The Trouble With Dukes(7)

By: Grace Burrowes

“Our sisters are delighted with London so far,” Colin said. “The shop is down this street. Tomorrow you’re due for another fitting at the tailor’s.”

“Bugger the tailor,” Hamish said. “He wants only to increase his bill. Aren’t there any Scottish tailors in this blighted city?”

“English tailors are the finest anywhere,” Colin replied, walking faster. “They’re the envy of every civilized man the world over. You’d bash about in your kilt and boots, swilling whisky, and embarrassing your siblings instead of taking advantage of the privileges of your station.”

Guilt assailed Hamish, the same guilt he’d felt as a captive in French hands. When he’d been led away from the scene of the ambush, bleeding in three places, his vision blurred, his head pounding, and his hearing mostly gone, he’d been in the clutches of an enemy more deadly than the French.

Shame had wrapped chains around his heart—for leading his men into an ambush, for succumbing to capture rather than dying honorably, for leaving Colin unprotected. In London, half pay and former officers abounded, and the sooner Hamish was away from them, the better.

“My station is all the more reason for me to leave this cesspit of privilege,” Hamish said. “I do not now, nor will I ever, fit in, Colin. If you didn’t want me wearing the kilt, then you might have said so before we left the house.”

Colin’s complexion was lighter than Hamish’s, and thus when Colin blushed, his mortification was apparent to all. His ears were an interesting shade of red by the time Hamish paused outside an establishment called Madame Doucette’s.

“You’re known for wearing the kilt now,” Colin said. “Once you showed up at that card party in the plaid, your fate was sealed. I’m having the full kit made up for myself.”

“London shops have the most ridiculous names,” Hamish said, hand on the door latch as foot traffic bustled past them. “Take this place, for instance. If I didn’t know better, I’d think from the name it was a whorehouse.”

Colin made an odd noise.

“Don’t act as if I’d just kneed you in the balls,” Hamish went on, peering through the door’s glass. “Madame Doucette, my handsome kilted arse.”

Immediately behind Hamish, a throat cleared.

A battle-hardened soldier grew accustomed to the way time expanded, or the mind’s perceptions contracted, so that when faced with a mortal threat, the soldier could weigh options, calculate trajectories, and assess risks in the blink of an eye.

That same sense came over Hamish in the instant necessary to perceive that the blonde duchess and the little marchioness were regarding him curiously, as if not a Scotsman but a kilted great ape had appeared on the streets of Mayfair.

“My husband has often made similar remarks about milliners’ establishments,” the duchess said. She had a smile no duchess ought to possess—wise, kind, lovely, and a hint naughty too. If Hamish lived to be a hundred, his smile would never approach this woman’s for complication, dignity, or attractiveness.

Blood would tell.

“I beg Your Grace’s and your ladyship’s pardon,” Hamish said. “I apologize to you both. In the military, I developed a sadly unguarded tongue.”

The young marchioness looked to be stifling a case of the giggles, while Hamish wanted to thump his head against the nearest wall.

“You might not have guarded your tongue, but you guarded your country,” Her Grace said, patting Hamish’s cheek as if he were a tired little fellow in want of a nap. “One has to admire your priorities, Your Grace, despite your colorful observations.”

The duchess swept into the shop, Colin snatching the door open at the last instant. The marchioness curtsied prettily, winked at Hamish, and followed her mother into the modiste’s.

“I think I’m in love,” Colin muttered when the door was once again safely closed.

“It’s nearing noon. You were overdue,” Hamish replied charitably.

Colin smiled the slightly lost smile of a man who’d appreciated the fairer sex in six different countries, and Hamish, while not in love, certainly knew himself to be in trouble.