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The newer section of the house was an immense quadrangular structure of five stories with towers on all four corners. The older portion of Bealadair was to the rear and connected by a four-story building.

The entire complex, consisting of one hundred and eighty-nine rooms, had been swept, dusted, polished, and refreshed with new potpourri in the past several days. The chandeliers had been lowered, each crystal immersed in a bucket of vinegar and water, then polished to a sparkle before being replaced. The tapestries had been gently brushed, even the ones that were four hundred years old. The runners had been removed from all the corridors, taken outside and beaten by a laughing team of maids and footmen.

Everything was being readied for the man in the carriage approaching the long drive. Would he care? Would he even notice?

The blowing snow obscured everything but the yellow glow of the carriage lanterns.

None of it belonged to them anymore. It was all owned by the man who would soon emerge from the carriage, the same man who could so easily wave his hand and banish them.

She shivered, wishing she had been able to wear her cloak. And a scarf around her throat. And a hat pulled over her hair. She couldn't feel her lips or her fingertips.

People were stamping their feet against the packed snow of the drive and wrapping their arms around themselves. She could see plumes of their breath against the night sky.

Didn't Rhona notice that everyone was about to freeze to death?

Sometimes, she thought that Rhona forgot that the people who staffed Bealadair were human beings. A great many of her dictates didn't make sense. Yesterday she'd given an order that the laundress was to starch all the maids' aprons and today no one was to sit or otherwise crease their uniforms until the duke arrived. You could either do the job you were supposed to do or you could walk around acting like a marionette.

Rhona made decisions like that, making changes that weren't the least practical. A few months ago she'd given an order that all of the maids were to have their hair arranged in the same fashion, in an overly intricate braided bun. It took so long for the girls to arrange their hair that way that Elsbeth had countermanded Rhona's orders, more than willing to go to battle for the staff. Fortunately, the duchess hadn't noticed.

Rhona liked to issue decrees. She made pronouncements, waved her hand in the air like a queen, and demanded certain behaviors. Just as quickly, however, she forgot what she'd ordered.

Elsbeth had the feeling that Rhona really didn't care. The duchess just liked being obeyed, even if it was only momentarily. Elsbeth took great pains to ensure that Rhona got that impression, even if it wasn't exactly correct.

In the past year she'd taken on the duty of housekeeper. Mrs. Ferguson had increasingly incapacitating arthritis. It was easier for the poor woman to remain in her quarters than it was to traverse the many staircases of Bealadair.

None of the family had any objections to Elsbeth assuming the role. They wanted their meals on time, their suites kept clean and sparkling, and their lives not disrupted by petty things such as laundry, staffing expectations, and inconsequential details like leaky roofs.

As for Elsbeth, she enjoyed having something to do every day. Each evening she met with Mrs. Ferguson, consulting the woman over the tasks that needed to be done. The housekeeper had been at Bealadair for over twenty years and knew the house as well as—if not more so—the McCraights. The woman was an organizational genius, acquiring details about the many collections housed at the estate from armaments to historical documents.

No doubt the new duke would want to know the extent of his inheritance. Thanks to Mrs. Ferguson, she could provide him with an exact inventory.

The carriage was turning into the drive. A stableboy ran out to steady the horses. A footman strode forward to open the carriage door.

Rhona stepped up, accompanied by her oldest daughter, Lara, and Lara's husband, Felix.

Elsbeth was too far away to hear the duchess's words, but they were probably those of welcome. Maybe the duchess said something in Gaelic, evoking Scottish sentiment. After all, the new duke was an American who needed to be educated on his Scottish heritage. At least that's what she'd been told.

No one had ever spoken of this unknown nephew. Until Mr. Glassey had sent back word from America, they had expected that the 14th Duke of Lothian and the Laird of Clan McCraight would be Gavin's brother.

This man who stepped down from the carriage was a complete mystery.

She saw his boots first, well-worn with a pointed toe and quite unlike the polished black leather favored by the previous duke and his son-in-law.

He was wearing what looked to be a black wool suit but his coat was unlike anything she'd ever seen. Of brown leather, it hung nearly to his ankles and seemed to be lined with thick white fleece. A hat was pulled down over his head, but she didn't recognize the style of it, either. How odd that she'd never considered that the new duke would be dressed unlike anyone she'd ever seen.


This excerpt is from the paperback edition.
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