Read Enlightened Online

Authors: Joanna Chambers

Tags: #Fiction, #Gay, #Romance, #Historical, #General

Enlightened

BOOK: Enlightened
3.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Dedication

For my boys.

Chapter One

February 1823, Perthshire

“What do you say, Mr. McNally? It’s a generous offer.”

McNally considered, the furrows on his brow deep as a new-ploughed field, while David watched him, waiting patiently for a response. McNally’s craggy face was weather-beaten from years spent outside, and his clothes were plain and homely. He was no gentleman farmer, but David did not underestimate him. The man was successful and canny. He’d tripled the size of his holdings over the last ten years, and the yields he achieved were consistently good, far better than any of his neighbours’.

“So, His Lordship’s just goin’ tae let me have the whole o’ that west field?” he said now, his frown sceptical.

David nodded. “As I said, His Lordship wishes to bring the court case to an end and to repair neighbourly relations. He is willing not only to give up all claims to the west field but to convey his own share to you. All he asks in return is that you abandon your dispute over the boundary line to the south.”

“Perhaps I’m not minded tae give up that claim,” McNally said carefully, watching David.

David smiled. “Now, Mr. McNally, you know and I know that it’s a bad claim.” When McNally opened his mouth to protest, David added smoothly, “But His Lordship understands why you raised it. You were defending yourself against Sir Hamish. It’s perfectly understandable.”

The late Sir Hamish Muir had raised the court action against McNally a decade ago. The present owner, Lord Murdo Balfour, who had purchased the Laverock estate in its entirety from Sir Hamish’s beleaguered executors two years previously, had discovered its existence only a few months ago, when David had begun to slowly piece together the great, disorganised mess that was Sir Hamish’s private papers.

It had certainly explained the black looks and stony silences that McNally had been sending Murdo’s way all this time.

“Ye’re right I was defendin’ myself,” McNally said, wagging a finger at David. “Fight fire with fire, that’s what my old man always said. And it’s cost me awful dear in this case, Mr. Lauriston, awful dear!”

“Which is why His Lordship is prepared to offer twenty-five pounds toward the costs you have incurred,” David said, playing his final card.

“Twenty-five pound?”

McNally’s surprise at that offer was plain. David smiled and waited.

Sir Hamish had been not merely quarrelsome with his neighbours, he had been a litigious old bugger who’d served a dozen writs in the last decade of his life, claiming to own plots of land here, there and everywhere. Over the last month, David had brought most of the festering disputes to an end by simply withdrawing the case in question and offering an olive branch to the other party in the form of an invitation to tea with His Lordship. There were a few, however, like this one with McNally, that were trickier. Cases where the other party had counterclaimed, as McNally had, when Sir Hamish had tried to establish that he owned not merely half of the west field at the edge of the Laverock estate, but the whole of it.

It was the worst sort of nonsense. The truth was, the field in question was nothing but a rocky bit of upland. It was suitable only for sheep to graze on, and Murdo already had plenty of land like that, most of which was far more convenient and had better grazing than the godforsaken corner of the world that was the west field. Worse, the boundary wall going down the middle of the field was falling into disrepair after ten years of neglect and needed replacing. In short, it was nothing to Murdo to give away his half of the field. To McNally, though, it was a victory against Sir Hamish. Particularly when sweetened with twenty-five pounds toward McNally’s lawyer’s bills.

“Done,” McNally said, thrusting out his hand. “The truth is, I’d fair like tae see the back o’ that court case meself. I’ve had enough o’ lawyers tae last me a lifetime, Mr. Lauriston. Nae offence.”

David took McNally’s hand and shook it. “None taken, Mr. McNally. His Lordship will be pleased you agreed to his proposal. And he is keen to get to know his neighbours better. Would you and your wife agree to dine at Laverock House on Wednesday evening? The Blairs are coming.”

McNally’s brows went up at that. “Has he settled with old man Blair an’ all? Last time I spoke to Willie Blair, he told me there was nothin’ Lord Murdo could offer that he’d bite at.”

David just smiled. “Well now, that’s something you’ll have to ask Mr. Blair about,” he said, rising from his chair. His leg protested with a shaft of pain, but he schooled his expression to show no discomfort. “So, may we expect you and Mrs. McNally on Wednesday?”

“Aye, then, what time shall we come?”

“Does six o’clock sound all right?”

“Six o’clock,” McNally agreed, nodding. “Come on and I’ll show ye out, Mr. Lauriston.”

McNally was in a better mood on David’s way out than on his way in. He introduced his wife and three daughters, who were sewing in the parlour, and gave him a brief tour of the farm buildings outside the farmhouse, including his new dairy. It was a good farm, tidy, well kept and industrious. It reminded David of his father’s farm, though this was much bigger.

When he made a comment to that effect, McNally warmed up even more.

“Ye were a farm boy, then?”

“Born and bred.” David smiled.

“I knew there was a reason I liked ye.” McNally grinned, clapping him on the shoulder. “All the lawyers I met before were as stiff as if they had poles up their arses. Why did ye decide to become one of them?”

“I have an older brother,” David offered, “so he’ll get the farm.” That wasn’t the whole explanation, not really, but it seemed to satisfy McNally.

“Ah well,” McNally said as he showed David out the door, his tone heavy with sympathy, “it seems ye’ve found yer way back to the country now, Mr. Lauriston. It’s a good man o’ business you are, tae His Lordship.”

David smiled and thanked the man, enduring a punishingly enthusiastic handshake before taking his leave. By now, his leg was aching badly, but he made himself walk straight, concealing his weakness as he walked down the track from the farmhouse to the first of the stiles he would have to climb over on his way back to Laverock House.

Though he knew McNally would likely have lost interest and turned away, he determinedly kept up his charade, smothering a wince when he stepped off the stile onto his bad leg and setting off again, concentrating on keeping his gait straight and regular.

He knew he’d overdone it. He’d known it by the time he was two-thirds of the way to McNally’s house this morning. He’d known it as he sat in McNally’s parlour, his knee throbbing with hot needles of pain, wishing he’d abandoned his pride and brought the fancy cane Murdo had given him a fortnight before. But it had seemed a perfectly reasonable decision when he’d set out this morning.

The four months of inactivity with his leg splinted and harnessed had driven him nearly mad. Since getting the harness off, he’d been gradually increasing the length of his daily stroll, eager to build the muscles again. His leg was getting stronger every day, and when he’d risen this morning, he’d felt very ready for the two-mile walk to McNally’s house.

He’d seriously underestimated what he was undertaking.

Until today, he’d been sticking to well-worn tracks and roads on his walks. But the route to McNally’s stretched across field after field of hilly, uneven ground that jarred his leg with every step.

He’d thought to himself this morning that two miles was nothing, but it hadn’t felt like nothing when he’d reached McNally’s farmhouse, and it didn’t feel like nothing now as he reached the top of the field that Sir Hamish and McNally had been arguing about, and climbed yet another stile. His hip protested as he pulled himself up and his knee ached like the very devil, but there was nothing for it but to thole it now. Thole it, and keep going till he got back to Laverock House.

There had been a hard frost overnight and the ground had no give in it. It felt like iron under David’s feet, punishing him for his foolishness. The day was cold too, even now, late in the afternoon. David’s breath flowered white out of his mouth as he puffed his way up to the top of the next field, cresting a hill that gave him a view over Laverock Glen. He paused there, looking out at the broad sweep of the dun-coloured winter hills, the silver ribbon of the river, glittering where it broke over jagged rocks. And the sight eased something in David, soothing him the way the weak winter sun soothed the landscape with its gentle light.

He took the descent slowly, forced to it by the pain in his knee. The view was a sop to Cerberus, something good to distract him from the pain. He paused several times on the way down, leaning his weight on a bit of wall or a tree when he got the chance.

When he reached the bottom of the hill and got onto the blessedly level path that wound through the glen to Laverock House, he was ready to weep from relief. Yet there was still half a mile to go.

He took it slowly. By halfway, he’d have given his left arm for the cane he’d thrown aside this morning. Anything to take some of the burden from his leg. Ah well, he was a fool, and he’d learned something today. Maybe he’d listen to Murdo next time.

Murdo wouldn’t be happy about today’s events. He’d brought David to Laverock House to recuperate and was continually lecturing him about taking things easier. It was Murdo who’d arranged for the physician to come every few weeks to check how David’s leg was healing, and who’d instructed the kitchen to make up regular batches of David’s mother’s liniment recipe. Murdo who’d presented David with a new ebony cane with a silver derby handle to take on his walks.

It wasn’t only David’s physical well-being that Murdo looked after. He’d had boxes of books brought to Laverock House from his Edinburgh townhouse to keep David amused; he’d even read to David himself in those early days when, listless and melancholy with his lot, David hadn’t been inclined to do so. And it was Murdo who’d brought him Sir Hamish’s papers to look through when, as his leg began to improve, he’d complained about needing something to test his wits on.

Now, that project had seized David’s attention to such an extent that he was becoming known locally as Lord Murdo Balfour’s very efficient new man of business, the learned lawyer who was helping Lord Murdo make peace with all his new neighbours and bury all the old disputes Sir Hamish had started.

And why not let them think that? It was true, after all—and it was no one else’s concern that, besides that, he and Murdo were lovers. That was their affair and theirs alone. The servants at Laverock House certainly appeared to be oblivious. The manor was a good size, but it was compact enough that the proximity of their bedchambers, with only Murdo’s untidy study between them, merited no comment.

By day, they were circumspect. By night—well, the nights were their own. It hadn’t been easy to make love with David’s injured leg—for months he’d been all but immobilised by the leg harness—but with a bit of inventiveness, they’d managed, and now that David was up and about again, it was getting easier every day.

Right now, though, as David took the last turn-off that led to Laverock House and the manor house finally hoved into view, he couldn’t think of doing anything but lying down. He was limping badly now, all attempts to conceal his disability long given up. The idea of sinking into his soft featherbed and warming his chilled feet under the blankets had become his Holy Grail. There was simply nothing else.

He’d barely taken a dozen steps down the long front drive when the door opened and a tall, broad-shouldered man emerged.

Murdo.

Even now, after living here for months, the unexpected sight of his lover lit something inside David. He felt a stab of pure happiness, an accompanying flare of anticipation, even as he winced with each step he took.

“Where have you been?” Murdo said, walking toward him, his dark eyes concerned as he took in David’s pronounced limp. “Mrs. Inglis said you went out hours ago.”

David attempted a smile, but it felt more like a grimace. “I decided to walk over to McNally’s,” he admitted, sending Murdo a rueful look. “It wasn’t one of my best ideas.”

“That’s over two miles!” Murdo exclaimed. He turned so that they were walking in the same direction, toward the open front door, matching his pace to David’s. “What were you thinking? And where’s your cane?”

“I didn’t think I needed it,” David mumbled, answering the second question and evading the first.

BOOK: Enlightened
3.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Trouble with a Badge by Delores Fossen
Black Rose by Nora Roberts
Guardian Angel by Davis, John
Run Wild by Shelly Thacker
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
Toxic Parents by Susan Forward
The Root Cellar by Janet Lunn
King Perry by Edmond Manning