Home > A Scot to the Heart

A Scot to the Heart
Author: Caroline Linden

 


Chapter One

 

 

1787

Fort George

Ardersier, Scotland

 

The broken wheel was the last straw.

The company had been out for a fortnight on the most miserable assignment, repairing roads in an incessant misty drizzle. They were within two miles of Fort George’s warm, dry beds and hot food when a wheel of the equipment wagon found an overlooked hole and tilted with a groan and a sickening snap of spokes.

Efforts to raise it were in vain. Resigned, the men and officers unloaded the shovels and pickaxes and other tools onto their own backs and began the weary trudge to Ardersier.

When they reached the long, narrow bridge into the fort, an eternity later, there was an outburst of exclamations—relief, pain, profanity toward the army for the road detail and against God for the fecking rain. Their captain, leading his tool-laden horse through mud that covered his ankles, his sodden sash draped over his head, silently agreed, and vowed he would ask the colonel for three days’ leave for the men. On days like this, he hated the army, too.

At very long last, after unloading the tools, dismissing his men, and delivering his horse to the stables, he turned toward his own lodging. As a captain, he had cramped quarters in one of the long buildings facing the Firth of Moray—not that anyone could see the firth today.

“Welcome back, sir,” said MacKinnon as he let himself into the two small rooms that were home. “The colonel’s wanting you.”

Dripping wet, slathered in mud, half-starved and tired almost unto unconsciousness, Andrew St. James just stood in the doorway, his hand still on the latch. “What—now?” he asked hopelessly.

His man nodded. “Aye, Captain. Posthaste, he said.”

Bloody saints, I hate the army, Drew thought.

“Damn it.” He unbuckled his sword belt with stiff fingers. MacKinnon passed him a towel to mop his face as he stripped off his wet clothing.

He longed for a hot bath and shave, to say nothing of putting off his uniform for a comfortable banyan, but he’d learnt the hard way that the colonel’s impatience overrode his attention to matters of dress, so he pulled on fresh garments. MacKinnon ran a hasty brush over his jacket, handed him his bonnet, and gave a crisp nod. “I hope it’s good news, Captain.”

He gave a grim nod. That would run counter to his luck of late. “Aye, let’s hope.”

He didn’t expect it would be. These summonses rarely were.

He strode through the open square, holding his cloak close around him as he went. From one barracks drifted the sounds of a piper and laughter of men at ease. The scent of pipe smoke and roast mutton followed him across the quadrangle, blackening his mood even more. He ought to be sitting down to his own dinner instead of dancing attendance on the querulous colonel. With more force than necessary, he banged on the door of the colonel’s house.

Colonel Fitzwilliam enjoyed superior housing and dining. The aroma of roast beef and fresh bread hit like a punch when the servant let him in, setting his temper to simmering. Whatever Fitzwilliam wanted to see him about had better be damned important, he thought as he waited in the office.

The colonel came in several minutes later, a scowl on his florid face and a napkin still tucked across his ample abdomen. “St. James,” he said irritably. “What took you so long?”

Drew kept his gaze on the swords hanging above the mantel. The clink of silver on china and the light lilt of Mrs. Fitzwilliam’s laugh reached his ears. A dinner party. Probably with syllabub. His stomach growled resentfully. “We’ve only just returned from detail, sir. The equipment wagon broke a wheel.”

Fitzwilliam scoffed. “Ought to have hurried back. There’s a letter for you, and I was told to deliver it personally and immediately.”

Drew glanced at him, startled. “From whom?” His muscles knotted. It must be bad news from home. Who else would write to him that urgently?

“From London,” said Fitzwilliam, unlocking the top drawer of his desk and rummaging inside. “A prissy solicitor for the Duke of Carlyle.”

The knot of worry dissolved. He frowned in amazed astonishment. “Carlyle!”

“You’re acquainted with him?”

“No, sir,” he said slowly. “He’s a distant cousin—very distant. I’ve never met the duke.”

The colonel grunted and thrust out the letter. “The solicitor said I was to put it straight into your hands, and only your hands.”

He took the letter with a brief bow and slid it inside his coat. On no account was he going to read it in front of Fusty Fitzwilliam. “Thank you, sir. Is that all?”

The colonel pursed his lips, displeased. “What does it say?”

He managed a tight smile. “I shall read it later, after I’ve had dinner. I can’t imagine it’s anything significant. My family has had naught to do with Carlyle since my grandfather’s day.”

“You’ll have to tell me what it says,” retorted Fitzwilliam, his face growing ruddier. “I received a letter with it from Sir George Yonge himself, with orders to grant you leave from your duties as requested by that missive there.” He jerked his head toward the pocket where Drew had stowed it.

“Ah,” he said after a startled moment. “I’ll be sure to do that, sir.”

Fitzwilliam glowered at him. “Do, Captain.”

Dismissed, he bowed and left, barely remembering to fling his cloak over his head in time to avoid being drenched a second time.

As he ran back across the square, though, his mind raced ahead, hundreds of miles away to Carlyle Castle. He’d never been there and never received any communication from the duke, either. What on earth could the Carlyle solicitor want from him?

By the time he reached his lodgings again, he had begun to wonder, even hope, if there mightn’t be some legacy, either newly left to him by an obscure relative or recently discovered by the solicitor. There had been no word from the St. Jameses of Carlyle Castle in the dozen years and more since his father and grandfather had died. His mother always said she wasn’t surprised, since they hadn’t cared when either was alive.

Not that Drew would refuse anything from them now. On the contrary, he would accept even a small inheritance with gratitude—and alacrity.

It was the letter from the secretary at war that unsettled him. Why would Sir George Yonge care that he was granted leave to accept a legacy? Why would Carlyle’s solicitor ask the head of the army to intervene?

He tore open the letter as soon as he gained the shelter of his lodging. MacKinnon had laid out a generous dinner which normally would have driven all other thoughts from his mind, especially after a day like this one. But tonight he stood just inside his door, ignoring the water dripping off him, and read the letter from his distant cousin’s solicitor.

“Trouble, sir?” ventured MacKinnon after several minutes.

He raised stunned eyes. “Bloody hell,” he whispered.

 

A fortnight later he found himself five hundred miles away cantering up a long winding road to the castle. It was a monumental structure of weathered gray stone, with crenelated towers and a drawbridge through a stone arch that had certainly once held a portcullis—if it didn’t still hold one. It was not unlike some of the fortresses to which he’d been posted during his years of army life, and he wouldn’t have been surprised to see a regiment come marching crisply around the corner. Never would he have guessed that this was a home.

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