Read Trade Winds (Choc Lit) Online

Authors: Christina Courtenay

Trade Winds (Choc Lit) (4 page)

BOOK: Trade Winds (Choc Lit)
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Now that she had finally been allowed back to Gothenburg, she had hoped for a much warmer welcome. Her joy at being home again faded a little, but she forced a smile. She knew her mother loved her and told herself Katrijna was just distracted by the younger children. Jess was here at last, which was all that mattered for the moment.

‘It’s lovely to see you,
,’ she said, speaking Dutch the way they always did when they were alone together. She couldn’t help but notice that Katrijna seemed tired and drawn. The corn-coloured hair, usually so neat and tidy, had been twisted into a messy bun on top of her head, with tendrils escaping to hang round the pale cheeks. It seemed to Jess that her mother had aged considerably since she’d last seen her, with new lines furrowing her brow. Jess went over to embrace her. It was slightly awkward, since Katrijna was holding little James in her arms and he had to be included, but that didn’t matter. ‘I’ve missed you,’ she murmured.

‘We missed you too, dear,’ Katrijna replied and returned the hug with one arm. Most of her concentration seemed to be focused on James, who was whining non-stop. His cheeks were flushed and his lower lip stuck out as if he was on the verge of proper crying. Jess could understand having to listen to that all day would be very trying, but surely her mother had other servants who could be put in charge of him?

‘Ramsay, greet your sister,’ her mother nudged the other little boy forward, but he hung back, hiding his face in her skirts.

‘Perhaps he doesn’t remember me,’ Jess said. ‘He was only three when I left after all.’

‘Nonsense, of course he does. He’s been talking about you all morning. He’s just a bit shy, that’s all.’

Jess wasn’t convinced, but didn’t comment. A year was a long time to someone Ramsay’s age, but she knew he would soon warm to her when he became used to her being back. They had always got on well before, she just needed to give him time to get to know her again.

‘Is James ill?’ she asked instead, changing the subject.

‘No, I think he’s just teething. He won’t settle though, it’s driving me insane. Didn’t sleep a wink last night.’

‘Here, let me take him for a while.’ Jess held out her arms and Katrijna handed James over with a sigh of relief. She bent to deal with Ramsay, who was still clinging to her skirt and repeating ‘Mama’ over and over again in a never-ending bid for attention.

‘Yes, darling, what is it?’ Ramsay whispered something in her ear. ‘No, not now, dearest, perhaps a bit later. Now do stop bothering me. You two are enough to try the patience of a saint.’

Jess wasn’t really listening. Instead she gazed at the small
boy in her arms who was squirming and whining even louder now. He held his arms out towards his mother. ‘Shh, little one,’ Jess crooned, hugging his little body close. He was as soft and
light as thistledown. ‘Mama will take you in a moment. She needs a rest. Let’s look out of the window, shall we?’

She tried to pat his back in soothing motions to stop his fretting, but he refused to be comforted. Jess looked at his screwed up face, wondering why she didn’t hate him. She ought to at least dislike him, since he was a reminder of her unofficial status as the cuckoo in the nest. He was so small and helpless though, her heart ached with the need to love and protect him.

‘Is he eating well, Mama?’ she asked, worried by the thinness of little James’s arms and legs. They were like the sticks of a bird’s nest, bony and pale. His older brother, who was now sturdy and tall for his age, had been a big, fat toddler. Nothing like this scrawny scrap of humanity.

‘Yes, he’s normally as greedy as Ramsay was,’ Katrijna said, ‘but nothing pleases him at the moment.’ She sighed and sat down on a rocking-chair, leaning back onto the fat cushions. As James continued to whine and fidget, she held out her arms for the child, an expression of resignation and weariness on her face. ‘Oh, you’d better give him back. He wants no one but me at the moment. So tiresome, but what can I do? You were the same at that age.’ Jess bent to put James on her mother’s lap.

‘What about you, Ramsay, would you like to come with me?’ She glanced at her other brother, who was still standing next to his mother. He held onto Katrijna’s gown as if he wasn’t going to let her go long enough to pay attention to his brother. He was clearly jealous and Jess wasn’t surprised when he shook his head.

‘Don’t be silly, Ramsay, go with your sister now.’ Ignoring his pleading look, Katrijna pushed him in Jess’ direction without really noticing him. The little boy’s face fell. His mother’s concentration was all for James as the baby’s whining became louder by the minute. Katrijna looked up briefly at Jess and said ‘Thank you’, then added as if she had finally realised that Jess had only just returned, ‘It
good to have you back.’

Yes, but is it only because you need another pair of helping hands and not a beloved daughter to keep you company
, Jess wondered, feeling unwanted despite her mother’s words.

Disappointment churned inside her, but she took Ramsay’s hand and pulled him towards her for a quick hug. She couldn’t bear to see the hurt in his dark eyes, which must mirror her own. He was so like his father with those eyes and his thick, brown hair, but he had an air of vulnerability that she couldn’t imagine Robert had ever suffered. ‘Shall we go to my room for a while?’ she whispered. ‘It may be I have a little surprise for you.’

Ramsay’s face brightened. ‘A present?’ Jess smiled and nodded. ‘Oh, what is it, what is it?’

‘I’m not telling. You’ll just have to come and see, won’t you?’

But as she towed him away, he dragged his steps and looked back over his shoulder. ‘Is Mama coming?’

‘Not right now, but don’t worry, you’ll soon be back with her,’ Jess told him. ‘And when James has gone to sleep, she’ll have more time to talk to you.’

Despite the reassuring words, however, she doubted she was right. Like her, he had been usurped and although they both still had their mother’s affection, Katrijna only had time for her youngest. It made Jess furious on Ramsay’s behalf. Unlike her, he wasn’t mature enough to accept that Katrijna had a new chick to worry about.

If I ever have children, I swear I’ll love them all equally
, she thought savagely. Even if one child was being difficult, it must be possible to spare some time for the other.

She closed the door behind her with a distinct snap, then tried to calm down. At least she wasn’t in the back of beyond any longer. For what it was worth, she was home.

When Killian woke up the first time, he heard waves lapping against a hull and somewhere nearby a seagull’s harsh cry rang out. He guessed he must be on a boat, but his fuzzy brain couldn’t work out why. It was too dark to see anything, so he gave up thinking about it and drifted back into oblivion.

The second time he came to, he was rattling along in some sort of conveyance. He blinked and tried to avoid the light spilling through a chink in the door. Pain knifed through his head whenever he looked at the brightness of the sun outside. It had to be at least midday, if not later, so he must have been unconscious for some time. His stomach growled as if agreeing with this and he realised he was starving.

Where was he? And more importantly, where was he going?

He was lying on the floor of an ancient carriage, its faded red leather seats moth-eaten and smelling none too fresh. It seemed to possess no springs whatsoever and as the vehicle bumped over a rut in the road, his head bounced against the floor and he winced. Thankfully his hands were bound in front of him, so he was able to put them up to protect his aching skull. He cursed under his breath.

‘They’ll pay for this,’ he muttered. ‘Whoever they are.’

He tried to think who could have done this to him, but no one in particular sprang to mind. There were no outstanding gambling debts, no one he had offended or who thought himself cheated. Except McGrath, of course. Was this his doing?

As the pounding inside his head increased with every stone the carriage encountered, he decided to give up thinking about it for now. He needed to rest so that he would have his wits about him when they reached their destination. He closed his eyes and curled up as best he could.

He was asleep within seconds.

Some time later, he woke to find himself being blindfolded, and then yanked into a standing position. Rough hands pushed him along stone paving, up some steps and then into a dwelling. He could tell they were in a grand house of some sort, since their footsteps on the creaking floorboards echoed in what sounded like a cavernous room. He breathed in the musty smell that was vaguely familiar, as if he had been here before, but in his slightly befuddled state he couldn’t place it. There was still a dull thumping inside his skull and his legs were unsteady. He felt nowhere near as bad as before though and was able to grit his teeth against the discomfort.

‘Where am I?’ he asked. ‘What do you want?’

‘You’ll find out soon enough,’ came the reply and this was the only answer he received before he was forced to stumble on. His captors took him through several rooms, judging by the number of times he bumped into door frames along the way, and finally pushed him into a chair.

‘Stay there,’ the voice ordered, as if Killian had a choice in the matter. He supposed he could have tried to explore his surroundings by feeling his way round the room like a blind man, but he didn’t think he’d get very far. And someone was bound to be standing guard outside. Far better to conserve his strength for whatever was coming.

Footsteps echoed in a seemingly large room, and a door slammed shut, leaving him in silence for a moment. In the distance, he could hear raised voices, but he couldn’t make out what was said. He ground his teeth in frustration.

Ages later, the door was thrown open and someone approached his chair from behind. He braced himself for a blow, but instead he felt fingers tugging at the blindfold. It was torn off with an angry growl. He opened his eyes and stared into the furious red-tinged face of his grandfather.

‘What in blazes …?’ Killian blinked and anger welled up inside him. He stared at the old man who stood before him, looking for all the world as if it was Killian who had done something wrong. He had no idea why and didn’t particularly care. ‘If you’d like me to visit, you have only to ask, you know,’ he pointed out, his voice dripping sarcasm while he seethed with fury. How dare his grandfather have him kidnapped in this way rather than command his presence in his usual fashion? They may be at odds, but Killian wouldn’t have refused a meeting if the request was reasonably polite.

Kenelm, Lord Rosyth, was a formidable sight. Still very upright despite his age, with a shock of white hair over steely grey eyes and darker brows, he had an air of command few quarrelled with. Like his grandson, he couldn’t be bothered with wigs unless it was absolutely necessary, and he certainly didn’t need one. His nose jutted out proudly and there was a determined set to his thin mouth. Most people thought twice before crossing him, but right now Killian couldn’t care less.

Lord Rosyth didn’t reply straight away, but bent to untie the knot on the rope that bound Killian’s hands. Having nearly reached the venerable age of seventy-five, it took the old man a while. His fingers, as gnarled as ancient tree branches, were clumsy when faced with such a delicate task, and this seemed to annoy him as he ‘tsked’ several times. ‘As if I’d want to see you,’ he muttered after he had finally succeeded. ‘Good for nothing son of an Irish whore.’

‘Can we leave my mother out of this please?’ Killian’s request was politely phrased, but carried an overtone of menace that only a fool could have missed. He knew his grandfather’s views about his mother. The old man may have cause to dislike his daughter-in-law, but Killian was sure Lord Rosyth had somehow engineered her downfall. It had been a bone of contention between them for a number of years now. He rubbed his sore wrists with jerky movements.

‘Couldn’t even give you a decent Scottish name,’ the old man continued, as if he hadn’t heard his grandson.

‘For the love of God, tell me why I’m here so I can leave as soon as possible,’ Killian demanded, not bothering to hide his anger now. ‘I don’t have to stay to be insulted.’

Lord Rosyth went to sit down in a chair at the opposite end of the long table at which Killian had been seated. He stared down the endless, polished length of it with a grim expression. ‘Oh, I’ll tell you all right, and when I’m finished, I want you out of my sight. You’ve really done it this time.’

‘Done what? I wish someone would just explain what this is all about,’ Killian complained, exasperated beyond belief. His head had started to pound again, a steady rhythm of painful blows against his brain. That didn’t exactly help his thought processes. ‘Has cousin Farquhar been carrying tales again?’

His saintly cousin, with his pure Scottish blood and fawning ways, was all Lord Rosyth appeared to want in a grandson. He had caused most of Killian’s problems, or so it seemed to him. Farquhar was forever poisoning the old man against him and had succeeded all too well so far.

‘This has nothing to do with Farquhar. Out there in the hall, I have half of clan Cameron baying for your blood. They tell me you’ve ravished young Iona, Ruaridh’s daughter, and left her with child. They want me to make sure you marry her as soon as possible. In fact, they were all for dragging you straight to the altar, but I got wind of their plans and persuaded them to bring you here first. They’ll be fetching Iona later today so you can marry her in Rosyth kirk.’

BOOK: Trade Winds (Choc Lit)
6.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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