However, she was hoping for one more sight of Duncan MacTavish before she left Summers Glade, since she wasn’t likely to see him again after today, at least not until the wedding, which they were sure to be invited to. With Ophelia gone back to London, he would probably be going there as well. But wherever he was in the big house, it wasn’t near the entrance, and they were soon on their way home.
“Well, where is she? I mun admit I’ve been looking forward tae meeting this most bonny lassie in all o’ England that ye found for the lad.”
Neville bristled as the large Scotsman barged into his dining room where he’d been partaking of a solitary dinner. Neville’s butler, arriving a second later, gave him a pained look, that he hadn’t arrived first to give him warning of this intrusion.
“Archibald?” Neville guessed.
“Aye, and who else were ye expecting?”
“Certainly not you,” Neville said disagreeably. “What the devil are you doing here?”
The Scot pulled up a chair across from Neville and stared at the butler, as if expecting him to serve him, now that he was there. But to Neville he said, “Ye didna think I’d be leaving it tae ye tae make sure the wedding goes forward in a timely manner, did ye now?”
“Duncan made no mention that you were coming,” Neville pointed out.
Archie chuckled at that. “Perhaps because he didna know I was. The boy doesna do things in a relaxed manner, ye ken. Once he sets his mind on a course, he follows it straightaway. Not a bad trait tae have, but a wee bit tae fast paced for these auld bones o’ mine. He would’ve been impatient tae hae me holding him back on the trip here, sae I decided tae follow after at a slower pace, withoout telling him. Impatience annoys him, after all, and ye wouldna hae wanted him arriving here annoyed—more’n he already was.”
The last was added in an unmistakably smug tone. Neville didn’t miss it and just managed to keep from grinding his teeth in his own annoyance.
“Yes, that’s quite a large chip he arrived with on his shoulder. I wonder why.”
Archibald snorted. “Ye’ll no’ be blaming me for that, mon. ‘Twas no’ me tha’ decided he should hae the stability o’ knowing only one home whilst growing up, ‘twas ye and his muther decided that. A good decision, mind ye, tha’ I was happy tae agree wi’, but ye could’ve come tae visit him, tae let him know ye afore he was full grown.”
“After the first trip I made up there to do that nearly killed me?”
“Och, ye English are weaklings, tae shrivel in a wee bit o’ cold,” Archie said in disgust, aware of that one time Neville had tried to venture into the Highlands. “But if he hasna told ye, it wasna that he never met ye afore now that has him in such a fash, ‘tis that yer taking him from his home and expecting him tae live amongst strangers.”
“We won’t be strangers to him for long.”
“And that he had nae warning that ye’d expect him tae move here.”
Neville blushed slightly, unable to dispute that accusation, and said weakly in his defense, “Elizabeth should have told him.”
“Aye, and likely she would’ve if she’d lived long enough tae, puir lass.”
“You could have told him long before now yourself,” Neville added. “Why didn’t you?”
Archie raised a brow at that. “When I was hoping ye’d die afore he reached his majority sae he’d ne’er have tae know at all?”
Neville’s cheeks reddened fully this time, but in anger rather than embarrassment. “So sorry to disappoint you, but he would still have become the next marquis, no matter when I happen to pass on.”
“Ye’ve nae other kin, no’ even some distant, distant, long-forgotten cousin?”
“I was an only child,” Neville said stiffly. “My father was an only child. My grandfather had two sisters, but they both died in childhood. The generations before that had brief lines, but none that have survived. Duncan is my only heir, and I still do not understand your insistence that he can’t be your heir as well.”
“Ye wouldna mind him living the year round in the Highlands then?” Archie said in feigned surprise. “Och, mon, ye should’ve said—”
“Of course he can’t remain there permanently,’ Neville cut in impatiently. “He’ll have duties here that—”
“As I thought,” Archie cut in as well. “But ye ken for yerself tha’ for most o’ the year ‘tis nae wise tae travel far in the Highlands, even for those who live there. Yet ye’d hae the lad doing it? Or are ye suggesting that his duties here would be more important than his duties in Scotland? Or mayhap yer just suggesting that he come home, tae the only home he’s ever known, for only a few weeks oout o’ each year, during our short summer?”
“No, what I think is that you don’t have enough confidence in him to manage an empire on his own. But he’s got Thackeray blood in him. Unlike you, I have little doubt that he can do just that.”
“That boy can do anything he sets his mind tae,” Archie all but shouted. “I’m just nae wanting tae see him kill himself trying tae spread himself tae thin, as yer willing tae let him do.”
“So we disagree on what he’s capable of, or rather, what you’ll allow him to be capable of. This is beginning to sound like those ridiculous letters that passed between us. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you would disagree and end up spiting yourself, just so you can disagree.”
Archie actually laughed. “They dinna raise fools in the Highlands.”
“I beg to differ—fools aren’t raised, they are born, and they can be born anywhere. That you’re sitting here arguing with me in my own house is proof of that.”
“So yer calling me a fool now?” Archie chuckled. “Actually, sounds tae me like yer calling yerself one.”
To which Neville said in crisp abruptness, “Get out, MacTavish.”
“I’ll be staying till the lad is wed, sae the sooner ye make sure that happens, the sooner ye’ll be rid o’ me. Sae when is the wedding?”
Neville gave up the idea of getting rid of his nemesis, as aware as Archibald no doubt was that Duncan wouldn’t be very pleased if this grandfather of his was refused a welcome. “Your guess would be as good as mine, since he has no one at the moment that he wants to marry.”
Archie shot out of his chair in a grand display of Scots temper. “He wouldna have her? I could’ve swore he said he’d at least meet the lass afore—”
“He did meet her.”
Archie’s brown eyes narrowed on Neville at the conclusion that answer drew. “Then she wasna as bonny as you claimed she was?”
“Oh, she’s definitely the most beautiful chit I’ve ever seen,” Neville replied.
Archie sighed as he sat back down, truly disappointed. “I’d hoped the lad wouldna let his anger get in the way o’ his own happiness, but apparently he needs a wee bit more time tae adjust tae these changes being forced on him.”
“Whether he does or doesn’t has nothing to do with his refusal of the girl. Would have done the same thing myself, after the way she insulted him. A pretty shell is all she turned out to be, with the sense of a twit, not at all what we want for the boy.”
Archie made a mumbling sound, then, “So who was next on yer list of brides for him? Or did ye no’ investigate more’n this one lass?”
“There are a few other possible choices, but I won’t be making the same mistake again of not meeting them prior to making an offer.”
“Ye’ve made arrangements tae bring them here, then, tae get the meeting oout o’ the way?”
Neville stared up at the ceiling for a moment. He would have preferred to roll his eyes for effect, but doing so these days gave him headaches.
Calmly, though, as if explaining to a child, he said, “He only just refused the first girl this afternoon. I’ve barely had time to absorb the fact of all that time wasted on her, much less think of how to go about meeting the others without letting them know why—”
“Yer tae much of a recluse, mon, or ye’d ken tha’ the easiest way tae bring folk t’gether is a blasted party. Throw one, a big’n, and make sure each o’ yer other candidates shows up for it. The lad can then do his part and decide which he wants tae offer for.”
Neville almost laughed. A party? After he’d just kicked a good portion of the ton out of his house, he was now to invite them back?
“A party might not be a good idea—”
“Och, yer disagreeing just tae disagree wi’ me. and well I ken it. A big party is just the thing tae gather ‘em all in sae the lad will be having a good selection tae choose from. If ye dinna know how tae throw one, get one o’ yer society dames in here tae show ye how.”