Stolen Heart – Joyce Alec

It had been a very wet day indeed and Colin was not particularly impressed by the spring showers. He had intended to go out into the fields and assist with the planting but it seemed that the weather had not been in his favor. Shaking his head to himself, he made his way back to his small but comfortable living room and sat down by the fire. He was shivering inadvertently as though he could still feel the rain pouring down upon his head and running in cold rivulets down his back. Returning to the house, he had been glad that the fire he had left banked was still warm and had quickly added more wood to it so that it burned quickly and heated the room. His wet things were still drying, steam rising from them as the fire’s blaze warmed them all the more. Picking up a glass, he poured himself a small measure of brandy, knowing that he had very little left, and sat down in his comfortable chair by the fire. Sighing, he let out a long, slow breath. As much as he might complain about the weather, he did enjoy his life here in Scotland. Having been born only a short distance from this house, he knew this land well. His brother, Arthur, now worked alongside him to make certain that the crops did well and that there was enough income to keep them and their small farm sustained. It had been a difficult few years and Colin did not know whether or not he would have had as much success had it not been for his brother. Closing his eyes, Colin rested his head back and let himself settle into a comfortable peace. The day was at an end and perhaps the rain would have stopped by the time morning came. A sudden, sharp rap at the door startled him and, cursing, he looked down at his glass and discovered that most of his remaining brandy was now on his trousers.

His only servant had the afternoon and evening free today, meaning that it was Colin’s responsibility to open the door and greet whoever stood there on the step. With a curse, he rose to his feet and made his way to the front of the small house, flinging open the door with every intention of berating whomever it was that had come to disturb him. Instead of finding his brother or one of the workers standing there, however, there was a small, wiry man who looked up at him through rain-splattered spectacles. Behind him, in the gloom, Colin could see a coach and horses, which explained why the man in front of him was not entirely bedraggled. “Are you Colin Montgomery?” Colin blinked in surprise. “I—I am,” he said, before remembering his manners and stepping aside so that the man might come in. “Do I know you?” The man stepped over the threshold and looked about him, as though assessing the condition of the house where Colin lived. This irritated Colin somewhat but he remained silent, standing steadfastly between the man and the rest of the house, his arms folded and his eyes narrowed. “You are Colin Montgomery?” the man asked again, looking up at Colin with a slight air of puzzlement. “It has taken some time to find you.

” “I am Colin Montgomery,” he replied, his irritation growing. “My brother is Arthur Montgomery. I can fetch him if you want someone else to confirm the truth of my identity.” One brow lifted but the man cleared his throat, clearly unwilling to do anything Colin had suggested. “Your father was George Montgomery, your mother Alice Montgomery?” “Yes.” Colin wanted to demand to know why this man was here, asking such questions, but held his tongue, seeing that this fellow had every intention of asking his questions repeatedly until he received his answers. “You have lived here for some years, I believe?” “I have,” Colin replied tightly. “The farm here belongs to both myself and my brother.” The man let out a small laugh which only made Colin frown all the more. Was the man laughing at his way of life? At the quality of the house around him? His hands balled into fists but he remained quiet, forcing himself to keep his irritation and frustration contained.

“Well, if we might sit down, Mr. Montgomery,” the man said after a few moments of assessing Colin’s features, “I have some news for you which I think will be something of a surprise.” One side of his mouth lifted in a half-smile. “It will, I believe, change your life entirely. This farm will have to go to your brother.” The irritation that Colin had felt so strongly fled in an instant. “What do you mean?” he asked, a cold hand at his heart. Was the man about to state that, for whatever reason, he was going to be forcibly removed from his home? That the farm would no longer be his to care for? His mind began to whirl with thoughts as he tried to recall what he might have done in order to gain such a punishment. “Mr. Montgomery?” the man said again, although his tone was a little more gentle now as though he realized the fears that were plaguing Colin.

“Is there somewhere we can sit down?” It took Colin a moment to realize what he had asked and, therefore, a minute or two before he finally led the fellow back to his small sitting room. Gesturing for him to sit in the more comfortable seat, Colin sat down in the other, forgetting entirely to offer the man any sort of refreshment. Instead, he fixed his eyes upon the man as he sat down, heard him clear his throat, and noticed, for the first time, that a small sheaf of papers was held in one of his hands. His heart began to pound furiously as a light sheen of sweat formed across his brow. “Mr. Montgomery,” the man began, lifting his head to look at Colin directly. “There has been a death in your family.” Colin’s shoulders slumped. “I have no family to speak of, save for my brother,” he said slowly. “My father and mother have both passed away.

” The man arched an eyebrow. “And your father’s brothers and their families?” All the more confused, Colin leaned forward in his chair. “My father had no brothers.” “In that, you are entirely mistaken,” the man cried, looking greatly shocked. “Are you trying to state, Mr. Montgomery, that you have no awareness of your father’s status? Of his family?” “None,” Colin replied, a little surprised by the man’s excited tone. “I know that my father’s parents were not at all pleased at his choice of a bride. Therefore, he decided to move to Scotland with her and bring up his family here.” One shoulder lifted. “I have never had any meeting with my father’s parents, if that is what you are asking, nor should I wish to.

” To Colin’s immense astonishment, the man rose to his feet in a sudden, agitated state. He began to walk about the room, muttering to himself as he threw the occasional glance toward Colin, as if he could hardly believe what he had heard. Colin felt an increasing need to defend himself, to state that he fully supported his father’s decision, one that he had never had any need to question. They had been a very contented family and he missed both his parents a great deal. “My goodness, my goodness!” the man exclaimed, throwing his hands high in the air. “Then this will be all the more astonishing to you, Mr. Montgomery!” Colin rose to his feet. “Perhaps you can explain it to me then, sir,” he said, forcing a fierceness into his voice that finally seemed to catch the man’s attention. “I don’t even know your name as yet.” This seemed to quieten the fellow, for he nodded, muttered once more to himself, and then stopped pacing.

Facing Colin directly, he spread his hands wide, with one still clutching the papers. “Mr. Grey, at your service, Mr. Montgomery,” he began with a small bow. “Now, as for the reason for my visit, I should explain from the start, I believe.” Taking in a deep breath, his eyes flashing with evident excitement, he cleared his throat and snapped his heels together. “Mr. Montgomery, your father was the third son of the Marquess of Lindale,” he said as Colin’s mouth dropped open in astonishment. “I do not fully understand the details, but for some reason, your grandfather did not give his third son his inheritance. Indeed, I believe that he did not make mention of his third son even in his will.

” Colin blinked and, closing his mouth, tried to clear his whirling thoughts. “That is because my father chose to marry my mother,” he said slowly. “A lady who must have been considered far below him.” Mr. Grey nodded in evident understanding. “Your father, then, despite being disinherited, was still the third son of Lord Lindale.” “Yes, yes,” Colin murmured, still trying to take in all that had been said. “I understand. But what does that have to do with me and your visit here?” Mr. Grey’s eyes flared with evident amazement.

“You clearly have very little idea of this at all,” he said with glee. “Well, Mr. Montgomery, the second son of the Marquess of Lindale did not marry or have any children,” he continued. “The first son wed and married but produced only daughters.” A frown flickered across his brow. “The second son passed away only six months ago, which was when the search for you began. However, within that time, the Marquess of Lindale himself has also, regrettably, passed from this life to the next.” Taking in a deep breath, he gestured toward Colin. “Therefore, the title now falls to…well, to you.” Staring wide-eyed at Mr.

Grey, Colin felt his whole body freeze with a coldness that he had never once experienced before. It was then followed with a flush of heat that had him gasping for breath, his hand clutching at his heart as Mr. Grey’s smile faded away. The little man moved toward him as though he feared he was about to faint. Colin waved him away, then reached for his glass and his decanter of brandy. Rather than being careful with the measure he used, he poured it liberally into his glass and then threw it back in one gulp. Catching his breath, he looked at Mr. Grey steadily, forcing himself to concentrate. “Are you trying to suggest, Mr. Grey, that I am now the Marquess of Lindale?” he asked, and Mr.

Grey nodded fervently. “Yes,” Mr. Grey explained, speaking with great slowness so that Colin could take in all that was being said. “Mr. Montgomery—or, as I should refer to you, Lord Lindale—you now hold the title of the Marquess of Lindale.” Colin closed his eyes tightly, his heart beginning to roar within him. He had never once considered himself to be anything other than what he was. The son, he believed, of an ordinary, hardworking man who had made a reasonable living for his wife and his sons. And now to discover that his father had been a great deal more? That was almost too astonishing to believe. “Lord Lindale?” It took Colin a few moments to realize that the fellow was referring to him, shaking his head heavily before passing one hand over his eyes.

“You have an estate, Lord Lindale,” Mr. Grey continued as though this were quite a regular conversation. “Your brother also, although, of course, it is lesser in size and in fortune than your own. Both are ready and prepared for you both, with a full complement of staff. There are a good many details which need to be considered, of course, and the solicitors will be ready to discuss your fortune, your finances, and the like with you, but for the moment, all that needs to be done is for you to make your way to your new estate.” He held out the papers toward Colin, who found himself taking them, his fingers numb, his eyes unseeing as he looked down at them, trying to work out what it was that was written there, but his head was so filled with a great many thoughts that he could barely put them into order. “I will leave you for this evening,” Mr. Grey said, a broad smile settling across his face as he reached to shake Colin’s hand, although how Colin managed to lift his hand to accept it, he was not quite certain. “But I will return in the morning and perhaps we might discuss the details a little more.” Colin blinked rapidly and tried his best to nod and say something that was comprehensible but found himself only stammering, which made Mr.

Grey chuckle, his expression no longer somber but one of great delight. “Good evening, my lord,” he said, bowing low and seeming to be filled with a newfound respect which Colin did not think he at all deserved. “I will return tomorrow.” Colin nodded but did not move, one hand still holding his empty brandy glass whilst the other clutched the papers Mr. Grey had given him. He was not even aware when the fellow left the room, nor when the front door closed again. All he could think of, all he could see, were the papers in front of him that held his new title. It seemed that no matter how he felt or what he wished, he was now the Marquess of Lindale. Setting down the papers on the table to his left, Colin poured the last of his brandy into his glass and took another sip, savoring it a little more this time. He would have to give up his farm, he realized, his heart aching as he considered it.

He would be expected to go to his estate—but to do what? He had very little idea of what it meant to be such a highly titled gentleman. “And I shall have to marry,” he muttered, raking one hand through his brown hair, another shock running through him. Titled gentlemen would be expected to keep the family line consistent, for fear that it would pass on to a distant relation—such as it had done now. Blowing out a long breath, Colin shoved his fingers through his hair one more time. “The Marquess of Lindale,” he muttered to himself, still too overcome to believe it. “I will have to tell Arthur.” Shaking his head, Colin threw back the rest of his brandy and picked up the papers once more. “The Marquess of Lindale,” he said again, the name still strange on his lips. “I am the Marquess of Lindale.”

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