Lessons in Loving a Laird

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Authors: Michelle Marcos
shall proceed into your hands.”
    Conall began to squirm under the pressure. There was no denying that marriage to Violet would reverse his financial woes. And indeed, Violet herself was a very beautiful and well-mannered young woman. Not to mention what a blessing it would be to the poor girl to take her out from under her mother’s dictatorship. But every single one of his instincts screamed that marrying Violet would be a colossal mistake. The reasons could not be put into words, because there was only a face: Shona’s.
    “That is … a very generous offer, Your Grace. And your daughter is worth marrying even without all the added inducements. But I regret to tell you that I am not the right suitor for her.”
    For the first time, the duchess’s expression lost all serenity.
    Conall leaned forward. “We will, of course, take full responsibility for the child. You may stay at Ballencrieff for the duration of Lady Violet’s pregnancy and confinement, with full assurance of our discretion. Should you determine that the needs of the child are best served by giving it over to the parish authorities, then I will of course deliver the child personally without naming its mother.”
    Lady Violet whimpered, drawing Conall’s eye to her. She merely wrung her hands in her lap.
    The duchess looked up at him from under her delicate brows. “I am sorry to hear that you will not be cooperative. I must therefore tell you that if you do nothing to protect my daughter, I shall do nothing to protect your son.”
    At the mention of his beloved child, Conall’s body tensed. “What do you mean?”
    “I have it on the very best authority that your wife did not die of childbed fever, as you have so often asserted.”
    The ground disappeared beneath him. “I beg your pardon?”
    The duchess spoke with complete equanimity. “Christina MacEwan may have met her fate in bed, but it was not a disease which claimed her life.”
    His vision clouded over with rage. He never thought to hear these words outside his own head, but it infuriated him that they were carried on the tongue of such a ruthless serpent.
    “Well, Ballencrieff?” she asked. “What is to be your answer?”

 
    THIRTEEN
    Shona bounded through the house looking for Conall. She had a small fortune in a case under her arm, and maybe, just maybe, it would earn her another trip out to the tollhouse.
    He wasn’t in his study, and he wasn’t in the library. Just then, she saw Mrs. Docherty emerge from the kitchen with a large tray of tea and scones. Shona reached over the housekeeper’s shoulder and swiped one from the dish.
    Mrs. Docherty turned angry eyes upon her. “Those are for the guests, Shona! Put it back!”
    But Shona had already taken a huge bite of the warm, buttery cake. “Sorry. I haven’t eaten in ages. Who’s here? And why are there so many coaches outside?”
    Mrs. Docherty walked toward the end of the hall. “I haven’t got time to gossip idly about the guests. I’m as behind as a cat’s tail. Look at the time, and I’ve just got the tea prepared.”
    “Where is everyone?”
    “In the drawing room.”
    “I’ll get the door for ye.” Shona jumped in front of her, and swung the doors wide open on the drawing room. “Greetings, all! I bring good news of—”
    The cheer she brought with her was quickly sucked out through the door. A pall of moroseness hung about the room like a thick winter fog rolling over a dark loch.
    Conall stood. Though he was dressed handsomely in a burgundy-colored coat, a doomed expression weighed down his features. “Er, Shona, this isn’t a very good time.”
    Worry gripped her. “Is everything all right? What’s happened?”
    “There’s no need for you to be alarmed. We just need a few moments to sort things out.”
    The two beautiful women on the settee stared at her in polite curiosity. Dressed in emerald and amethyst, they looked as if they belonged in a painting.
    The older of the two subjected her to an

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