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To Wed a Highland Bride
"Fairies! You cannot possibly mean, sirs"—Patrick MacCarran leaned forward, knuckles pressed on the lawyers' desk—"that a parcel of blasted fairies stands between us and our inheritance!" He glanced at his three siblings, while the men behind the oak desk, one seated, the other standing, remained silent.
"We need not assume ruination." James MacCarran, Viscount Struan, gave a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders in good black serge as he spoke quietly. He deliberately maintained an unruffled demeanor and casual pose as he leaned against the doorframe of the lawyers' study, though he felt as stunned as the others. "Let Mr. Browne and Sir Walter finish before we decide that we are done for."
His siblings looked grim—his sister, Fiona, pale but composed, while their younger brothers, William and Patrick, scowled. James preferred distance in most things, actual and emotional, and that served him well today. Scarcely a farthing would come to any of them from their grandmother unless the astonishing conditions of her will were met. Ruination very well could be in store for all of them, James thought.
"What could make this worse?" Patrick shoved a hand through his dark hair.
"A few elves might complement this disaster nicely," William murmured.
James huffed a curt laugh. William, his next younger brother, was a quiet-spoken physician who had hoped to open a hospital with his inheritance; Fiona, their sister, was an independent, serene woman with an academic bent for the study of fossil rock that made her anyscholar's equal. Now Fiona stood to calm Patrick, a signet clerk with greater ambitions. The funds could support his younger siblings' dreams, James knew. As for himself, he was content with a professorship in geology; he had few real needs.
But what Grandmother unexpectedly, posthumously asked was untenable.
"Lady Struan's fortune will be divided, with conditions," Mr. Browne said. "Apart from your grandfather's estate at his death a few years ago, which was a modest sum after his considerable expenditures—"
"He helped ease the suffering of displaced Highlanders during the clearances of so many from their homes," Fiona said. "None of us begrudge his decisions."
Browne nodded. "Lady Struan acquired a personal fortune through publications and properties, which she allowed Lord Eldin, her adviser in those matters, to sell for her in the last few years. All but Struan House, which goes to James, who inherited his grandfather's title of Viscount Struan two years ago."
James leaned in the doorway, listening. As eldest grandson, he had inherited the title, for their father had died when he and Fiona had been nine, their brothers younger. Now a titled but less than wealthy peer, James had a modest bank account, and earned most of his living as a professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.
He had mourned his grandmother privately, concealing his grief as was natural for him to do, and he had hoped that her fortune would ensure the future for his siblings, particularly his sister, as he himself could not adequately do as a penniless viscount.
But—fairies. James felt as bewildered as the others. He glanced at Patrick, who still seethed; Fiona, her air of serenity overcoming what was sometimes a fiery temper; and William, who sat with steepled fingertips, brow furrowed beneath golden hair, as skilled at hiding his thoughts as James. As a boy, James had kept himself to himself while mourning the deaths of his parents and the separation of his siblings into other homes—William and Patrick to uncles, James and Fiona to a great-aunt. He had never entirely emerged from that self-imposed exile of the heart, and he preferred it that way.
William cleared his throat. "Grandmother was fond of fairy tales and scribbled some of her own, but it is surprising that she took it that seriously."
Fiona sat beside William with a graceful swirl of black satin, her bonnet's curved rim highlighting her pretty face and wispy brown curls. Gazing at his twin sister, James suddenly knew what she would say next. A kerfuffle—
"It's a kerfuffle," she said, "but we shall resolve it." She smiled tightly.
Did he so often guess her words from sheer logic, or the bond of twinship? A question to ponder another time, he thought, when the scientific reason he preferred could reign cool and supreme. The situation was more than a kerfuffle. It was a disaster.
"I wonder if Grandmother was fully capable when she decided these conditions," Patrick said. "Not to imply that anyone influenced her, for we know she was stubborn. But she was very ill, at the last. William, as one of her physicians, what say you?"
William sat up a little. "Her condition made her increasingly frail, but her mind seemed balanced. I noticed no diminished faculties. James would agree—he saw Grandmother a good bit in the past year, when she was in the house on Charlotte Square."
"She never mentioned the will," James answered, "but she always knew her mind. I never doubted her faculties." He rented a house near his grandmother's town house on Charlotte Square, where she had lived during the last months of her illness, and had seen her a good deal during that time, and they had grown closer than before.
"I regret I was not able to confide in you, though I knew of Lady Struan's plan." Sir Walter Scott smiled a little sadly, James noticed. The poet and author had long been a friend to Lady Struan, and though James did not know Sir Walter well himself, he admired the man's genius and generosity.
"Grandmother so enjoyed your visits, Sir Walter," Fiona said. "We appreciate your attentions to her. She looked forward to King George's arrival in Edinburgh, too. It is tragic and ironic that she died before the great event."
Sir Walter nodded. "She enthusiastically helped me plan the festivities. I am sure she will be there in spirit for the king's jaunt next month."To Wed a Highland Bride. Copyright � by Sarah Gabriel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.