A Devil in ScotlandBy: Suzanne Enoch
Inverness, Scotland, 1806
Becca would be in the morning room, most likely, because she didn’t like fights. Callum MacCreath slammed the drawing room door in his brother’s face and stomped down the straight-angled stairs to go find the one sane guest—and the one female—in MacCreath House tonight. Let the quartet of devils upstairs make their bargains and plan how to spend their riches. He wanted no part of it. None. Not when it involved choosing blunt over damned common sense.
Just the idea that his older brother Ian, Earl Geiry, would let himself be pulled into a scheme with someone as greedy and self-serving as the Duke of Dunncraigh surprised him. Horrified him, rather. Of course he felt like he’d been shot between the eyes, because he hadn’t had the faintest idea about any of it. Aye, he could see some of the twenty-six-year-old’s reasoning—the MacCreaths had intermarried with clan Maxwell for centuries, and Dunncraigh was the Maxwell, the clan’s chief. Power sought power. Whether the MacCreaths should be standing so close to the duke was another question entirely. He knew the answer, drunk or sober. But Ian’s sobriety hadn’t kept him from being entangled in this disaster-in-the-making.
As for Callum, he had begun to wish several minutes ago that he hadn’t come home tonight by way of the local tavern. Or that he hadn’t come home at all.
But Rebecca Sanderson had been here all evening, apparently pulled into the middle of this nonsense without an ally in sight. That, he regretted. And if they’d pushed her into something she didn’t want, he would see to it that it didn’t happen. Period. Growling that pledge to himself, he stopped outside the closed morning room door. “Becca?” he called, trying to keep his voice level. He thudded his knuckles against the old, well-polished oak door. “Are ye hiding?”
“I do not hide,” came from inside the room, in her cultured English accent. “You were all being loud and ridiculous, and so I left.”
Callum didn’t think he had been ridiculous, but that was neither here nor there. “I’m coming in, lass.”
He pushed down on the door handle and stepped into the room. Rebecca Sanderson, the very English daughter of the very English George Sanderson who was still upstairs in the quartet of would-be business titans, stood close by the fireplace, her arms crossed over the deep blue silk gown that dripped with beads from the waist to the floor, her eyes of the same sapphire narrowed beneath a very artful tangle of blond hair as she looked up to gaze at him.
“I’m sorry I missed dinner,” he said, shutting the door behind him again and turning the lock. He and Becca had known each other for ten years, since she’d been eight and he, ten, but tonight she looked far more … adult than he could previously recall. It unsettled him. The whole damned evening unsettled him, and the amount of whisky he’d consumed did nothing to help with that.
“I’m sorry you missed it, too,” she said. “And I’m sorry you went out drinking, and I’m sorry you decided to stumble into the middle of this and accuse everyone of conspiring behind your back.” She lifted her chin a little. “We—your brother—attempted to include you on several occasions, but you couldn’t be bothered.”
So now she was speaking on Ian’s behalf. He wanted to grab hold of her bare shoulders, and clenched his hands to keep from doing so. “I’m fairly certain nae a one of ye mentioned that ye and my dull-as-dirt brother were contemplating getting married,” he ground out, the words sticking in his throat. “I would have recalled that.”
“Ian—Lord Geiry—was supposed to tell you a week ago. Evidently”—and she sent a pointed look at his rumpled black jacket and trousers—“you haven’t been home in that long.”
He looked down at his attire. Aye, Jamie Campbell had tossed up his accounts on the Hessian boots, and he might have spilled a bit of this or that on his sleeves, but the Seven Fathoms hardly had the strictest of dress codes. “I’ve been about,” he hedged. “And why am I the villain here? I’m nae the one who’s tried to drag ye into buying a marriage with a dowry of ships.”
“No one’s dragging me into anything,” she said stiffly. “I would hope you know me better than that.”
He did. And it comforted him a little. Perhaps it had all been talk and speculation, and nothing was settled. Nothing had been agreed to, and she remained no one’s pawn. “Then I dunnae need to remind ye that ye’ve agreed with me fer years that the Duke of Dunncraigh cannae be trusted any farther than he can be thrown. Or that ye laughed when I said that if Ian had one more dinner with Dunncraigh, the duke would think him a pimple on his backside.”
“It doesn’t matter what we said before. You shouldn’t jest about either of them, Callum. It’s not seemly.”
Callum edged closer to her, his jaw brushing the coiled blond hair at the top of her head as he leaned in. “What say we go down to the tavern, Becca, and leave the dusty brigade to rattle papers and pound their chests all on their own? I reckon they’ll nae miss us.”