My Highland Rogue – Karen Ranney

“I’ll be damned if I know why she did it, but the Countess of Burfield left you a bequest.” Gordon McDonnell turned from the window and stared at the man who’d just spoken. Richard McBain was the advocate for the Adaire family. For a number of years, he’d also served as the guardian for the underage Earl of Burfield, who’d ascended to his title at the age of five. Gordon had had a few encounters with McBain in the past. Whenever they happened to meet—or he was called into the study—it was never to his advantage. At first he thought that McBain had somehow discovered his relationship with Jennifer Adaire. Jennifer was Lady Jennifer, the daughter of the Earl and Countess of Burfield. Gordon was only the gardener’s boy, a title he’d been called ever since he was little. He’d grown to heartily despise it. He had plans for his life, plans that didn’t include becoming a gardener like his father. Gordon didn’t care if anything bloomed or grew under his care. He preferred the wildness of the terrain surrounding Adaire Hall to the cultivated plants in the various gardens. His mind registered what McBain said, but it still didn’t make any sense. “What do you mean, the countess left me a bequest?” “Evidently, the woman saw something in you I don’t understand.

” McBain had always talked to him in that same tone. He’d learned to ignore it. “I didn’t expect that,” Gordon said. Perhaps he should have. The countess had always been kind to him, and he’d always liked her. Their unusual relationship had begun when he was only seven. One day, he’d seen her nurse wheel her out to the terrace so that she could enjoy the sunshine in the garden. He had dared his father’s anger and had plucked some flowers for her, then walked up the three steps and thrust them at her. “It’s a bunch of posies, ma’am, to make you smile.” “You’ll address her correctly, boy,” the nurse had said.

“It’s Your Ladyship to you.” Gordon hadn’t corrected himself, merely continued to stare at the countess. The countess’s vision had been badly damaged in a fire. She saw shapes and some colors, but little more. That day she’d reached out and felt his face, placing her palms against his cheeks. “What is your name?” “Gordon, ma’am. Gordon McDonnell. Your Ladyship.” “Sean McDonnell’s lad.” “Aye, the same.

” “And you picked your father’s flowers to give to me.” “I think they’re your flowers, ma’am. Your Ladyship. I merely borrowed them for a time.” The countess had taken the flowers and brought them to her face, telling him that they smelled of spring. From that moment on, whenever the countess came to the garden Gordon went to see her. Their Jennifer was Lady Jennifer, the daughter of the Earl and Countess of Burfield. Gordon was only the One day, he’d seen her nurse wheel her out to the terrace so that she could enjoy the sunshine in the The countess’s vision had been badly damaged in a fire. She saw shapes and some colors, but little relationship was less that of the gardener’s boy and countess than it was friendship, of a sort. He told her of his dreams.

She shared some of her thoughts with him. In addition, she taught him a number of things that he’d never have learned otherwise, like how to handle his anger and how to speak properly. He turned back to the window, unwilling to let McBain see his expression. Her death hadn’t been any easier than her life. After she’d died, he’d heard more than one person say that it was a blessing she’d finally been released. His first reaction to that comment had been anger. The world was less interesting because she was no longer in it. It was certainly less friendly. “I tried to talk her out of it,” the advocate said. “I don’t know what you’re going to do with the money, but I doubt you’ll put it to good use.

” Then McBain mentioned an amount that had Gordon turning and staring at him incredulously. “How much?” McBain repeated the amount. “And it’s all mine?” “It’s all yours.” He’d just been given a fortune. “It’s the perfect time, I think,” McBain said, “to tell you that you’re no longer welcome at Adaire Hall.” The advocate smiled, an expression that reminded Gordon of a cat that had just devoured a plump mouse. “It’s been brought to my attention, McDonnell, that you have ideas above your station. I’ve been asked to explain to you that any further advances to Lady Jennifer are unwelcome. Therefore, the easiest thing for everyone would be for you to leave Adaire Hall immediately.” He stared at McBain.

“It’s no secret that you’ve been causing Lady Jennifer trouble. You’ve been too persistent in your attentions.” “I don’t understand.” Jennifer wouldn’t have made that comment. “It’s simple enough,” the advocate said, standing. “That relationship is over.” “I don’t believe you.” “Spare the young woman some embarrassment, McDonnell. Pretend, in this instance, that you have the manners of a gentleman. She’s just left for Edinburgh and expressly asked me to convey to you that she would like you gone before she returns.

She’s not the only one who’s anxious for your departure. The Earl of Burfield feels the same way.” The Earl of Burfield. That was a laugh. Jennifer’s brother had always been an idiot. In the past few years he’d coupled his idiocy with being an ass. “I might add that your father agrees.” Was he supposed to be surprised at that news? He and Sean had clashed ever since he was a child. “Maybe my father and Harrison want me gone,” Gordon said, “but not Jennifer.” Just last night they’d met at the loch, spent hours talking, and ended the night by kissing.

She couldn’t have changed her mind in a matter of hours. Not Jennifer. “She’s not going to return from Edinburgh until you’re gone. Your father has packed your belongings, McDonnell. The sooner you’ve left, the better for everyone. You’ve been a disruptive influence around here for too long. Unfortunately, the countess didn’t agree with my assessment of you.” Evidently, he had one more reason to be grateful to the countess. “Neither of your parents have expressed a wish to see you before you leave. Nor has the earl.

She’s just left for Edinburgh and expressly asked me to convey to you that past few Was he supposed to be surprised at that news? He and Sean had clashed ever since he was a child. There’s a carriage at the front door. It will take you to Inverness.” “I’m not leaving until I talk to Jennifer.” McBain approached him slowly. “Understand this, McDonnell, Lady Jennifer doesn’t want anything to do with you now or in the future.” Gordon faced the older man down. He was nearly a foot taller and bigger than the advocate. He wasn’t intimidated. When he didn’t speak, McBain continued.

“She regrets meeting you at the loch, McDonnell, and allowing you to kiss her. Is that plain enough for you? Face it, man. You were an amusement and now you’re not.” McBain’s tone had softened, and there was something that sounded like pity in his voice. Had he been wrong? Was it possible that Jennifer felt that way? No, McBain was an idiot to think he’d believe that of Jennifer. The advocate returned to his desk, reached into the drawer, and pulled out a stack of notes. Gordon immediately knew what they were. He and Jennifer left notes for each other all over Adaire Hall. In the coop, in the forks of a tree they’d learned to climb just beyond the house, in a loose brick in the fireplace in a room adjacent to the schoolroom—anywhere they could find that would be private. If Gordon couldn’t meet Jennifer after his work was done, or if she couldn’t join him because of her obligations, they always communicated with each other.

Jennifer told him recently that she’d kept all of his notes to her, that she considered them precious. No longer, evidently. McBain amused himself by reading some of them aloud. The silly poetry Gordon had written for Jennifer seemed even more foolish now. It was the ultimate act of betrayal. McBain didn’t say a word as Gordon left the study. Less than an hour later he was in the carriage on the way to Inverness, a letter to the bank in his pocket detailing his bequest. For the first time in his life he had some wealth, but it was balanced by the empty feeling in his chest. May, 1867 Adaire Hall, Scotland It had taken nearly three months to get the information Jennifer needed, but now that she had it, she sat at her secretary staring down at the blank piece of stationery. How could she possibly write this letter? How could she not? Ever since Gordon had disappeared, she’d been filled with anger, despair, and disillusionment.

For two years there’d been no word. No inkling if Gordon was alive or dead. She didn’t know whether to wish him to perdition or pray for his safety. Some months ago her brother had let something slip, and she’d had the first hint that Gordon hadn’t left the Hall of his own accord. All he’d said was, “McBain got rid of the bastard.” When she’d questioned him further, all he’d said was, “McDonnell isn’t coming back. Ever.” “What do you mean, he’s never coming back?” Harrison hadn’t answered her. Nor had Sean been any more forthcoming. All he’d said was, “The boy wanted more from life than Adaire Hall.

More fool he.” The advocate returned to his desk, reached into the drawer, and pulled out a stack of notes. Gordon time in his t had taken nearly three months to get the information Jennifer needed, but now that she had it, she sat Consequently, she’d written Mr. McBain asking him how, exactly, Gordon had chosen to leave Adaire Hall. Mr. McBain hadn’t answered her questions, either, which was all she needed to know. Something had happened. Something had precipitated Gordon’s departure. What had they told him? What had they said? She’d finally realized that Gordon’s banishment had been an act of pure spite on Harrison’s and McBain’s part. Harrison had always resented Gordon, because he’d been sent to study with the two of them in the schoolroom on the second floor.

Their tutor consistently ignored Gordon, but the truth was that he was better at math and science. Plus, people liked him. He had friends everywhere and was forever being greeted by someone, even when she wanted to be alone with him. Harrison wasn’t thought of with such kindness. If anything, her brother was tolerated, but nothing more. She picked up her pen. What should she write? Dear Gordon. My dearest Gordon. My love. No, she couldn’t do that, could she? She had to be more circumspect.

After all, there was her pride to consider. He had simply left her without a word. One moment he was there, and the next he wasn’t. When she’d returned from Edinburgh, the first thing she’d wanted to do was to see Gordon and have him hold her. To feel solid and safe again in his arms. Only to be told that he was no longer at Adaire Hall. That he had simply left one night and no one knew where he was. She picked up her pen again and wrote: Dear Gordon. There, she’d actually written something. Her heart was fluttering, and there was a feeling in her stomach as if she’d eaten something slightly off.

Now that she knew how to contact him, she couldn’t delay. She had to write him and tell him the news. She had to let him know. It was the kindest thing she could do. Her mother would have told her that it was a task that she should perform. But her mother would be so much better at this than she was. She picked up the pen one more time, thought about the words she wanted to say, and wondered if there was a way to soften the news. This was Gordon. He had featured in her earliest memories. He’d been her friend, her companion, her playmate, and then so much more.

She bit her lip and prayed for guidance, before writing: It is with great sadness that I am writing you. Your mother succumbed to a fever last week and died quickly. The circumstances were not terribly different from her own mother’s death, but Mary had lingered for nearly a month, the pneumonia finally claiming its victim. I have received your address from the bank, which was kind enough to supply it to me. I wish that I could offer you comfort at this time, Gordon, especially since you were such a solace to me when my mother died. Again, I am sorry to have to convey such sorrowful news to you. With my best regards, Jennifer London, England Gordon stared at the letter in his hand. Jennifer. He would have recognized her distinctive script anywhere. He read the letter again and then a third time.

Finally, he folded it and placed it in his pocket, knowing that he would read it again. No, she couldn’t do that, could she? She had to be more circumspect. After all, there was her pride left her without a word. One moment he was there, and the next he wasn’t. Her mother would have told her that it was a task that she should perform. But her mother would be the news. This was Gordon. He had featured in her earliest memories. He’d he circumstances were not terribly different from her own mother’s death, but Mary had lingered for He was sorry about Betty, but in actuality his mother had spared little attention or affection for him. It was as if one day she’d been presented with a baby and didn’t quite know how to treat it.

As a stranger? As an imposition? She’d done both. He would say a prayer for her, not because it was anything that Betty had taught him, but because it was something the countess had once said. It serves us ill to be unkind to those who are not kind to us, Gordon. Instead, we should treat them with love, demonstrating what we’ve been taught in the Bible. He withdrew the letter from his pocket and stared at it again. Two years. It had been two years since he’d seen Jennifer. Two years of wondering why she’d given McBain his notes to her. Why had she betrayed him like that? Yet the woman who’d written him didn’t sound like someone who’d believed him beneath her. Or someone who’d wanted him gone or considered him an intrusion in her life.

Perhaps she’d changed in the past two years. As far as her news, he saw no reason to return to Scotland now. Or ever. He was sorry about Betty, but in actuality his mother had spared little attention or affection for him. It was as if one day she’d been presented with a baby and didn’t quite know how to treat it. As a stranger? As an imposition? She’d done both. He would say a prayer for her, not because it was anything that Betty had taught him, but because it was something the countess had once said. It serves us ill to be unkind to those who are not kind to us, Gordon. Instead, we should treat them with love, demonstrating what we’ve been taught in the Bible. He withdrew the letter from his pocket and stared at it again.

Two years. It had been two years since he’d seen Jennifer. Two years of wondering why she’d given McBain his notes to her. Why had she betrayed him like that? Yet the woman who’d written him didn’t sound like someone who’d believed him beneath her. Or someone who’d wanted him gone or considered him an intrusion in her life. Perhaps she’d changed in the past two years. As far as her news, he saw no reason to return to Scotland now. Or ever.

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