Home > A Scot to the Heart(4)

A Scot to the Heart(4)
Author: Caroline Linden

Drew hadn’t been here in over a year, thanks to his posting at Fort George. On his way to Carlyle, there hadn’t been time to stop and visit his family. But now . . .

Now he had plenty of time, and vast quantities of news.

His family occupied a small house just off the High Street. It was evening, and his mother and sisters would have closed up the shop by now. But the only one home when he arrived was Annag, who had been his nurse years ago and refused to leave the family even when means grew tight. Now she was all-purpose help to his mother and sisters. “Oh, Master Andrew!” she exclaimed at his entrance. “Here you are, come at last! And about time, too. Your mother’s been fair worried.”

He laughed, embracing the short, gray-haired woman who was almost as dear to him as his own mother. “I wrote to her when I would arrive.” Though it did not surprise him to hear his mother had been fretting, hoping he would appear three days early.

She pursed up her lips. “And you sounding as English as Butcher Cumberland.”

Drew grimaced. “Aye, I’ve been in England these six weeks,” he said, slipping back into the Scots she spoke. He’d got used to speaking clipped English for the duchess.

“May you recover from it soon,” she said tartly. “None of that here, laddie!”

“No, ma’am. Where are they now?”

“At the Monroes’ for dinner. I’ll send round—”

“No, no, just tell them I’ve arrived. Tomorrow will be soon enough to talk.” He winked at her and turned toward the door.

“They’ll want all the news!” she protested, hurrying after him.

“And tomorrow they shall have it, along with the gifts I brought.” He grinned as her eyes grew wide. “Till the morrow, Annag.”

Duty satisfied, he stepped back out into the street and took a deep breath. It was not an unwelcome surprise to find them out. After a hard week of travel, to say nothing of the weeks of study and instruction at Carlyle, the prospect of a night free tasted as sweet as honey.

As eager as he was to see his family again, he had written to an old friend, begging a bed. Felix Duncan had replied as expected that he was welcome to it. Drew swung back into the saddle and took his horse to a stable before walking up the street, saddlebags over his shoulder, to Duncan’s lodgings in Burnet’s Close.

“Come in,” came a muffled bellow at his knock.

He entered to find his friend practicing feints in front of a cheval glass, pausing to adjust his stance after each stroke.

“Are you rehearsing to fight yourself?” he asked with amusement.

“If I’m to face an equal, I must.” Duncan eyed himself critically and raised his elbow to create a more elegant line from hip to wrist.

“Very good. And if you’re ever looking to face someone better, I’m at your service.”

Duncan abandoned his posing. “Better! Not better. Only taller and with longer reach. God’s eyes, man, you’re a mountain.”

Drew obligingly flexed one arm. “The result of tedious hard labor. You might try it.”

Duncan, who had never done a day’s hard labor in his life, propped his épée on his hip and glared at him. “And will it make me taller? Lengthen my arms? I think not.”

He snorted with laughter. “Nay, you’re a hopeless cause. Doomed to be a reedy little man forever . . .”

Duncan growled and raised his sword, and Drew made a show of yawning in reply. His friend’s face eased into a lopsided grin. “For all that you’re a rude one, ’tis good to see you again, St. James. Welcome.”

“Aye,” he agreed as he clasped Duncan’s outstretched hand. “Many thanks for the use of your spare room.”

Duncan resumed his position in front of the glass. “Anytime you need it.” He raised his épée, watching himself in the mirror again. “Although you’re worse than an old woman, hinting at wondrous revelations and not telling me what brings you back to Edinburgh when you ought to be marching around Fort George in the rain.” He lunged, pausing to flick his queue of ginger hair over his shoulder and slant his eyebrows threateningly.

Drew grinned again. It was true he’d told Duncan some whopping stories when they’d been mischievous lads ducking their tutors in the labyrinth of narrow alleys in and around the Cowgate. “This time, Duncan, I’ve got a revelation so wondrous even you won’t believe it.”

He went into the spare room where his trunks had already been delivered. One of them was familiar; it held his belongings, other than the essentials in his saddlebag. The other, larger trunk was new, full of gifts and trinkets for his family, lovely frivolous things suitable for the mother and sisters of a duke.

The sight of it sobered him. It was a Trojan horse, that trunk, a lavish gift that would subtly inject the elegant, rarified world of Carlyle Castle into his family. After the way the previous duke had treated his grandfather, Drew’s family had wanted nothing to do with the castle. Now, though, they had no choice, and that trunk was meant to change their minds.

He’d written to his mother only that he appeared to have expectations from the ducal branch of the family; it had felt like hubris to write it down and send the news into the world, unfettered and liable to run amok. Mr. Edwards, the solicitor, was keeping the whole matter quiet. No one outside Carlyle Castle knew of the duchess’s plan.

At times Drew had wondered wryly if that was to make it easier to bend him and his cousin to the duchess’s will, but the solicitor claimed it was for his own sake, to spare him the intense glare of scrutiny that would fall upon the heir to the dukedom. And that meant very few people in England, and no one at all in Scotland, had any idea that the future Duke of Carlyle trod the plainstanes of Edinburgh this evening.

In truth, he still hardly believed it himself. The Carlyle inheritance seemed like a dream. Even in the midst of Mr. Edwards’s strictures or explanations of some finer point of the estate, part of him had thought it wouldn’t really be his, that some other heir would miraculously emerge at the last moment and leave Drew and his rakish cousin empty-handed. Only now that he was here, about to uproot his family and begin shouldering the burden of Carlyle, was it sinking in that it was his future. This next month would be the last of his life as Captain St. James, ordinary Scotsman and soldier.

As expected, Duncan followed him within minutes, a towel around his neck and two drams of whisky in his hand, one of which he held out. “All right, then, what is this wondrous and incredible revelation?”

For answer, Drew handed him a sealed packet. Duncan tossed back his drink and set down the glass to unfold the papers. For all his rakish ways, Duncan was a judge’s son and an advocate himself, and more intelligent than he acted.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” he exclaimed a few minutes later, still reading. “Is this—is this real?”

Drew nodded, stripping off his coat and tossing it on the wingback chair near the window. He longed for a bath and wondered if Duncan would agree to a naked plunge in the Firth, as they’d used to do.

“Carlyle?” said his friend incredulously. “Carlyle? You?”

Drew gave a mocking bow. “At your service.”

After another shocked moment, Duncan put back his head and roared with laughter. “You—a duke! You—the veriest devil of a child, a peer of the realm! You—the wild Scot, a proper Englishman!”

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