Today's Reading

"Do you have lands there?"

Her pointed tone made it sound like a challenge. "Why do you ask?"

"It is one reason to visit, and so many English lords have property there now."

Now. She was Scottish enough to resent that, and how it came about, even if she was generations removed from the events. "I have some property. Not very much."

"Perhaps if you do not have enough interest in it to visit, you should give it to someone who does."

Her boldness surprised him. Both the impertinence and his irritated reaction rarely happened. He did not care to experience either right now. "Are you lecturing me on my duties, Miss MacCallum?" He stared her down, determined to raise a fluster out of her.

She returned his gaze, not flustered at all. "I merely observe that landowners who neglect their property hurt the people dependent on them, and the whole region suffers. I expect a duke has so much that the not very much bits get forgotten."

"Never forgotten. It will be handed down just as it came to me."

She smiled, tightly. "You make it sound like it has been handed down since Genesis. Or at least given to your ancestor by some Pict. Why do I doubt that?"

"Because you assume it should not be mine at all, I think. Are you an intransigent Jacobite, Miss MacCallum?"

"The politics of that great country do not concern me, Your Grace. Her people do, that is all."

"Rest assured that many of her people are flourishing under the union. Half of the offices in Whitehall are filled with Scots and a good number of London's solicitors' and physicians' chambers are as well. That explains my finely attuned ear. Should you seek those Scottish circles, you will have no trouble finding them." He made the subtle movements that cued departure. "As for my not very much land, one does not ignore a legacy. One holds it fast."

"Oh, absolutely. I completely agree that is how it must be."

He made his bow and wandered away, finding her agreement peculiar.


CHAPTER ONE

Davina touched the crown of her bonnet to make sure it was still angled correctly. She smoothed the leather of her gloves. The anteroom in which she sat held two other people, both gentlemen from their bearings and garments. She assumed she would have to wait for them to be seen first.

The summons had arrived three days ago, impressive in its cream laid paper, exquisite penmanship and crested wax seal. It instructed her to arrive at St. James's Palace at one o'clock today, and to give the summons to a page at the door of the Tapestry room. That young man had brought her to this chamber to wait.

What a commotion that letter had caused. Mr. Hume, her employer, had insisted on reading it, then demanded her attention for almost an hour while he instructed her on how to behave, what to say, what not to say, and how to subtly make threats without doing so outright. She hoped she would be spared the last. On her lap she had the letter her grandfather had received from Court. Surely once it was seen all would be rectified.

She fingered the other paper she carried, the one in her father's hand where he explained all he knew about the legacy. He had given it to her when he became ill with the malady that would kill him. I am entrusting all this to you, for what good it will do. Still, you've a right to know. She wished she had him beside her now. His quiet, steady manner had always given her confidence.

A different page appeared in the chamber. He approached her. The two gentlemen did not take that well. Their glares followed her while the page escorted her out.

She was almost never nervous, but her stomach churned now. Still, she needed to keep her wits about her if she were going to speak to the king.

The page brought her to an office not far from the anteroom. A man greeted her and bade her sit on the blue-silk upholstered chair near the large window. He then sat nearby in a wooden chair that kept his posture very straight.

"I am pleased to meet you, Miss MacCallum. I am Jonathan Haversham. I am of the Household."

He meant the king's household, of course. Perhaps he was an important functionary in it. Maybe not. For all she knew Mr. Haversham was nothing more than a very old page. He certainly wasn't a young one. He looked to be about fifty, his gray hair had turned sparse on the sides and absent on the top. Lean and angular, his heavy-lidded dark eyes and wide, flaccid mouth gave the impression he resented having to deal with her.

"Your petition for an audience was received," he said.

"I have sent others."
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