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Authors: Christina Courtenay

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BOOK: Trade Winds (Choc Lit)
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Mrs Forbes threw her a suspicious look, her small mouth tightening in disapproval, and steered her charge away with a rough hand under the elbow. ‘You’re not to speak to him ever again, do I make myself understood?’ she said in a savage undertone, while smiling a greeting across the street to a lady of their acquaintance. ‘Robert would have my head.’

‘Believe me, I wouldn’t want to,’ Jess replied with feeling.

‘You’re going where?’ Rory stared at Killian with eyes that could barely focus, having been woken by his friend only a few moments previously.

‘To Sweden.’

‘In the far north? Where it’s always dark?’ Rory rubbed at his eyes and blinked.

‘Of course it’s not always dark, you imbecile. And Sweden’s not much further north than we are, as far as I can tell, at least not the part I’m heading for.’

‘No need to be so prickly, only asking,’ Rory grumbled. ‘Pass me some clothes, there’s a good fellow.’ He pointed towards a pile of clothing that looked as if it hadn’t been near a laundry maid for weeks.

‘This place is a mess, Rory. What’s got into you lately? You do nothing but drink. Is something bothering you?’

‘Unrequited love,’ Rory said, doing his best to look tragic.

Killian wasn’t impressed. ‘Again? Who is it this time?’

‘No one you know, unfeeling brute,’ Rory muttered. ‘I’m dying of thirst. Is there anything in that bottle?’

‘Water is all you’re having for now.’ Killian ignored Rory’s wounded look and poured some into a dirty glass, which he handed to his friend.

‘What happened to your eye? It’s a very pretty shade of purple.’

‘It’s a long story.’

Rory squinted at him. ‘Tell me, I’ve got all day. Might cheer me up to hear all about you being beaten black and blue.’

Killian closed his eyes and sighed. ‘Not now. Look, Rory, I really haven’t the time. I need to leave the country, and fast, or I’ll be leg-shackled to Iona Cameron. She claims I’ve got her with child.’

‘The devil she does!’ Rory’s eyes opened wide, then he winced as the morning light caught him full in the face. ‘Do you really have to go as far as Sweden to escape her clutches though? Doesn’t make sense to me.’

‘Me neither, but it doesn’t really matter. I’ve been given a letter of introduction to one of grandfather’s relations who lives over there. The man’s a merchant, and I’ve decided I might as well make use of the connection and learn all I can about trade. Now that I own a ship, what better time to set up in business for myself? I’m sick and tired of gambling. I want some security, a proper income of my own.’

‘You should have stopped after the word “sick”,’ Rory commented with a lopsided grin. ‘Sounds to me like your brain’s addled. Security indeed.’

‘You’ve got your father’s money to fall back on whenever you lose, I don’t. I think it’s time I tried to make my way in the world without the help of a pair of dice or a deck of cards.’

Rory chuckled. ‘I’ll give it three months, if that, then you’ll be back to your old ways, see if you’re not.’

Killian clenched his jaw, not wanting to argue with his friend. Rory had no idea how serious he was this time. It wasn’t a new game.

‘So shall I come with you then?’ Rory offered. ‘Keep you company in the not so dark north? The women are pretty, I hear.’

‘Much as I’d like to take you with me, I’d prefer it if you stayed here.’ Killian fixed his friend with a serious stare. ‘Listen, Rory, I need someone I can trust to keep an eye on my cousin. He’s up to something, and I want to know what it is.’

‘Farquhar? What do you mean?’

‘I’d bet anything he set this whole thing up. He wants me out of the way, probably for good, because sooner or later grandfather is going to see him for what he really is. Then he won’t get so much as a penny. I wouldn’t put it past him to get rid of the old man too. You’ll need to watch him whenever you can.’

‘Surely not? I know he’s a conniving whoreson, but murder? He’s too weak for that.’

‘Oh, he’d find someone else to do his dirty work for him no doubt, and then he’ll make it look like it was my fault. He always did when we were young boys, playing pranks. Don’t think he ever got punished. Now, will you help me or not? You’re still welcome at the sort of functions he attends, so you could keep a discreet eye on him for me. Ask Dougie to lend a hand too. I’ll write to you, once I know where I’ll be staying, so you can keep me informed.’

‘If that’s what you want. I’d much rather go with you though.’

‘No, I need you here. You’re one of the few people I trust, apart from Dougie of course, but he hasn’t got your brains. There’s Adair too, and I’ve told him to follow Farquhar whenever he’s out and about. You and Dougie can keep an eye on him when he’s socialising.’

‘Don’t feel like I have any brains myself at the moment,’ Rory complained, putting his head into his hands, ‘but I’ll do my best, you know that.’

‘Thanks. You’re a true friend.’ Killian smiled, then couldn’t resist adding, ‘Besides, keeping an eye on my cousin will stop you from brooding over worthless women.’

‘Worthless! I’ll have you know this one’s special,’ Rory protested.

Killian laughed. ‘That’s what you say every time. You’ll get over it. There are plenty more where she came from.’

‘You don’t understand, you’ve never been in love.’

Killian grinned. ‘And neither have you.’ He walked to the door. ‘Now I really must go. A word of advice though …’

‘Yes?’

‘Do something about this pigsty and yourself. A bath and some clean clothes might be an improvement. Maybe the poor girl just couldn’t stand the smell of you.’

Rory threw a dirty pair of breeches at his friend, but grinned broadly. ‘Get out. Go, I say!’

Killian did so, laughing all the way down the stairs.

There was another visit he ought to make that morning, one he wasn’t nearly as keen on. In fact, he thought he was probably a fool to even consider it. But since he was leaving the country indefinitely, he was reluctant to leave unfinished business behind.

He hadn’t seen his mother since he was ten.

Or rather, he had seen her occasionally when attending functions in town, but had neither acknowledged her existence nor spoken to her. Now he stood on the opposite side of the street outside her tiny house, debating whether to go and knock on the door and demand some answers. He wasn’t sure if he really wanted to know. Wasn’t it better to let sleeping dogs lie?

Some months after her husband’s death, Niamh had gone to live in Edinburgh. She left Killian behind and although she tried to explain her reasons to him, he never understood why. Much later, he heard rumours that she preferred to live openly as the mistress of a married man, rather than staying on at Rosyth. He had no idea if it was true and he wasn’t about to ask anyone.

‘Your grandfather has told me I have no right to take you away from here,’ was all she’d said before leaving. ‘As the future heir, you need to stay and learn about the management of the estate.’ Killian didn’t believe her. He felt betrayed by the only person in the world who should have loved and protected him. If she’d wanted to, he was sure she could have found a way to keep him with her, but she didn’t.

In childish retaliation, Killian had sworn never to speak to her again. He hadn’t changed his mind by the time he reached adulthood and finally escaped his grandfather’s clutches to move to the city himself. That was over five years ago, however, and recently he’d begun to wonder if he hadn’t been too hasty. Lord Rosyth was, after all, a very overbearing man. Killian could well believe that he may have bullied Niamh into leaving, whether she wanted to or not. Perhaps it was time to listen to her version of the story?

But what difference would it make, he wondered.
What’s done is done. I don’t need her now. I’m not a ten-year-old yearning for his mother’s affection.

Still, he would have liked to know her reasons.

As he stood there, torn by indecision, the front door of the house opened. Niamh came out and stopped for a moment to check for something in her silk draw-string bag. Killian tried to look at her dispassionately and saw a middle-aged woman, well-dressed in a gown of striped green silk with a matching feather in her bonnet. She was still beautiful, her auburn hair only lightly streaked with silver, but there were lines of sadness etched around her eyes and no animation in her face. From a distance she seemed to him an empty shell, with no spark of life, no joy in her existence. Was that the truth? Had he contributed towards this state?

A twinge of guilt made him wince, but he hardened his heart.
She
had left
him
, not the other way around. If anyone should feel guilty, it was his mother.

In that moment she looked up and their blue eyes met across the street, clashing momentarily. Hers widened, whether in surprise or dismay, Killian didn’t know. He stared back without blinking, but remained rooted to the spot. The distance between them was as wide as it had ever been and there was no reason to bridge the chasm. It was all in the past. Relief flooded through him, he had made his decision at last. He turned to walk away, but had only gone a few steps when he heard her voice behind him, slightly breathless.

‘Killian, wait. Was there something you wanted?’

He swivelled round. ‘No, nothing,’ he said, keeping his expression neutral.

‘Oh, I see.’ She frowned, obviously confused and disappointed and Killian felt awkward.
Damn it all!
It had been madness to come here, he thought, stirring up emotions best forgotten.

‘I thought perhaps …,’ she hesitated, then shook her head. ‘Well, never mind.’

A shard of guilt prodded him once more and he felt obliged to say something, anything, to justify his presence outside her house. He blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

‘Why did you name me Killian? Grandfather seems to take it as a personal insult for some reason, although why an
 Irish name should irritate him so much I have no idea.’

Niamh blinked. ‘Why, you were named in honour of your uncle, my brother, who died at the battle of the Boyne. Since your father fought there too, he agreed with me you should have that name, no matter what the old man thought. My brother died for a just cause, exactly like your older brothers.’

Killian nodded. ‘Thank you, then I shall carry it with pride,’ he said and turned on his heel, walking away without looking back.

He shouldn’t have come, but at least now he had one answer.

 

Chapter Seven

Gothenburg, Sweden

‘I hear you’ve been seen speaking to young Adelsten. Didn’t I tell you that would be unwise?’ Robert’s voice had a steely undertone to it that made Jess’ palms feel suddenly clammy. She suppressed a shiver.

Once again she was facing the man she had come to think of as her Nemesis in his study. She had to bite her teeth together hard in order to hold back the angry words that welled up inside her. Robert wore a look of disappointment, as if he had expected better of her. Jess was sure the matter was much more serious than that. She also knew she had to stay calm if she was to have any chance of putting on a convincing performance.

‘I’m afraid I couldn’t avoid him this time. I almost literally ran into him in the market square,’ she said, trying to control her breathing so that her voice wouldn’t give her away. ‘It would have been very rude of me not to acknowledge him as an acquaintance, and we merely exchanged greetings. Besides, Mrs Forbes was nearby, so there was no impropriety, I assure you.’

Robert gave her a measuring stare, but she opened her eyes wide and gazed back in pretended innocence. It was true, after all, nothing improper had happened. As for what else had been said, her stepfather didn’t need to know that.

‘You didn’t try to engage him in conversation then?’ he asked, sounding sceptical.

‘No more than the usual “how do you do’s”. He told me he was very well and extremely happy as he’s now married to the former Miss Leijonberg. I congratulated him and that was the extent of it.’

Robert kept his gaze on her, as if he didn’t believe her for a second. She maintained her guileless expression and after a while longer, he grunted and waved her away.

‘Very well.’

She made her way upstairs, mulling over what she had learned from Karl. Robert had claimed the family business was in trouble at the time of her father’s death, but she was sure that couldn’t be true. She would have found out about it, one way or another. Even if her father had chosen not to tell her, he couldn’t hide his feelings from her. She always knew if he was worried about something, but he’d been as happy and content as always until the day he suddenly died.

A terrible thought struck her. Aaron had died in an accident at the warehouse when a shelf stacked full of iron ore had tipped over and crushed him. But what if it wasn’t an accident at all?

Her body went cold all over and she couldn’t stop a shiver from snaking up her spine.

No, surely Robert couldn’t have done away with her father on purpose? She shook her head to get rid of such thoughts. She was turning into an overwrought, hysterical female instead of the intelligent one she knew herself to be. Just because she disliked Robert and resented his hold over her, it didn’t make him a murderer. Nor did the fact that he’d lied to keep her under his thumb. And Robert had been at a meeting when the accident happened, or so she’d been told.

BOOK: Trade Winds (Choc Lit)
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