The Duchess (Montgomery/Taggert 16) - Page 58

Once the door closed behind her, she felt as though she could breathe again. She felt as though she’d escaped from something bad and horrible. It was as though she’d waked up from a terrible dream as a child and found out the dream was real.

She wanted to keep her head about her. She had to figure out how to handle this. Lots of women had frightening mothers-in-law. It was a universal joke to have a bad mother-in-law. People made jokes about how mothers were attached to their sons. Her own mother sometimes made sarcastic remarks about how men always loved their mothers the best of any female on earth, that no wife can compete with a man’s mother.

Claire went back to her room. It wasn’t such an awful thing that had happened. The old woman loved her son and she wanted him to be properly fed and clothed and cared for when he was ill. There wasn’t any more to it than that.

In her room she found that Miss Rogers had laid her clothes out for dinner. Claire, with some difficulty, unbuttoned the back of her dress herself because Miss Rogers was nowhere to be found. Miss Rogers had her own schedule and she never deviated from it. She had decided to the minute when Claire should dress for dinner and therefore she did not appear until that time. If the crazy American wanted to do something different, then that was her problem, but it was not to interfere with Miss Rogers’s life.

Claire lifted the dinner dress. She would go to dinner and act as though nothing had happened. She would smile at Harry and tell him what a pleasure it was meeting his mother, and she’d suggest that from now on he stop wearing a kilt, as he might catch cold.

Claire put her face in her hands. She didn’t want to go to dinner, didn’t want to face all those people who stared at her but who made no effort to speak to her. She didn’t want to see Harry either and have to lie to him about what a lovely person his mother was.

She knew right away that whom she wanted to talk to was Trevelyan. No, she thought, he wasn’t Trevelyan anymore, he was the renowned, the infamous, the notorious Captain Baker. If she did go talk to him, would he draw a cartoon of her that showed her with the crippled duchess? Would he show her cowering before the woman?

No, she couldn’t talk to Trevelyan. She could no longer trust him. He had betrayed her. He wanted her to talk to him so he could use what she told him.

Who else could she talk to? Her parents? She almost paled at that thought. Her parents, what few glimpses she’d had of them, had fit into the life in this big house as though they’d been born into it. Brat had said their father was considering participating in the plays in the east wing.

But there was someone to whom she could talk, she thought, someone who would know and understand and could give her advice. She tossed the dinner dress back on the bed and pulled her riding habit from the wardrobe. She would miss dinner again and she was sure Her Grace would be told about it, but Claire didn’t care. She had to talk to someone.

MacTarvit’s old cottage wasn’t easy to find, hidden as it was among the trees and hills, and Claire had a difficult time maneuvering the horse through some of the underbrush. Just as he had been when she’d first gone to him with Trevelyan, he was waiting for her. He must have positioned people as lookouts, children probably, Claire thought, because he seemed to know when anyone was approaching. He was protective of his precious whisky, and she wondered how anyone ever got near enough to steal any.

He was standing on a hill, his ancient gun across his arms, the breeze stirring his worn kilt. The moment she saw him tears welled up in her eyes. This man was the only thing she’d encountered in Scotland that was exactly as she’d expected it to be. Everything else was different and bewildering.

When she was still yards from him she dismounted and started running. Angus had no hesitation in knowing what to do: he leaned his gun against a rock and opened his big strong arms to her. She ran to him, hitting him full force, but it was like running into an oak tree. As soon as she touched him, it was as though a river had been released as floods of tears poured from her eyes.

Angus held her tightly. She cried and cried and he just stood there holding her, as patient as the oak he resembled.

After a long while she started to pull away. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

He shushed her. “Oh, aye, this ol’ plaid could stand a wee washin’.”

Claire gave a sound that was part tears, part choking, part laughter.

Angus put his arm around her shoulders and led her into his cottage, where he sat her on the one chair, an old wing chair, and handed her a mug the size of a small barrel. The mug was full of his whisky. Slowly, he filled his pipe, then sat on a stool in front of the ever-burning fire and said, “Now tell me what’s wrong, lass.”

Claire knew that she should at least make some attempt at coherence but she didn’t try to. “No one is as I thought they would be. Everything is different and strange and I’m beginning to think that I don’t exist. Except for my money, that is. Everyone seems to be very aware of my money.”

Angus was beyond patient. He had no other interest in the world except her. She started telling him about yesterday and seeing the estate with Harry, and while she talked she nervously began to draw. She’d picked up a few ancient pieces of stationery with Bramley House written at the top that Angus had had about the cottage for years and a stub of a pencil and begun to draw. Her movements were angry and with every word she spoke she made another line on the papers.

Angus made her explain how it was in America and how Scotland was different. He made no comment on her answers but smoked his pipe and nodded his head.

She told him how perfect Harry was. “Perfect, is he?” Angus said.

“He is, actually, but his mother…” She looked down at her mug of whisky.

“Don’t think you can shock me with stories of her.” There was anger in Angus’s voice.

Claire told of her meeting with the duchess. “She isn’t going to turn any power over to me when I marry Harry. She is going to allow nothing to change. She will control every meal, every breath that anyone in that house takes. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that she plans to choose my clothes each day.”

“And what does this perfect Harry of yours say to this?”

Claire began to fidget in her chair. “What could he say? She’s his mother and he can’t contradict her.”

“Has a braw lass like you ever contradicted your mother?”

Claire giggled—she had drunk half of the mug of whisky. “Only about two hundred thousand times.”

Angus smiled at her. “Yet he is perfect.”

Tags: Jude Deveraux Montgomery/Taggert Historical
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