer seemed rude.

“Miss Daniels, good evening.” In the moonlight, his voice seemed different—richer, darker, less English and less of all the things that clouded its inherent beauty. “May I escort you to the house?”

He wouldoffer to observe the proprieties.

“No thank you. You may join me if you like. I trust you found Ian and Augusta in good health?”

He settled beside her, a piece of the night taking a seat. “They did not terrorize me with the company of their offspring at table, if that’s what you’re asking, and the meal was above reproach.”

“The meal was delicious. If Ian broke out the laird’s cache, then the drink was among the finest you’ve ever been served.”

He sighed, a big gust of male emotion that would never be accurately labeled. “I don’t want to bicker with you, Miss Daniels. Are you sure I can’t escort you to the house?”

“So you can lurk out here among the roses and brood in solitude?”

In the darkness, she saw his teeth gleam. A smile or a grimace? “Yes, if you must know. Solitude is my preferred state, in fact, and if I don’t get regular doses of it, I become restive.”

“You usually like bickering with me.” And she liked bickering with him. The realization was not as lowering as it should have been.

“Your observation is no compliment to one who aspires to the status of gentleman.”

“It wasn’t an insult either.” He was in some sort of mood. Hester recognized it, because she’d been in the same mood ever since Lord Jasper Merriman had left bruises on her person that had only recently faded. “And you don’t deny it, either. You enjoy our spats.”

“I’m tired, Miss Daniels, and yet I am not comfortable leaving you out here without companionship at such a late hour. What do you want of me?”

Even for him, that was brusque.

“Ian worked you over properly, didn’t he? And Augusta abetted him, smiling and nodding all the while.”

“Ian– Lord Balfour—reminded me I have a conscience, and the realization is not at all convenient, even when softened by marvelously smooth whisky.”

She didn’t think he’d intended to be that honest, but she seized the opening before her courage deserted her. “Please call me Hester. We are practically family, and our paths are likely to cross on occasion if you remain interested in Fiona’s well-being.”

“Very well. May I escort you to the house, Hester?”

He was truly rattled. Whatever Ian had said or implied or otherwise insinuated, Spathfoy was wrestling with it.

“Will you kiss me, my lord?”

“For God’s sake, no, I will not kiss you.” He didn’t get off the bench though. Didn’t shift the slightest bit away from her.

“It’s just that I don’t particularly like you,” Hester said, “so I think it’s safe to try out your paces, so to speak. You’ve already had your tongue in my mouth, after all, and your bare hands on my person.”

“We’re back to your equestrian analogies?”

Still he didn’t leave. Didn’t get to his feet or cross his arms or otherwise reject her proposition.

“There is something amiss with me,” Hester said, speaking slowly. “You say you are restive if too much in the company of others. I comprehend this, though I would not have even a few months ago. It’s why I left London, why I so very thoroughly enjoyed a good gallop yesterday. Fiona says I’m out of sorts, and Ian and Augusta look at me like I’m a powder keg whose fuse they must not inadvertently light. Sometimes, I can’t get my breath, and I feel like I ama powder keg.”

She fell silent, because the more words she let spin forth, the faster they wanted to come—and to him, of all people.

“You feel as if a fuse has been lit,” Spathfoy said slowly—reluctantly? “You feel as if you’re watching it burn down, and there’s nothing you can do to stop the impending mayhem.”

She nodded, because speech abruptly seemed a chancy thing. Her heart began to thump palpably, and she had to part her lips to draw breath.

“Any further kissing between us is ill-advised in the extreme.” He stood and marched half a dozen steps in the direction of the house. Hester knew the urge to scream, to drag him back to her side by the hair, to rage and cry out and destroy the entire peace of the night around her.

Then he turned and stalked toward the bench. He kept coming, until to her shock, he knelt over her, one knee by each hip, so the great bulk of him was straddling her lap. “Very ill-advised.”

He framed her face in his hands and paused, his mouth just a whisper from hers. “You will regret this, Hester. I will regret this.”

His mouth descended onto hers firmly, nothing tentative or reluctant about it, and inside Hester, something eased. All the tension and frustrations she’d been corralling behind her manners and her benighted self-restraint found an outlet, a way to express themselves. She didn’t think about Jasper Merriman or bruises, or her idiot mother, or her silently worried family.

With just his mouth on hers, Spathfoy obliterated all thought and all memory from Hester’s awareness, leaving her to feast her senses on him alone.

He was warm all around her, and clean and yet male too, in the scents of horse and night and well-oiled leather clinging to his clothing. When Hester opened her mouth beneath his, his arms came around her, and hers lashed around him. She held him desperately tight, letting herself cling and needfor just a few moments.

His tongue was a marvel, tasting first the corners of her mouth, then tracing her lips, then retreating to invite her into similar boldness. She accepted the invitation, went plundering into the hot, wet reaches of his mouth, sent her fingers into his hair, arched her body up into his.

“For God’s sake, woman.”

He hung over her, panting, while Hester pressed her face to his chest and resented his clothing. She could feel his erect male flesh, could feel curiosity in her vitals where distaste ought to be, and she rejoiced that it should be so.

“Do you want me to swive you right here on this bloody damned bench?” He climbed off her and turned his back, likely to arrange himself in his clothing. Then he faced her, scrubbing a hand back through his hair. “I assume you comprehend the term?”

“I comprehend the term better than you imagine, my lord. And what would you say if I replied in the affirmative?”

She’d shocked herself with her own question, but she’d shocked him as well. His posture shifted with it, as if she’d smacked him physically.

“I would say, madam, that you are overwrought for reasons I cannot fathom, and I would offer once again to escort you inside the damned house, where I would leave you in blasted peace and hope you might offer me the same ruddy courtesy while I try to forget this whole misguided encounter.”

He resumed his seat on the bench when Hester had expected him to stomp off into the darkness. They sat there in silence until Hester realized she’d synchronized her breathing with his.

“Ian upset you.”

He leaned back and ranged his arm along the bench behind her. “It might delight you to know, Miss Daniels, that youhave upset me. You are family to the lord and lady of this home, family to the child who is my niece. You are young and innocent, despite what you think of a few wicked kisses, and it has never been an ambition of mine to despoil innocents.”

“Now you’re scolding me? I asked you to kiss me, I did not toss you bodily onto your lordly back and force my wiles upon you. I can’t help that I like kissing you.”

“You sound damned unhappy about it yourself. God knows a taste for you—for your kisses—doesn’t make my life any easier.”

Now he was disgruntled, or likely amused. The worst of his ill feeling was passing, perhaps as his arousal faded. He wasn’t going to kiss her again, and to Hester, this seemed like a great, miserable unfairness on top of many other injustices.

“I know about that word you used.”

“Swive—a lovely, old Anglo-Saxon monosyllable never to be uttered in the presence of women or children. My apologies for an egregious breach of propriety.”

She closed her eyes, because she was going to confide in this large, unhappy, often rude English lord. “I know about it.”

“You’ve said as much. Congratulations on the depth of your naughty vocabulary, Miss Daniels. Please do not share this dubious accomplishment with my niece.”

“My name is Hester, and I don’t mean merely the word. I know about it.”

A few beats of quiet went by, while off in the distance the fox started up lamenting his solitude. This time, Hester found the tortured sound appropriate to the discussion.

Spathfoy turned his head to regard her in the moonlight. “Are you telling me you have been relieved of your chastity?”

His voice was arctic, the verbal embodiment of barely contained affront. Hester hunched forward, gripping the edge of the bench with both hands.

She nodded.

He muttered something under his breath that sounded Gaelic. “Merriman?”

She nodded again, but inside her, something was coiling up more tightly than ever.

“Does your family know?”

Hester shook her head.

And then very gently, so gently she barely recognized it as the voice of the Earl of Spathfoy, “Hester, are you carrying the man’s child?”

* * *

The quiet wraith beside Tye shook her head again.

“I am not w… with child. It’s not that I wanted to be, but still…”

He understood, probably better than Hester did herself, what she was trying to say. Children were the great consolation offered to women for every trial in life. Tye’s mother had explained this to him, and further explained that the fact that children were among those trials was of no moment.

“Come here.” He settled an arm around her shoulders and brought her close to his side. “You should tell your family, Hester.”


Perhaps she meant she couldn’t tell her brother because he was off gallivanting around the Continent with his new wife. Perhaps she meant something more complicated.

No matter. Tye traced the slender bones of her shoulder with his hand, hurting for her. Oh, he could catch a train south, hunt up Merriman, and mete out some rough justice, but this woman would still be hiding up here in rural Scotland, upset and unhappy when she should have been planning her wedding and picking out names for her firstborn.

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