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Chapter OneEngland, 1818
"Are ye scared, hinny?"
Roslynn Chadwick turned away from the coach window and the passing scenery she had been staring at for the last hour without actually seeing. Scared? She was alone in the world now with no guardian, no family worth mentioning. She was on her way to an uncertain future and leaving behind all that was familiar to her. Scared? She was terrified.
But Nettie MacDonald wasn't to know that, not if Roslynn could help it. Nettie was too uneasy herself, had been ever since they'd crossed the English border yesterday morning, though she too tried to hide it by turning querulous, as was her way. Nettie had been all chipper and cheer before that, even while crossing the Lowlands, which she disdained. A Highlander all her life, and that was forty-two years' worth, Nettie never thought the day would come when she would be forced to leave her beloved Highlands, let alone cross the border into England. England! But Nettie wouldn't be left behind, no, not dear Nettie.
Roslynn managed a smile for Nettie's benefit, and even a bit of a twinkle in her hazel eyes to reassure her abigail. "Och, and what've I to be scared of, Nettie? Didna we manage to sneak off in the dead of night wi' none the wiser? Geordie'll be searching Aberdeen and Edinburgh for weeks and weeks and never guess we've absconded to London."
"That he will. " Nettie spared herself a pleased smile for their success so far, forgetting for the moment her fear and dislike of the English. Her dislike of Geordie Cameron went much deeper. "And I hope that devil chokes on his spleen when he realizes ye've escaped his foulplans, that I do. I didna like Duncan, bless him, making ye promise what ye had tae, but he knew what was best fer ye. And dinna be thinking I'm sae fashed I didna hear ye fergetting yer proper English, lass, that Duncan brought that fine snobbish tutor tae be teaching ye. Ye'll no' be fergetting it, especially. now we're here among the devil's kin. "
Roslynn grinned when this last was delivered in Nettie's most scolding tone, and couldn't resist teasing a bit more. "When I see an Englishmon will be soon enough for me to be remembering my proper English. You wouldna deny me this wee bit of time left when I dinna. have to be thinking about every word I say, would you now?"
"Humph! 'Tis only when ye're that upset that ye ferget anymore, and well I ken it."
Of course Nettie knew it. Nettie knew Roslynn better than herself sometimes. And if Roslynn wasn't in a temper, which was when she most often forgot herself and lapsed into the Scottish brogue she had picked up from Gramp and Nettie, she was still upset, and with reason. But not enough to forget the proper English that had been drummed into her by her tutor. Roslynn sighed.
I hope the trunks got there, or we'll be in a fine pickle." They had both left with only one change of clothes, to further outwit her cousin Geordie, just in case someone saw them leave and told him.
That's the least of yer worries, lass. Sure and it saved time bringing that London modiste tae Cameron Hall tae be making ye all those bonny dresses, sae ye dinna have tae be fitted when we get there. Duncan, bless him, thought of everything, even sending the trunks ahead, one by one, sae Geordie wouldna. suspect anything if he was watching."
And Nettie had thought it was such a lark, sneaking off in the middle of the night as they had, with their skirts hiked up and wearing old breeches underneath so in the moonlight they might pass for men. Truth be known, Roslynn had thought so too. In fact, that was the only part of this madness she had enjoyed. They had ridden to the nearest town where the prearranged coach and driver were waiting, and had had to wait several hours to be sure they weren't followed before they actually set off on this journey. But all the stealth and bother had been necessary to outwit Geordie Cameron. At least Gramp had made Roslynn believe it was necessary.
And Roslynn could believe it after seeing Geordie's face when Gramp's will was read. After all, Geordie was Duncan Cameron's great-nephew, his youngest brother's grandson, and his only male relative still living. Geordie had every right to assume some of Duncan's great wealth would be left to him, if only a small part. But Duncan had left his entire estate to Roslynn, his only grandchild: Cameron Hall, the mills, the countless other businesses, everything. And Geordie had been hard put not to fly into a rage.
"He shouldna have been sae surprised," Nettie had said after Geordie left the day of the reading. "He knew Duncan hated him, that he blamed him fer yer dear mother's death. Why, 'tis why he was courting ye sae diligently all these years. He knew Duncan'd leave it all tae ye. And 'tis why we've nae time tae lose, now Duncan's gone."
No, there was no time to lose. Roslynn knew it when Geordie once more asked her to marry him after the will was read, and she once more refused. She and Nettie had left that very night, with no time to grieve, no time to regret the promise she had made to her grandfather. But she had done her grieving in the last two months, when they had known Duncan's time was finally up. And it had been a blessing in fact, his death, for he had been wasting away these last seven years and suffering with the pain, and it was only his Scot's stubbornness that had let him linger this long. No, she couldn't be sorry Gramp's suffering was finally over. But oh, how she would miss that dear old man who had been both mother and father to her all these years.