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By Lyn Stone
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Lyn Stone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEdinburgh, 1856
James Garrow slowly rotated his second tankard of ale with a thumb and forefinger as he mentally tallied the British pounds he had accrued during the past fortnight. A mere fraction of what was needed to carry the remnant of his clan through until next summer, but still better than he had anticipated. Stonework didn't pay much, but with all the new construction, it was steady. His hard-won degrees in the study of architecture were doing him precious little good.
He glanced around, grimacing ruefully at his surroundings. The Hog and Truffle Inn, despite its earthy name, did furnish clean sheets, fairly decent meals and passable ale. His private room here would have fit neatly into his garderobe back home, but the loneliness of the city notwithstanding, he'd rather have a small space than share one with a stranger. God, he'd be glad to return to the Highlands. Before the first snow, he promised himself.
His ears perked as he heard a name mentioned at the table behind him. Eastonby. The earl? James slouched back in his chair so that he was a few inches nearer and listened to the muted conversation with interest.
"His girl's with him, I hear," a rough voice whispered.
"So much the better," another answered in kind, the accent soft and cultured.
"Cause an outcry the like of which you ain't never heard," the other warned. "Killin' a man's one thing, but -"
"You want the money?" came the silky question. "Then you do as I say. There'll be the woman." An enticement that drew a suggestive growl.
"We'll take 'im on the road to York, then?"
A deep-throated chuckle, then the almost inaudible confirmation. "As soon as he clears the city. And no one survives. Is that clear?"
The same voice, the well-spoken one, then gave the exact location of what James understood as a planned assassination and continued to discuss the details of what needed to be done.
Were the men bloody drunk to bandy plans such as this in a public room? He noted the rest of the clientele who were few in number, deep in their cups and sitting far enough away they could not possibly have overheard. He was not that close by himself, but his own hearing was such that folk generally marveled at it.
Since he had yet to see their faces, James wondered how he could manage without getting up, walking halfway around their table and alerting them to the fact that he had heard what they said.
Instead, he quietly sat up, then leaned forward on the table and slid off to the floor in a heap, raking his tankard in a wide arc as he fell.
As he'd expected, the men who had been speaking jerked around to see what had caused the commotion. Cursing him and complaining loudly about the ale splash, they rose. James grinned up at them through half-closed eyes until he'd set their faces in his mind, then sighed loudly and feigned an unconscious stupor. The smaller of the two kicked him soundly in the leg, but he lay still. Then they stalked out of the pub, still bellyaching about being splattered.
He had recognized neither of them. When the door slammed behind them, James rolled to his side and made a show of struggling to his feet. Stumbling drunkenly out the back way as if to answer nature's call, he dropped the guise once outside and managed to reach the front of the inn just as the men separated. He kept to the shadows and followed the toff. Eastonby should be warned.
The next morning, James arose quite early, dressed in his best suit and set out for the palace, hoping the earl had not yet left, if indeed that was where he was staying. A peer would likely have a standing invitation there, James thought.
As it happened, the earl was not a guest in the palace, but James was able to verify that the man was still in the city.
After a good deal of trouble and a long walk through the city, James found himself impatiently waiting to be granted an audience with Eastonby at the Royal Arms Hotel.
He reminded himself repeatedly why saving an English earl who starved his tenants and neglected his estate was a worthwhile endeavor. But there was also a female at risk, he recalled. James couldn't leave without doing what he could to prevent her murder.
"This way," ordered a liveried employee who had let him upstairs to the third floor and knocked on the door.
When they were prompted to enter, James followed the man into a well-appointed sitting room where sat a distinguished gray-haired gentleman at a large writing desk blotting the signature on some sort of document. "Mr. Garrow, my lord," said the footman as he backed out the room. The earl continued what he was doing.
Through the doorway to another chamber of the suite, James spied a red-haired lass curled in a chair reading a book.
At first he thought her but a half-grown bairn since he saw the chair in profile. She sat crossways, her back against the one arm and her legs draped over the other, facing him. All he could see was her bowed head, with its bonny mass of fiery ringlets over the top of the open book which rested on her knees. Swinging idly from the snowy mass of petticoats were slender ankles and small stockinged feet. She wiggled her toes.
That must be the girl the men meant to kill and worse. She looked up from her page and James smiled at her. She frowned back, immediately hopped up, strode to the door and firmly shut it. She was no bairn, he realized, but a woman indeed. A bonny one at that, of some twenty years more or less.
The man at the desk seemed hardly more eager to acknowledge a guest than the lass had been. Since James had no more time to waste here, he took the initiative. "Are you Lord Eastonby, then?" he asked.
The man turned, put aside his pen, took an impatient breath and confirmed his identity. "I am. State your business. Mr. Garrow, is it?"
"Aye, laird of Galioch, which is hard by your place in the North."
"Drevers?" the earl asked.
"Aye, but that's not why I've come. I chanced to o'erhear a threat to you last eve and took it upon myself to warn you."
The earl's mouth twisted in a wry expression. "And I am to reward you richly for this information, I suppose?"
James took a deep breath and tamped down his anger. Some people were born suspicious, he reckoned. He shouldn't cast any stones since he was none too trusting himself. "Nay, I'll not require coin for doing what I think's right. There's a plan to waylay you at Solly's Copse outside the city and do away with you and whoever's with you." He glanced meaningfully toward the door the lass had closed. "They mentioned a woman."
The earl's eyes widened in surprise. He shoved back his chair and stood, approaching James, searching his face as if to discover a lie. "You are certain of this?"
"Aye. Two men conspired in it. One resides at Shipman's Inn and goes by the name of Ensmore. Sounded educated to me, but the publican there didn't know his rank. I could only follow the one, so I don't know the other, but he's a common man, rough speakin'. And prone to meanness," James added, recalling the kick he had suffered. "Do what you will with the warning. Good day."
Excerpted from The Scot by Lyn Stone Copyright © 2003 by Lyn Stone
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.