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Authors: Christina Courtenay

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BOOK: Trade Winds (Choc Lit)
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‘The hell I will!’

At last, this entire charade was beginning to make sense and Killian breathed a sigh of relief. It had nothing to do with McGrath or any of his other gambling partners, thank the Lord. A girl he could handle, this one in particular.

‘And why not?’ his grandfather asked in icy tones. ‘Are you so far gone in debauchery that you can’t do the decent thing by an innocent girl when you get her into trouble? I should have known this was going to happen. Actually, I’m surprised it hasn’t done so before, given your reputation with the ladies.’

Killian took a deep breath and counted to ten. If the old man had been anyone other than his grandfather, he would have been lying on the floor by now with a broken nose.

‘For your information,’ he hissed, ‘Iona Cameron is far from innocent and wouldn’t need to be ravished. I doubt very much that I’m the father of any bairn she’s carrying.’

‘Then who is?’

‘I’d put my money on young Hamilton, who’s been hanging around her since June, but it could be any number of other men from what I hear.’

‘That’s a scandalous slur.’

Killian shrugged. ‘I’m not marrying her and that’s final. Unless, of course, you really want someone else’s bastard to inherit the title?’

His grandfather glared at him. ‘Why should I believe you? I hear rumours that you’ve bedded everything in a skirt. Ruaridh Cameron is my best friend, he’d not lie to me.’

‘And I would?’ Killian shook his head. ‘No, don’t answer that. I know you prefer to think the worst of me, but this time at least, you’re wrong.’

Lord Rosyth snorted. ‘I doubt it.’

Killian held on to his temper by a thread. ‘I think you’ll find that even the young lady herself will admit I only slept with her once.’

‘That’s not what she says.’

‘Well, it’s the truth. It was last year and I certainly wasn’t either the first or the last. I’d bet she wants to be Lady Rosyth, rather than plain Mrs Hamilton. She has her father twisted round her little finger, everyone knows that. He’ll believe anything she says.’

The old man was silent while he considered what Killian had said, then he appeared to make up his mind. ‘Very well, for once your words ring true and we’ve certainly had enough whores in this family.’ He ignored the threatening noise Killian made. ‘I can’t allow someone who may not be a Kinross to inherit. I’ll have to tell those fools out there you hit me over the head and then escaped somehow. Also that they might do well to have a word with young Hamilton.’

‘Oh, wonderful. Now I’m the kind of man who batters his grandfather as well,’ Killian muttered. ‘Will that be all then?’

‘No. I’ve decided you’d best disappear for a while, make yourself scarce as it were, just in case.’


You
’ve decided?’ Killian asked, but sarcasm was wasted on the old man.

‘Aye, I have. If you wait a moment, I’ll prepare a letter for you to take to a distant cousin of mine in Sweden. Robert Fergusson lives in the town of Gothenburg on the west coast, where he’s a successful merchant. I’ll ask him to take you in for a few months. You’ll probably have to make yourself useful in return. Might even learn a thing or two, although no doubt the locals gamble as much as the next man.’

‘Sweden? You must be joking.’

‘No one will think to look for you there.’

‘Well, as a matter of fact, I had plans to go elsewhere.’

‘You’ll do as I say or I won’t give you the wherewithal to go anywhere.’

Killian stared at the old man in disbelief. His grandfather offering to give him money wasn’t something that happened every day. In fact, he’d not received so much as a penny in three years. ‘You’re giving me something? Of your own free will?’

‘Don’t be impertinent or I’ll change my mind.’ Lord Rosyth pulled a pouch out of his pocket and slammed it onto the table, then went to a cupboard and came back with a piece of paper and writing materials. Killian waited in silence while his grandfather scratched out a lengthy missive, wondering at this new turn of events. The old man must want him out of the way badly, or he’d never consider going to all this trouble.

‘Are you indebted to Ruaridh Cameron?’ he wondered out loud.

‘I don’t owe anyone anything,’ his grandfather spat. ‘I told you, Ruaridh is my best friend. He’d likely counted on our friendship to net his daughter a noble husband, even if he is aware of her lies. Though where he got the idea that you fitted into the category of “noble”, is beyond me.’

Killian sighed and closed his eyes. He wished things could be different between them, but the old man had been prejudiced against him from birth. Nothing he ever did could change that and the frustration and unfairness of it ate away at him constantly, like a maggot gnawing a rotten apple.

He knew Lord Rosyth had doted on his older half-brothers Brice and Blake, particularly the former. They had been the product of his father’s first marriage to a Scotswoman, and his lordship had been very sad when the lady in question died giving birth to Blake. After mourning her for two years, Killian’s father Fraser had gone off to fight the English in Ireland, on behalf of James III. He was wounded at the battle of the Boyne and taken in by a kind, but poor Irish nobleman, whose daughter Niamh he promptly fell in love with.

He married her as soon as he recovered. Lord Rosyth hadn’t been pleased to be presented with a new daughter-in-law who was not only penniless, but Irish as well. The lovely Niamh had nothing but her beauty to recommend her, and Lord Rosyth never forgave her. That she eventually produced a healthy grandson, after numerous miscarriages, did nothing to endear her to him.

When Killian’s half-brothers both died ten years later at the battle of Sheriffmuir, together with their father, again for the Jacobite cause, it was as if the old man blamed Niamh and her child. He made their lives unbearable with his constant criticism of Niamh’s mothering skills and Killian’s behaviour, as well as a whole host of other things.

It was no wonder Niamh couldn’t stand it in the end. But Killian had been left to suffer on his own and ...
No, I won’t think about that.
He clenched his fists and turned his thoughts back to the present.

‘Here,’ Lord Rosyth said curtly, holding out the sealed letter and pouch. ‘Now get out of my sight and stay away for at least six months. By that time, young Iona will have had to find another man to wed if she doesn’t want to bear a bastard. It should be safe for you to return by April.’

‘Don’t worry, I have no intention of returning at all. You’ve made it clear I’m not wanted here, so I’ll make my own life elsewhere. I hope Farquhar never shows you his true colours, or you might actually have to admit you’ve been wrong about me all along. God forbid! Goodbye.’

Killian shoved the heavy pouch into his pocket and picked up the letter, then strode over to the panelling next to the huge fireplace that sat in the middle of one wall. Pushing his finger into a small hole invisible to anyone who didn’t know its exact location, he opened a secret door and slipped into the draughty passage beyond. He looked at his grandfather one last time and saw the surprise on the old man’s face. Lord Rosyth had probably thought he was the only person who knew about the secrets of the house, but Killian had been an inquisitive child who kept his eyes and ears open.

I hope that gives him something to think about,
he thought with satisfaction.
With a bit of luck, he’ll wonder what else I know, and that might keep him awake at night. Good! Let him suffer for a change, sanctimonious old curmudgeon ...

He closed the door behind him with a soft click and set off towards his new future with quiet optimism.

At least he wouldn’t be lacking in funds.

 

 

Chapter Five

Rosyth House, Scotland

Farquhar Kinross was not in a good mood, and if there was one thing he really hated, it was waiting patiently. This, however, was exactly what he was forced to do on this occasion. Sitting still was out of the question since his nerves were as taut as fiddle strings. He therefore paced back and forth across the private sitting room he shared with his wife and children in the north tower of Rosyth House.

Having set up the kidnapping of his cousin Killian and the false charges against him, he couldn’t be seen to have anything to do with the matter now. He had to trust that all his hard work would have the desired effect − the utter ruin of Killian. For years he’d been waging a smear campaign against his cousin, but still his grandfather refused to disinherit Killian completely. This wasn’t something Farquhar could tolerate.

He was the rightful heir.

Killian was nothing but a half-Irish bastard, an outsider who didn’t belong in the Highlands. The estate and the title ought to be in the hands of a true Scotsman. A man like himself. Only he would make a fitting laird.

‘Is something the matter?’ Ailsa, his wife, had been sending him apprehensive glances as he paced in front of her, and she couldn’t keep quiet any longer. She was as twitchy as a mouse, and had a tendency to blurt things out in a cringing manner. He found this supremely irritating, but gritted his teeth in order to stop himself from striking her. It would only give him temporary satisfaction and it usually made matters worse in the long run as he couldn’t stand her endless crying. Besides, their two young daughters Flora and Kirsty were watching from under lowered lashes. He preferred not to hit their mother in front of them.

‘Nothing that concerns you,’ he snapped and strode across the room once more. He knew he was being unkind, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. Ailsa brought out the worst in him and he wondered what he’d ever seen in her. True, she’d been pretty once, but her ash-blonde hair had faded to a mousy colour and her eyes, once sparkling and bright, were now forever fixed on him with an anxiety that drove him mad. He sighed inwardly. The useless woman couldn’t even give him a son, although thankfully she was expecting again, so there was still hope.

What was happening downstairs? Why was it taking so long?

He decided he’d had enough of waiting and there was no harm in going down on the pretext of looking for something. Without so much as a glance at his family, he left the room and made his way towards the main hall.

As he rounded a bend in the stairs, he heard the sound of voices raised in anger. These were interspersed with the firm, but calmer tones of his grandfather. Curious, he crept further down, but the words he caught were not quite what he’d hoped for.

‘What do you mean, he escaped? How could he have escaped? There is but the one door, isn’t there?’ That was one of the Camerons speaking; Farquhar recognised the voice.

‘How should I know? I told you, he hit me over the head, the ingrate, and got out somehow. Probably through the window, he was always a resourceful lad,’ he heard his grandfather reply.

Farquhar gritted his teeth and decided it was safe for him to continue downstairs. He swore under his breath, not wanting to believe what he was hearing. Killian had escaped? It simply couldn’t be true. Grandfather should have allowed the Camerons to beat Killian to a pulp by now, before marrying him off to a young lady as penniless and ill-bred as himself.

‘Grandfather, what is happening here?’ He smiled urbanely, trying to look as if he found large groups of angry men in the castle’s main hall every day and thought nothing of it.

‘Your cousin has got our Iona with child and we came to see he did the decent thing and married her,’ one of the Cameron clansmen informed Farquhar, ‘but he’s escaped somehow.’

‘Really? How very unfortunate. He shouldn’t be too hard to find though.’ Farquhar tried to appear unconcerned, when in fact he wanted to scream at the dolts to run after his cousin without wasting another minute. What in the name of all that was holy were they waiting for?

‘He’s long gone, no point pursuing him,’ Lord Rosyth stated firmly. ‘And as I was just saying to these gentlemen, I have my doubts about young Iona’s claim. I saw her earlier in the year, shamelessly flirting with all and sundry. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that she’d been the one to throw herself at Killian. What girl wouldn’t?’

Farquhar clenched his fists behind his back. He knew his grandfather was right. Killian had the kind of looks that drew the eye, no matter what he did, with those startlingly blue eyes and irritatingly handsome face. His mother possessed the same allure, which was no doubt why his fool of an uncle had fallen for her. Killian also exuded the sort of latent power that ensnared women without him even trying. It had always infuriated Farquhar, who was himself plain and sturdy, with a mop of uninteresting ruddy hair that attracted no one. He was also shorter than Killian by several inches, something he’d always resented.

‘You can’t dismiss this claim out of hand, Grandfather,’ he said, striving for an even tone. ‘Just because the girl fancied herself in love with him, that’s not to say Killian didn’t take advantage of her.’

‘No, but I’ve heard rumours of her being seen with young Hamilton lately. Although he’s well connected, he has no prospects. Perhaps she thought she would prefer to be Lady Rosyth, rather than plain Mrs Hamilton?’

‘That’s a slanderous suggestion,’ one of the Camerons muttered and the others murmured angry assent.

‘I know it’s plain speaking, and I apologise if I’m wrong, but it might be prudent for you to have a word with Hamilton first, before going after my grandson. I shall pay a visit to Iona’s father myself to discuss the matter. I’ve no wish to fall out with my oldest friend. In the meantime I would suggest you find the young lady’s other
beau
and question him carefully. Killian may be a scoundrel, but I very much doubt he’d lie to me and he swore he wasn’t responsible for Iona’s condition.’

BOOK: Trade Winds (Choc Lit)
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