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Brigham Langston, the fourth earl of Ashburn, sat at breakfast in his elegant town house and frowned over the letter. It was certainly one he'd been expecting, one he'd been waiting and watching for. Now that it was here, he read each word carefully, his gray eyes serious and his full mouth firm. It wasn't often a man received a letter that could change his life.
"Damn it, Brig, how long are you going to keep me waiting?" Coll MacGregor, the quick-tempered, redheaded Scot who had been Brigham's companion on certain journeys through Italy and France, seemed unable to sit quietly while Brigham read.
In answer, Brigham merely lifted one narrow hand, white-skinned and foaming with lace at the wrist. He was accustomed to Coll's outbursts, and for the most part enjoyed them. But this time, this very important time, he would hold his friend off until he'd read the letter through again.
"It's from him, is it not? Damn you to hell and back, it is from him. From the Prince." Coll pushed away from the table to pace. Only the manners hammered into him by his mother kept him from tearing the letter from Brigham's hand. Although the knowledge that, despite the difference in size and girth, Brigham could hold his own in a fight might also have played a certain role in his decision. "I've as much right as you."
Brigham looked up at that, letting his gaze pass over the man who was now striding around the small salon with enough force to make the china rattle. Though his muscles were tense and his mind was shooting off in a dozen directions, Brigham's voice was mild.
"Of course you do, but the letter is, nonetheless, addressed to me."
"Only because it's easier to smuggle a letter to the high-and-mighty English earl of Ashburn than it is to a MacGregor. We're all under suspicion of being rebels in Scotland." Coll's sharp green eyes were alight with challenge. When Brigham merely returned to the letter, Coll swore again and dropped into his chair. "You're enough to try a man's soul."
"Thank you." Setting the letter beside his plate, Brigham poured more coffee. His hand was as steady as it was when he gripped the hilt of a sword or the butt of a pistol. And, indeed, this letter was a weapon of war. "You are quite right on all counts, my dear. The letter is from Prince Charles." Brigham sipped his coffee.
"Well, what does he say?"
When Brigham indicated the letter with a wave of his hand, Coll pounced on it. The missive was written in French, and though his command of the language was not as good as Brigham's, he struggled through it.