They both wanted him wed posthaste so that he’d have a bairn by next year that would be farmed out—just as he was being. They didn’t care what he thought of their arranging his life for him. They’d already agreed between the two of them that with Neville getting him, it was only fair that Archie get his firstborn.
He had a good mind to board a ship to some far-off place and to hell with both of them. But he loved Archie. He was furious with him at the moment, but he still loved him and could never break his heart that way.
Yet he felt like his life had never been his to live. They’d decided long ago that he would do as he was told to do, and that was that. Perhaps if he’d been raised differently, it might not have bothered him at all, to be so controlled. But Scotsmen were a fiercely independent lot, and Highlanders even more so. Which was why he still couldn’t believe that Archie had ever had any intention of honoring that damned promise. Agree to it, aye, to keep the peace and get Donald his bride, but in the end, he should have ignored it.
Yet he found out why Archie was resigned to honor the promise when he’d asked him directly, “And what if I refuse tae go?”
Archie sighed and said forlornly, “I loved yer muther like a daughter. I didna think I would, her being English, but she was the sweetest lass, and she grew on me verra quickly. I realized long ago, afore she died, that I couldna dishonor her by breaking her promise. Even after she died, and the choice was truly mine, I still couldna dishonor her memory.”
“The choice is mine, Archie, no’ yours tae be making for me.”
“Nae, ye dinna hae any more choice than I did, because ye loved yer muther, tae, and wouldna put such a stain on her memory, would ye now?”
Duncan didn’t answer that. What he wanted to say stuck in his craw. Of course he couldn’t dishonor his mother. But he was hating her at the moment, for putting him in this despicable position, and that put another knot in his throat that was nigh choking him.
His silence, however, prompted Archie to add, “Yer no’ seeing the benefits yet, that I gained for ye by delaying yer going. Had auld Neville got ye when he wanted ye, three years ago, ye’d hae been at his complete mercy. Now he’ll find that he mun be careful in what he asks o’ ye, tha’ he could as easily get a nay from ye as a yea. For yer muther’s sake, ye’ll be taking over the duties she was sae happy tae dump on ye, but ye can accomplish wha’ needs doing in yer own way, no’ as Neville would hae it.”
As appeasements went, that one didn’t hit the mark for Duncan, when what he wanted was to kick Henry Myron on his way back to England—without him. That thought was so appealing, he almost left the kitchen to do just that. None of them, not his mother nor either grandfather, had taken his own preferences into account. He’d lived all his life in the Highlands. How could any of them think he could possibly want to live anywhere else? Title or not, great wealth or not, he did not want to live in England.
But if there was an easy way to manipulate Neville Thackeray as Archie had apparently done, he wanted to know it. So he picked up his chair and sat again, asking Archie, “And just how did you manage putting this off?”
Archie smiled then, proud of his accomplishment and how he’d gone about it. “First I pointed oout tha’ yer my heir as well, and since I already had ye, he’d hae a bluidy hard time getting ye away fromme.”
“When you already planned tae sacrifice me?” Duncan said bitterly.
“Och, laddie, I wish ye werena sae upset by this. Twas a bluff, aye, wha’ I told him, but he didna know tha’. Nigh six months o’ some serious threats passed atween us, then anither nine months o’ arguing when I told him I’d settle for yer firstborn, that he didna want tae relinquish. I ken he was thinking tha’ if ye didna settle in proper like, he’d hae yer bairn tae mold tae take yer place. The mon wasna thinking clearly, though, if he thought he’d live long enough tae do any molding.”
“And you will?”
Archie chuckled. “Yer no’ thinking clearly yerself, Duncan lad. As my heir, as well as his, ye’ll be glad o’ a son or tae or three, tae pass on all we’re leaving ye. Tae send yer firstborn here early will only be tae his benefit. But aye, I’ll be outliving that auld bastard by many a year, and he knows it.”
“You mentioned only fifteen months,” Duncan mumbled. “What put him off till now?”
“Well now, the talk o’ bairns naturally led tae talk o’ brides. He was insisting ye marry an English lass. He wouldna budge on that, though anither five months passed while we . . er, ‘discussed’ it. Then I insisted the lassie be the most bonny tae be found, and it took him a good long while tae find her.”
“An English lady, I suppose?”
Archie chuckled. “Aye, tha’s wha’ took sae long. Titled and the most bonny was no’ easy tae come by.”
“Yet a pure waste o’ time,” Duncan replied, adding, “I may go tae England, but I’ll no’ be marrying some handpicked lass that I’ve ne’er set eyes on.”
“Dinna fash yerself on tha’ account, laddie. ‘Twas only anither delay on my part, insisting he find ye a bride. If ye dinna want tae marry the prettiest lass in all o’ England oout o’ stubbornness, nae one is going tae insist on it—well, Neville might, but as I said, yer auld enough tae be telling him nay and meaning it.”
“‘Tis nothing tae do wi’ stubbornness,” Duncan said, his tone rising in annoyance.
“O’ course it isna.”
That condescending tone got Archie a glare. “I’ll be picking my own bride, is all, nae more’n any mon expects tae do, yourself included.”
“And glad I am tae hear it. But why burn the bridge afore ye cross it? Hae a look at the wench Neville found for ye first afore ye decline her. Ye may like her well enough. But if ye dinna, at least make an effort tae find anither.”
Duncan snorted. “I’ve nothing again’ marriage, Archie, but I’m a bit young tae be thinking o’ it yet.”
“And I’m a bit tae auld for ye no’ tae be. I may outlive Neville, and I’ll find someone tae help me here in the meantime, but I willna feel comfortable retiring completely again till yer son is auld enough tae take o’er.”
Which meant that Archie was in complete agreement with Neville, that Duncan marry immediately. One of the major undertakings of his life, and they both wanted him to rush into it.
Duncan left the kitchen in disgust. He’d go to England. But he wondered if his grandfather Neville would be glad of his coming.
It was quite possibly the most gloomy, forlorn-looking place Duncan had ever seen. He supposed the thick carpet of fog that rose several feet above the ground might be responsible, as well as the leafless trees that could be dead as not, for all he knew. Or perhaps the early hour of the morning was why it looked so deserted.
On the other hand, Duncan truly doubted that any small bit of sunshine would impress him much in his current mood, nor any bright fauna if there was any to be found this time of the year. He was in a state of mind to hate Summers Glade, and hate it, he would.
Sir Henry had wanted to arrive last night, which would have been easily done since the inn they had stayed at had been less than twenty minutes away at a steady clip. But Duncan wasn’t about to meet this English grandfather of his for the first time after a full day of traveling. He wanted to be at his most alert, not tired and thinking only of a hot bath and bed.
He hadn’t planned to arrive before Neville Thackeray was even out of bed, though, which turned out to be the case, and was a letdown, since he was primed for a confrontation with his grandfather. And the place wasn’t deserted, as he’d almost been hoping by the look of it. Inside it was teeming with servants, more than ten large families could possibly make use of, all there to wait on one old man.
To be fair, though, Duncan allowed it was a very large house the marquis lived in, which might be needing a few extra servants to see to the care of it. He also allowed the English might be a wee bit pampered, great lords like his grandfather in particular, and so they might think they needed huge staffs when they really didn’t.
But for all the bleakness on the outside of the old estate, there was much bright grandeur to be found on the inside. The furniture in most of the rooms that Duncan had a glance of in passing was old-style French, the delicate, overly carved kind. It was well preserved for its age, but so ornamented as to give the place a gay, if gaudy, feel.
Mirrors and pictures were in gold-leafed frames that were nearly as wide as what they framed. Chandeliers were so large and with so much dangling crystal, they were likely to blind anyone unfortunate enough to look up at them when fully lit. And there were flowers in each room, suggesting that there was a hothouse on the estate somewhere.
All in all, Summers Glade, at least on the inside of it, certainly wasn’t what Duncan had been expecting from an old English marquis, and certainly not after the dour look of the outside. Staid, unpretentious, heavy pieces had been his guess for what Neville would surround himself with, not the frivolous decor of the previous century.