Authors: Karen Ranney
Tags: #Romance, #Historical Romance, #Scottish Highland, #Regency Romance, #love story, #Highlanders
“Well versed in politics, I would think,” she said. “Agreeable, certainly.”
He didn’t say a word, which was a disappointment. She expected—or wanted—him to challenge her assessment.
“She would think you brilliant,” she added. “That’s almost understood, I think.”
“Of course,” he said.
“Tact,” she said. “The ability to tell someone to go to perdition while smiling.”
“A good memory.”
She dropped her hand. “Why?”
“To remember the names and occupations of all the people I meet from day to day. A good hostess as well. I would be expected to entertain more with a wife.”
“All in all, whoever she is must be very talented. Must she play a musical instrument?”
“Must she know how to cook or merely supervise a staff?”
“Staff alone, I think.”
“All that’s left is appearance,” she said. “And you’ve already indicated a preference for blondes.” She was tempted to ask about the woman’s figure, but decided she’d tweaked his nose enough on the subject.
He took a sip of his wine, watching her over the rim. “And your criteria for a husband? Would it not be fair to share it?”
She shook her head. “I’d rather talk about Edinburgh’s gardens or the weather. Or even your plans for the coming holidays.”
“I always spend the time with my family,” he said. “I’ve three brothers, all married. All with an incredible number of children.”
“I’ve heard from countless people in the last few days how charming you are.”
“But you don’t find me so?”
She smiled brightly. “Actually, you are. Although there are times when you forget and become something else entirely.”
“Perhaps it’s you, Miss Sinclair, that brings out the ‘something else entirely’ in me,” he said, staring at his wine as if transfixed by the ruby color.
She smiled at him, seeing the glint in his eye and recognizing it for what it truly was, a declaration of war.
How quickly his charm had vanished.
Perhaps it would be wise to leave before Harrison lost that tenuous hold on his temper. How she knew he was barely able to keep it in check was another thing she would think about later, when she was safely away.
Standing, she placed her napkin on the table, then walked to the door, intending to leave before he stood.
She wasn’t quite that fast.
He moved to block her exit.
“Thank you for dinner,” she said, “but I must leave. Please convey my appreciation to your cook.”
“Mairi,” he said, speaking her name in a way she’d never before heard, drawing out the syllables as if there were hills and valleys between them.
This time she did shiver.
“I shall not mention Miss Drummond’s name,” she said. “Nor will I use yours. I trust you will inform your staff that my sources aren’t to be intimidated.”
“How agreeable you are all of a sudden. Are you afraid of me?”
“That’s the second time you’ve asked me. Of course I’m not.” She did, however, take a step back, simply as a precautionary measure.
He was much too close. Too large and much too, well, manly. She could smell him, and that disconcerted her even more than realizing that he smelled of spices. Something his housekeeper sprinkled among his clothing?
Her face felt hot.
“I have to leave,” she said, ducking around him and nearly sprinting down the hall. His majordomo moved quickly to avoid her but he wasn’t fast enough. She ignored him as she opened the door herself and raced down the steps.
ogan returned to his library, sitting at the desk that was a gift from his mentor, the previous Lord Provost who’d educated him on all things political. Logan had been born, Dennis McDaniel said, with a knack for making people believe in him.
“Trust is one of the most difficult commodities to attain, Logan. If people feel it for you, never scorn or waste it. If you do, you’ll never get it back.”
Perhaps his instinctive abilities and his mentor’s advice had gotten him elected to council and then on to being Lord Provost. To Parliament—that had been his dream and why the perfect wife was such a necessity.
Then why was he staring at the calendar of his engagements for the next week, not seeing anything but fiery blue eyes and a mouth pursed in temper?
Mairi Sinclair should not even be a thought. He shouldn’t recall anything she said. Or the look on her face when she stormed into his house, all bluster and blue eyes.
He’d wanted to kiss her, and the need to do just that had startled him into doing something even more foolish: daring her to touch him.
He had the idea that no one challenged Mairi Sinclair.
Contrary to her accusations, he hadn’t advised anyone to avoid her. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as sure of Thomas’s actions. Had his secretary let it be known that cooperating with Mairi Sinclair wouldn’t be seen as wise? Thomas was the master of the veiled threat, the whisper campaign, and the unspoken insult.
He’d make a point of talking to the man.
Had Thomas also intercepted her letter? Or had it simply gotten lost in the general confusion that sometimes reigned in council chambers?
He picked up his pen and studied it, seeing her face before him. She smiled quickly, the flash of humor on her face mirrored in her eyes. Just as easily, she could catapult into temper, her lips thinning while her eyes blazed fire. But when she left his house it had been with a strange and disconcerting expression on her face.
What made Mairi Sinclair afraid?
Her mind intrigued him. Twice, tonight, she’d surprised him. Once, when she’d taken his dare and touched him. Had she known how much he wanted to grab her with both hands and haul her up into his arms for a kiss? The second time, she’d asked about Barbara Drummond, and he’d been so startled by her knowledge that he was curt. How had she discovered he was planning on marrying?
Perhaps he’d underestimated her talent at reporting.
“She’s gone, then?”
He looked up to find Mrs. Landers in the doorway.
Mrs. Landers was as thin as his cook was plump. Her features were angular; her face long and ending in a pointed chin. Even her eyebrows seemed elongated, stretching from over her nose nearly to her temple.
Her hairline began only an inch above her brows. If he hadn’t overheard her conversation with a maid where she bragged about her healthy head of hair, he would have thought it a wig in a perpetual state of sliding too close to her nose.
Each emotion shown on her face and was capable of reshaping her features. A smile shortened her nose and widened her mouth. A frown elongated her chin.
She was, as most housekeepers probably were, an imminently practical woman. She instituted economies that saved him money, advised him on the staff with more insight than Rutherford, and took great care with his possessions.
She was also one of the most softhearted women he knew. She once hesitantly asked if she could take advantage of his library, and he’d been pleased to give her that freedom.
More than once, when returning home early, he discovered her reading in the wing chair beside the window.
“A very touching story,” she said on the last occasion, replacing the book on the shelf and moving out of the room before he could engage her in conversation. He hadn’t looked at what she’d been reading, but now he wished he had, wanting to know more about the women in his life. Perhaps if he were more enlightened he wouldn’t be as confused.
Now she was looking down at him, her forehead crinkled in a frown, further reducing the space between brow and hairline.
“She’s a lovely girl,” she said.
“Yes, she is.” Any other time, he might have looked down at his desk, at the piles of papers stacked to his left. Mrs. Landers would have immediately understood that he wanted to work and would leave him. Tonight he didn’t do that.
“She runs the
” he said. “Have you read it?”
“I have, and the broadside she wrote about you.” She smiled at him.
The strangest thing happened. He felt the tips of his ears grow hot as if he were embarrassed.
“Did you really try to keep her out of the club?” she asked, her tone more friendly than chiding.
He shook his head. “No, but I doubt she believes that.”
“Then you’ll just have to keep trying to make her see your point of view, won’t you?”
She sent him a toothy smile, then strode toward the door. “I’ll bring your coffee in, then, shall I?”
He nodded, a little bemused at the thought of trying to convince Mairi Sinclair of anything.
However, it might be interesting to try.
ames didn’t say a word when she entered the carriage an hour after she left him. But he gave her a look that indicated he was definitely going to inform Macrath.
She lay her head back against the seat, staring up at the silk above her.
Why had she said what she had? Why had she touched him? Why had she felt so strange around him? It was bad enough him witnessing her humiliation at the hands of other people, but to do it to herself hardly seemed fair.
What was it about the man that had her opening her mouth and all sorts of secrets spewing forth?
Words had power and she wielded them well. At least she had until meeting the Lord Provost. Around him she was lucky to string two words together and do so without slavering.
Nor had she ever realized the power of presence. The sight of Harrison dressed in his kilt, looking like a civilized barbarian, took her breath away. He left no doubt of who was in charge.
She certainly hadn’t been, even of her own mouth.
What sort of silly and frivolous woman was she, to be so impressed by a man’s appearance?
Or perhaps it was simply his smile that affected her so strangely. Or the way he had of looking at her, as if she were more important than anything else in the universe.
She’d gone to Harrison’s home for the purpose of demanding he stop whatever he was doing. The result had been dissatisfying since he refused to admit he’d done anything.
He could charm the feathers off a bird. All it took was one smile, starting slow and finally reaching his beautiful green eyes. Or a touch of his hand, gentle and almost tender, proving that he knew his own strength and never used it against someone smaller and weaker.
Was she becoming delirious about the Lord Provost? No, she was not that much of an idiot.
Yet something about the man pushed her close to the edge of decorum. She’d been irrational and foolish, losing her objectivity and falling into the trap of allowing emotion to dictate her actions.
He’d been very protective of Barbara Drummond. Was he in love with her?
Love was a silly reason to marry, all in all. Love involved your loins first, then your heart. Neither area was renowned for reason or judgment.
What she was feeling now was not jealousy. She didn’t care who Harrison married. Why should she be concerned?
If she were to marry—an occasion that had never been in her mind much after Calvin—she’d choose a man similar to herself, someone who valued words, who was curious, who always wanted to know the answer to why. With any luck, he’d be handsome and physically appealing, not a great bear of a man who overpowered her with his presence. He would have a wonderful sense of humor, seeing the ridiculous aspects of life. He would be ambitious and want to succeed at whatever endeavor he chose. He would, above all, believe in her, demonstrate his loyalty to her, and cherish her. In return she would honor him above all men, care for him, and share her thoughts with him.
Love would be subjugated beneath practicality.
When they arrived home she thanked James as she left the carriage, knowing he would wait until she climbed the steps to the front door before pulling around to the stables. Having lived above the newspaper for years, she understood why Macrath had opted for a large home. But the house, with its three floors, twenty-two rooms, and a dozen fireplaces, was too big for the four of them. Eight people, if you added the maids.
Still, it seemed petty to complain about the luxury in which she lived. Macrath had derived a great deal of joy from providing for all of them. The least she could do was be silent and thankful.
Opening the door, she stepped inside, grateful for her work schedule. No one in the household would think it was odd if she were later than usual. She could attribute it to a dozen different things, all having to do with the paper.
“You missed our meeting.”
She jumped when Robert emerged from the darkness at the bottom of the stairs.
Placing a hand over her thumping heart, she looked at the man. “You startled me.”
“You missed our meeting.”
Every week, on Wednesday night, Robert insisted on going over all the bills again with her. Since he never let an amount go unchallenged, either with the vendor or with her, the meeting was not necessary. Even so, she always set aside some time for him to rail at her once again, since doing so seemed to give him pleasure.
Tonight, however, she’d gone to see the Lord Provost.
“Can’t it wait, Robert?”
“Not unless you’re determined to ruin the company your father built.”
She really needed to talk to Macrath about him.
“Very well,” she said, pulling off her gloves. “Let me make this short for you. I erred. I spent too much. I was wrong. There, our meeting is done.”
“You do not treat this with the solemnity it requires, Mairi.”
She sighed. “I am not wasteful, Robert. You seem to forget that all of the money I’m spending is money I’ve earned.”
“Because of your father’s company.”
Had he never paid any attention to how many hours she put in at the paper? Even when she didn’t feel well, she was at work. She often took her meals at the kitchen table while she wrote notes to herself or finished up a broadside. Did he think she didn’t worry about what she was doing or how to increase subscribers?
Evidently not, or he wouldn’t level that disapproving stare on her.
“You’re paying those boys too much.”
“I am not cutting the hawkers’ wages,” she said, not bothering to tell him that she suspected it was the only income their families had in some lean weeks.
He looked as if he would say something but only shook his head.
“I owe it to your father to keep your habits in check. And to Macrath.”
She was most definitely going to talk to her brother.
Without giving Robert another chance to comment, she walked away, hoping he didn’t follow her into the kitchen.
Grateful that the kettle was full, she made herself some tea. She sat at the table, staring down into her cup. Fenella purchased the most wonderful blend of teas. This one was what they drank at night, a fragrant, lightly colored tea that smelled like flowers and had a delicate taste.
What did it matter what she drank? After the incident at the provost’s house, she doubted she would sleep anyway. Even now she could close her eyes and see Logan’s teasing smile.
The door opened and she sighed inwardly, readying herself for another battle with Robert. Instead of the older man, however, Fenella stood there.
“We need to talk, Mairi,” she said.
“Has Robert been fussing at you, too?”
Fenella shook her head, coming to sit opposite her.
“I know exactly what you’re going to say,” Mairi said before her cousin could speak.
“You do?” Fenella asked.
“I’ve been rude and inconsiderate. I should have sent word that I wasn’t going to make dinner.”
“We don’t hold dinner for you most nights, Mairi. You’re often working.”
“I know,” she said, staring down into her cup. “I wasn’t working tonight. I was at the Lord Provost’s house.”
Mairi nodded. “You can’t say anything to me that I haven’t already said to myself. I’ve been a fool in a dozen ways.”
“I don’t know what’s happening to me,” she said. “I’m a blithering idiot around the man.”
She made herself meet Fenella’s eyes. “About tonight. I should have let you know but I had no idea I was going to stay. One moment I’m in his library and the next I’m eating soup.”
At Fenella’s silence, she continued. “I should have been prepared, but Harrison was entirely too charming.”
“No man should be that charming,” Mairi said. “Especially him. He should be forced to wear a sign, something to warn an unsuspecting woman.”
“I would never have considered you an unsuspecting woman, Mairi.”
“See? That’s exactly what I mean. I went there to demand he stop trying to ruin the
and before I knew it . . .” Her words trailed away. She was not going to tell Fenella about reaching under Harrison’s kilt.