Authors: Paula Quinn
“That is most interesting, m’lord.”
Fortunately, his sister’s voice dragged his thoughts away from his kin’s worst enemy.
“I am astounded by yer vast knowledge of Whitehall’s history,” she practically sang. “I would love to hear more.”
Tristan looked heavenward and shifted restlessly in his seat, readying himself for another hour-long discourse on the history of Whitehall. Just when he thought he might have to leave before he insulted Oxford and every other Englishman present, the tedious nobleman rose from his chair.
“And hear more you shall, dear lady,” Oxford crooned. “But first, I must have a word with Lord Huntington, whom I see has just arrived for supper.”
He excused himself. Tristan barely looked up. “Tell me
the truth, Mairi,” he said, turning to his sister. “Ye dinna’ find his lecture on the history of this place as uninspiring as the scar running from his eye to his jaw?”
“I find his scar rather intriguing.” Mairi crooked her mouth into an elusive smile as she brought her cup to her lips. “And if ye had any sense in that pretty head of yers, ye would know that one can learn much from a man with a flapping tongue.”
“Sister,” Tristan sighed, knowing full well what she meant, “yer bloodlust to find Covenanters is beginnin’ to worry me. No’ to mention the gray hairs ye’ve added to our faither’s head over the past year. He’s still no’ convinced ye had nothin’ to do with the rebel militia that killed those four known Cameronians beyond the shores of Skye last spring.”
“Ye know I cannot abide traitors to Scotland,” she told him as softly as a purring kitten. “But I would never wield a sword against a man.”
Tristan cast her a look as sly as her own, knowing that somewhere hidden within the folds of her kirtle were at least five daggers she could wield almost as well as the one in her mouth.
He was about to tell her to be cautious in her endeavors to save Scotland from its political and religious enemies when he saw Miss Fergusson standing at the entrance with a man on either side of her, waiting to be announced. She looked nervous and out of place among the statelier, more proper ladies of the court. Hell, he was a fool to think her not as beautiful as the rest. She was as fine as any. Finer, in fact, than most, with her long ginger curls falling loose about her shoulders, her eyes taking in the finery before her. She wore no adornment around her fingers or throat. She didn’t need any. The
flawless alabaster of her cleavage above the emerald green of her gown would draw more glances than any pricey bauble.
“Who is she?” Mairi inquired, following his steady gaze.
The lad on her right had to be Alex Fergusson. In the ten years that had passed, Tristan had not forgotten those piercing blue eyes filled with menace.
“I dinna’ know who she is. She is no one,” he added and looked away from the entrance. They were enemies. Let the lass think what she would about his uncle. He would think of her no more.
“She’s lovely,” Mairi commented, sizing her up.
Aye, she was. Tristan glanced at her again, only to find her looking straight at him. She smiled at him as her name was called out. Isobel Fergusson and her brothers Alex and Cameron. Isobel. Her name was Isobel.
“Fergussons!” Mairi’s appreciative gaze sharpened into an icy glare. “What the hell are they doin’ here?”
Tristan could have given her a dozen logical answers, but Miss Fergusson and her brothers were heading for his table and he could think of nothing but why the hell he hadn’t told her who he was this afternoon.
“Do my eyes deceive me or are they truly approachin’ our table?”
“Mairi”—Tristan finally broke his gaze away from Isobel—“dinna’ risk more bloodshed. They have been through enough. Say nothin’ and let them be on their way.”
Mairi cocked a wary brow at him. “D’ye know her, Tristan?”
“Good evening, m’lord, m’lady,” Miss Fergusson greeted them with the respect due to a noble family. Damn him, he should have told her and saved her from
the mortification that was about to come. “I do hope ye will fergive this intrusion, m’lord, but I wanted ye to meet the brothers I spoke of.” Her smile grew a tad bit animated as she motioned with bright, wide eyes to the older of the two men standing with her.
If he didn’t think any one of their siblings would draw a weapon, Tristan would have smiled at her less-than-subtle plea for his aid, and then he would have granted it to her. After what his kin had done to hers, he would likely have granted her anything.
But as it was, Alex eyed him narrowly from beneath his dark, brooding brows. “Isobel, ye know this bastard?”
“Ye spoke to her this morn?” Mairi demanded at the same time, then whirled on Alex. “Watch who ye call a bastard, or I’ll—”
Tristan set his hand on Mairi’s arm, stopping her before she said something they would all regret. “Miss Fergusson,” he said softly, turning to her, “why dinna’ ye—”
“Stand away from my kin’s table,” Mairi finished for him, rising to her feet.
Tristan rose with her, but she missed the warning in his eyes not to continue when Lord Oxford returned to the table and stood between them.
“You heard the lady,” Oxford sneered while his haughty gaze skimmed over Alex Fergusson’s threadbare plaid. “Step away before I have you removed by the king’s guard.”
Tristan turned to stare at him. He might not believe in killing a man in cold blood, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to smash out every tooth in Oxford’s self-important snarl. It was unfortunate that he would only prove to Miss Fergusson that he was, indeed, a barbarian if he did so.
“My apologies for running off.” The Englishman turned, feeling Tristan’s eyes on him. “I returned as quickly as I could.”
“How fortunate fer us all.” A cool smile skittered across Tristan’s lips and then hardened into something far less amicable. “Why dinna’ ye take yer seat now.”
Oxford blinked at him, and Tristan waited patiently for whatever response the nobleman could piece together in his dull head. When none came, Oxford bent to his seat.
Tristan timed it perfectly. Turning back to Isobel, he hooked his foot gingerly around the leg of Oxford’s chair and swept it back two inches. His smile was more genuine when his gaze met hers and Oxford’s stately arse hit the floor.
“Brother, are ye mad?” Mairi demanded while her champion floundered at her feet. “These are our enemies!”
The soft blush across Isobel’s pert nose faded, leaving her flesh colorless and her eyes shimmering with alarm as she stared at him. “Yer…” she gasped for a breath and then continued. “Yer true name, please, m’lord?”
He knew why he hadn’t told her earlier. It was the same reason he didn’t want to tell her now. Hell, his father killed hers, and right before her eyes. What could he possibly say to change her opinion of him after that? And why in damnation did he care what she thought of him? “Fergive me fer no’ introducin’ myself to ye sooner. I am…” He paused, looking to the left at his father walking toward their table, his great belted plaid draping shoulders as broad as they’d been over twenty years ago when the Devil rode out of the mists to seek revenge on the Campbells… and later, on the Fergussons. Damnation, this just couldn’t get any worse. “… I am Tristan MacGregor.”
He watched the dreadful truth dawn on Isobel’s face as his father stopped behind the chair closest to his and sized up Alex with a look that blended sheer terror into her hateful stare. She moved, as if on instinct, in front of her brother and then aimed the sting of her most scathing contempt at Tristan.
“My apologies,” she said, clutching her chest with one hand and pushing Alex backward and out of sword’s reach with the other. “I was gravely mistaken.”
Tristan watched her leave, pulling at both her brothers’ sleeves to hasten their departure. She would never speak to him now. He could not fault her for that, but the way she had looked at him, as if he were the most vile mound of filth she’d ever come across, made him want to tell her that she was wrong—just as she was wrong about his uncle.
“What were Archibald Fergusson’s bairns doin’ at our table?”
“The gel thought she knew Tristan,” Mairi answered their father’s query.
“I met her in the garden yesterday,” Tristan corrected woodenly. “I didna’ know who she was, nor did she know me.”
“Is that why you made a fool of me for her sake?”
Callum peered over Tristan’s shoulder at the shaky nobleman adjusting the powdered wig on his head. “Who is this man?” he asked, sizing him up and his place near Mairi, and looking none too pleased about it.
“Lord Oxford, the earl’s son,” Tristan answered blandly, barely turning to look at him. “Someone who needs no help from me at being a fool.”
His father gave Oxford a look that told him to close
his mouth and leave while he was still able to do so on his own. “I dinna’ trust the English,” Callum said, watching the nobleman scramble off. He turned his powerful gaze back to Tristan and frowned knowingly. “I like Fergussons even less. Ye know who she is now. There are enough women here to hold yer interest, son. Ye’ll no’ speak to that one again.”
The hell he wouldn’t. Tristan did what he wanted without concern about repercussions. It was what had earned him, thanks to half the fathers in Skye, the well-deserved title of Satan’s Rogue. He didn’t care what opinion he left in his wake. They were mostly all correct. He was the Devil’s son, after all… and in a fortress filled with warriors, it was easier to be a careless scoundrel than… His gaze settled on Isobel’s table across the grand room… a gallant knight. But damn it, he was no barbarian and he intended to tell her so.
“D’ye know what disagrees with me the most aboot yer ways of thinkin’?” he said to his father first, and then to Mairi. “The man ye avenged with such bloodlust would never have condoned it. Robert Campbell didna’ go around skewerin’ everyone who challenged him.”
“ ’Tis no’ just him that I avenged, Tristan,” his father said, setting his eyes on his wife, who had returned with him and taken her seat opposite him at the table.
Aye, Tristan knew what the Fergussons had taken from his kin. Losing her brother had cost his mother, Kate MacGregor, her laughter for so long Tristan feared he might never hear it again. The Earl of Argyll’s wife, Lady Anne, had near gone mad with grief and finally found her solace from God in a convent in France. They hadn’t seen her since then. And he, the nephew who had lost so much more than an uncle. He had lost his thirst
for being what his teacher had taught him to be, a man of integrity. A man of honor. For where does a man find honor in the presence of those he has hurt the most? He could not. In a moment he had changed his destiny, and instead of becoming what he’d dreamed of being, Tristan had become what it was easy to be. A thoughtless, reckless rogue.
Aye, he understood the fury and the pain, but Archibald Fergusson was dead. Should his children pay for their father’s crime?
“Ye made them orphans.”
His father did not look at him as he took his seat. “I didna’ know it at the time.”
“Would it have made a difference?”
“Enough, Tristan!” his mother snapped at him. “I understand your ways of thinking, perhaps better than anyone at this table. But even your uncle did not judge your father’s decisions. You will not do so either.”
“Verra well,” Tristan said quietly as the shimmer of Isobel’s auburn tresses captured and held his attention. “Then neither shall mine be judged.”
“Whatever has passed between ye,” Callum said, following his son’s gaze, “ ’twould be prudent fer ye to ferget her.”
Aye, it would be. But Tristan, as anyone who knew him would agree, never did what was prudent.
sobel clenched a fine silver spoon in her fist and stared at her plate. She felt her chest growing tighter, constricting her breath until she began to feel light-headed. Damnation, she hadn’t had a spasm in three years and she wouldn’t have one now! Her hands shook. Her eyes grew misty with tears of humiliation and anger that she absolutely refused to shed. She wanted to scream. She wanted to leave her chair, storm back over to the MacGregor table, and shove her spoon into Tristan MacGregor’s eye. She wished he were dead. No, she wished he were dying so she could watch. Dear God, she had called him gallant! She’d laughed with him, spoken of love with him! She’d shared her fears about Alex. Oh, he was a crafty, cruel snake. He probably knew who she was all along. He’d made a fool of her, letting her go on and on about her family, her life, her father! Bastard! Oh, what a chuckle he must have had hearing her speak of her dead father. How much longer would he have let her ramble on? What else had he been waiting for her to say? Did the Devil MacGregor suspect what she and her brothers knew about the earl’s death?