For her formal introduction to the great and the good of Argyll, Jennifer wore an evening gown of white silk with long sleeves. Tiny orchids formed from silk and lace at the neck, cuffs and along the hemline were the only adornment. Kirstin had expertly dressed her hair, with artful curls framing her face. The softly draped fabric clung to her curves; the contrast of the long sleeves and the low sweetheart shape of the décolleté transformed what should have been a demure gown into something slightly risqué, though as she joined him in the drawing room to await the arrival of their guests, Ewan clearly approved.
‘You look ravishing,’ he said, kissing her hand. ‘No man will question my choice of bride-to-be, seeing you in all your splendour.’
A ghostly shadow from her past dented her new-found confidence. ‘Is it too revealing? Should I change?’
Ewan smiled. ‘Are you worried that I might be jealous, having all male eyes fixed on you? Are you concerned I might take this little black dagger I have tucked into my sock to their throats?’
He was teasing, she knew that, but the memories were deep-rooted and must have shown on her face, because Ewan pulled her into a tight embrace. ‘You look breathtakingly lovely and that should be a source of pride, not shame. I am proud to have you on my arm—are you listening to me, Jennifer?’
She nodded, burrowing her face into his chest.
‘The shame lies with the person whose vile, possessive behaviour clearly destroyed your confidence.’
She lifted her head at that. ‘How did you guess?’
‘It is not so difficult,’ he said grimly. ‘Your situation is not, unfortunately, unique.’ He kissed her forehead. ‘But you most certainly are.’ He kissed her again, this time on the lips. A lingering kiss, that made her wrap her arms around his neck and nestle closer.
Another kiss, and their tongues touched and the kiss deepened, and she forgot everything else as she pressed herself against him. His hands cupped her bottom to pull her closer, and her body tingled with anticipation as their kisses became more fervent, and she felt the stir of his arousal through the folds of his plaid. His hand slid up to cup her breast, making her nipple tighten, drawing a soft moan from her, and she slid her hands under his jacket to span the muscles of his back.
More kisses, kisses that were becoming frantic as their passion rose, as they staggered backwards, as he pressed her against the wall, lifting her against him, making her ache with desire. She had never felt like this. She hadn’t thought she could feel like this. The ripple of his muscles beneath her hands was tantalising. The way their mouths clung and their tongues locked was arousing. The press of their bodies, desperately trying to meld through the barrier of their clothing, was intensely frustrating. She wanted…
With a muttered curse, Ewan let her go, turning his back to shield her, and to face his butler.
‘The first of your guests have arrived, my lord. I was about to summon your aunt, but if you wish some time to…’
‘A moment, no more.’
The butler bowed his way out of the room, and Ewan turned back to Jennifer. ‘Well, that’s one person in this household who will be in no doubt of our feelings for each other. Are you ready for the fray, my sweet?’
The bow windows of the dining room faced out onto formal gardens at the rear. The room was one of the oldest in the castle, with a hearth big enough for even Ewan to walk into without ducking his head. The half-panelled walls had originally been painted ruby red, but had faded to a more gentle rose—not that much of it was visible, festooned as they were with enough claymores, muskets, shields and swords to equip a sizeable army. Ewan had always detested the naked display of force. It occurred to him, as he took his seat at the head of the table, that he could have them removed with one snap of his finger. It astonished him that he hadn’t thought of it before.
At the other end of the table, Lord Cartwright was braying into his aunt’s ear trumpet, probably boasting about the number of stags he had killed on his latest deer-stalking outing. ‘Just watch,’ he said, leaning to whisper in Jennifer’s ear. ‘Cartwright is about to regret his bloodthirsty tale.’
Jennifer’s eyes widened. ‘Your aunt’s cue for the tale of the orphaned fawn that she hand-reared and kept as a pet when she was a girl.’
‘How many times have you had to endure it then?’
‘Oh, three at least, if not four,’ Jennifer replied, smiling. ‘It is her favourite, second only to the one about the Glenkin bride who proved to be a witch. I’ve heard that one five times. I wonder if she’s trying to hint at something.’
‘Well, she might well be right. You’ve certainly bewitched the new Lord Glenkin.’ Mrs Fiona Bremner, sitting on Jennifer’s left, was known as the Beacon of Argyll. A woman for whom discretion was a stranger to valour, a confidence entrusted to Mrs Bremner could be guaranteed to have travelled the length and breadth of the county by nightfall. Which was precisely why she had been seated where she was. ‘Remind me, Miss Campbell, how it is you came to capture the heart of our most eligible bachelor, and in turn break the hearts of all the other eligible lassies for miles around?’
It was their cue. Ewan couldn’t resist reaching for Jennifer’s hand under the tablecloth. Her fingers twined naturally with his, but her attention was on Mrs Bremner. ‘We met in London,’ she said. ‘I was shopping for tea, and by coincidence Ewan had just finished doing business with the merchant. He advised me on a new blend, we got to talking, and discovered we had much in common.’
‘Not least the fact that you both hail from Scotland. Where do your own family have their roots?’ Mrs Bremner asked archly. ‘Your branch of the Campbells is not related to our own Duke of Argyll’s family, I take it?’
‘No, I lay no claim to that honour,’ Jennifer said. ‘My origins are in the south east,’ she said vaguely. ‘Alas, when my father died a year ago, he was the last in the male line.’
‘You are, if you don’t mind my saying so, rather a mature bride,’ Mrs Bremner observed.
‘Jennifer is five-and-twenty, four years younger than I,’ Ewan answered. ‘It is my good fortune that she was too devoted a daughter to wed while her father was alive.’
They had agreed on this lie, it being unthinkable that the Marquis of Glenkin would take anything other than a virgin bride. Ewan could sense Jennifer holding her breath, wondering if Mrs Bremner would pursue the subject. Were she to discover that Jennifer was not only a widow but that her husband was not so very long in his grave…
But Mrs Bremner’s enquiring mind had, thankfully, moved on. ‘Have you resided in London long, Miss Campbell? Your accent suggests otherwise.’
‘No more than does mine,’ Ewan interjected.
‘Ah, but you are a true Highlander, my lord, it is in your blood. You will not mind my saying, it surprised us all very much, knowing what a stickler for tradition your own father was, that you eschewed the customary method of choosing a bride. You will find life here very different from London, Miss Campbell. It will be quite a chore for you to learn our Highland ways.”
‘Jennifer will not be obliged to forgo her time in the capital entirely when she marries me, for I intend us to spend at least some part of the year there.’
‘Away from Argyll and the family seat!’ Mrs Bremner looked appalled.
‘Overseeing my business, Mrs Bremner. It is a substantial undertaking, one I have worked very hard to establish.’
‘But you are the Marquis of Glenkin now—you cannot soil your hands with commerce. Your father will be turning in his grave. I hope that your desire to please Miss Campbell is not at the root of this obtuse decision. She would do well to remember that when she becomes your wife, her wishes must be subjugated to yours.’
It was his own fault for letting that bloody woman drip her poison. His own fault for not intervening quickly enough. He felt Jennifer tense, struggling to hold her tongue, but he could no longer hold his. ‘I would expect no woman to subjugate her wishes to mine,’ Ewan said brusquely. ‘A marriage is an equal partnership, as far as I am concerned, and what’s more, it’s a partnership that is nobody’s business but that of the husband and wife. Do I make myself clear, Mrs Bremner?’
The woman visibly shrank back, but she was as tough as old boots. ‘Oh, I understand only too well what you’re saying, my lord. You will not take it amiss, however, since I have lived in these parts far longer than you.’
‘These parts, as you pointed out, are in my blood, but it does not give anyone residing there the right to tell me how to live my life. Please feel free, Mrs Bremner, to pass that on to the people in these parts.’
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