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Marion Lennox is a country girl, born on an Australian dairy farm. She moved on, because the cows just weren't interested in her stories! Married to a `very special doctor', she has also written under the name Trisha David. She’s now stepped back from her `other’ career teaching statistics. Finally, she’s figured what's important and discovered the joys of baths, romance and chocolate. Preferably all at the same time! Marion is an international award winning author.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
'Please, My Lord, we really want to come to Castle Craigie for Christmas. It's where we were born. We want to see it again before it's sold. There's lots of room. We won't be a nuisance. Please, My Lord.'
My Lord. It was a powerful title, one Angus wasn't accustomed to, nor likely to become accustomed to. He'd intended to be Lord of Castle Craigie for as short a time as possible and then be out of here.
But these were his half-brother and -sisters, children of his father's second disastrous marriage, and he knew the hand they'd been dealt. He'd escaped to Manhattan, and his mother had independent money. These kids had never escaped the poverty and neglect that went with association with the old Earl.
'Our mum's not well,' the boy said, eagerly now as he hadn't been met with a blank refusal. 'She can't bring us back just for a visit. But when you wrote and said it was being sold and was there anything she wants... She doesn't, but we do. Our father sent us away without warning. Mary—she's thirteen—she used to spend hours up on the hills with the badgers and all the wild things. I know it sounds dumb, but she loved them and she still cries when she thinks about them. There's nothing like that in London. She wants a chance to say goodbye. Polly's ten and she wants to make cubby huts in the cellars again, and take pictures to show her friends that she really did live in a castle. And me... My friends are at Craigenstone. I was in a band. Just to have a chance to jam with them again, and at Christmas... Mum's so ill. It's so awful here. This'd be just...just...'
The boy broke off, but then somehow forced himself to go on. 'Please, it's our history. We'll look after ourselves. Just once, this last time so we can say goodbye properly. Please, My Lord.'
Angus Stuart was a hard-headed financier from Manhattan. He hired and fired at the highest level. He ran one of Manhattan's most prestigious investment companies. Surely he was impervious to begging.
But a sixteen-year-old boy, pleading for his siblings.
So we can say goodbye properly... What circumstances had pushed them away so fast three years ago? He didn't know, but he did know his father's appalling reputation and he could guess.
But if he was to agree... Bringing a group of needy children here, with their ailing mother? Keeping the castle open for longer than he intended? Being My Lord for Christmas. Angus stood in the vast, draughty castle hall and thought of all the reasons why he should refuse.
But Angus had been through the castle finances now, and he'd seen the desperate letters written to the old Earl by the children's mother. The letters outlined just how sick she was; how much the children needed support. According to the books, none had been forthcoming. This family must have been through hell.
'If I can find staff to care for you,' he heard himself say.
'Mum will take care of us. Honest...'
'You just said your mum's ill. This place doesn't look like it's been cleaned since your mother left three years ago. If I can find someone to cook for us and get this place habitable, then yes, you can come. Otherwise not. But I promise I'll try.'
Angus Stuart was a man who kept his word, so he was committed now to trying. But he didn't want to. As far as Christmas was concerned, it was for families, and Lord Angus McTavish Stuart, Eighth Earl of Craigenstone, did not do families. He'd tried once. He'd failed.
As well as that, Castle Craigie was no one's idea of a family home, and he didn't intend to make it one. But for one pleading boy... For one needy family.
Maybe once. Just for Christmas.
Cook/Housekeeper required for three weeks over the Christmas period. Immediate start. Apply in person at Castle Craigie.
The advertisement was propped in the window of the tiny general store that serviced the village of Craigenstone. It looked incongruous, typed on parchment paper with Lord Craigenstone's coat of arms imprinted above. The rest of the displayed advertisements looked scrappy in comparison. Snow could be shovelled, ironing could be taken in, but there was no coat of arms on any advertisement except this one.
'I could do that,' Holly said thoughtfully, but her grandmother shook her head so vigorously her beanie fell off.
'At the castle? You'd be working for the Earl. No!'
'Why not? Is he an ogre?'
'Nearly. He's the Earl. Earl, ogre, it's the same thing.'
'I thought you said you didn't know the current Earl.'
'The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree,' her grandmother said darkly, retrieving her beanie from the snow and jamming it down again over her grey curls. 'His father's been a miserly tyrant for seventy years. His father was the same before him, and so was his father before him. This one's been in America for thirty-five years but I can't see how that can have improved him.'
'How old is he?'
'Then he's been in America since he was one?' Holly said, startled.
'His mother, Helen, was an American heiress.' Maggie was still using her darkling tone—Grandmother warning Grandchild of Dragons. 'They say that's why the Earl married her, because of her money. Money was his God. Heaven knows how he persuaded such a lovely girl to come to live in his mausoleum of a castle. But rumour has it His Lordship courted her in London—he could be dev-astatingly charming when he wanted to be—then married her and brought her to live in this dump. What a shock she must have had.'
Holly's grandmother glared back along the slush-and sleet-covered main street, through the down-at-heel village and beyond, across the snow-covered moors to where the great grey shape of Castle Crai-gie dominated the skyline.
'She stuck it out for almost two years,' she continued. 'She had gumption and they say she loved him. But love can't change what's instilled deep down. Her husband was mean and cold and finally she faced it. She disappeared just after Christmas thirty-five years ago, taking the baby with her.'
'Didn't the Earl object?'
'As far as anyone could tell, he didn't seem to notice,' Maggie told her. 'He had his heir and it probably suited him that he didn't need to do a thing to raise him. Or spend any money. He never talked about her or his son. He lived on his own for years, then finally got his housekeeper pregnant. Delia. She was always a bit of a doormat.'
'She was a local?'
'She was a Londoner,' Maggie said. 'A poor dab of a thing. He brought her here as a maid at the time of his first marriage. She was one of the few servants who stayed on after Lady Helen left. Finally, to everyone's astonishment, he married her. Rumour was it stopped him having to pay her housekeeper's wages, but she did well by the old man. She worked like a slave and presented him with three children. But he didn't seem interested in them, either—they lived in a separate section of the castle. Finally the old man's behaviour got too outrageous, even for Delia. She had shocking arthritis and the old man's demands were crippling her even more. She left for London three years ago, taking the children with her, and no family has been back since.'
'Until now,' Holly ventured.
'That's right. The old Earl died three months ago and two weeks ago the current Earl turned up.'
'So what do you know about him, other than he's an American?' Holly's feet were freezing. Actually, all of her was freezing but she and Maggie had determined to walk, and walk they would. And if this really was a job... It had her almost forgetting about her feet. 'Tell me about him.'
'I know a bit,' Maggie said, even more darkly. 'His American family is moneyed, as in really moneyed. There was an exposé in some magazine fifteen years or more back when his fiancée was killed that told us a bit more.'
'Fifteen years ago?'
'I think it was then. Someone in the village saw it in an American magazine and spread it round. According to gossip, he's been brought up with lots of money but not much else. His mother seems to have become a bit of a recluse—they say he was sent to boarding school at six, for heaven's sake. He's now some sort of financial whizz. You see him in the papers from time to time, in the financial section. But back then... Gossip said he started moving with the wrong crowd at college. His fiancée was called Louise—I can't remember her last name but I think she was some sort of society princess. Anyway, she died in Aspen on Christmas Eve. There was a fuss; that's why we saw it, a hint of drugs and scandal. Apparently she was there with Someone Else. The headlines said: Heir to Billions Betrayed, that sort of thing. He was twenty-one, she was twenty-three, but that's almost all I know. Then he went back to making money and we haven't heard much since. I have no idea why he's here, advertising for staff. I thought the castle was for sale; that he was here finalising the estate.' Maggie was starting to sound waspish, but maybe that was because she was cold, too. 'You'd best leave it alone.'
'But it's a paying job,' Holly said wistfully. 'Imagine... A nice scuttle full of coal for Christmas... Mmmm. I could just enquire.'
'You're here for a holiday.'
'So I am,' Holly said, and sighed and then chuckled and tucked her arm into her grandmother's. 'We're a right pair. You're playing the perfect Christmas hostess and I'm playing the perfect Christmas guest. Or not. We've been idiots, but if we're not to be eating Spam for Christmas, this might be a way out.'
'You're not serious?'
'What do I have to lose?'
'You'll be worked to death. No Earl in memory has ever been anything but a skinflint.' Maggie turned back to stare at the advertisement again. 'Cook/Housekeeper indeed. Castle Craigie has twenty bedrooms.'
'Surely this man wouldn't be thinking of filling the bedrooms,' Holly said uneasily.
'He's the Earl of Craigenstone. There's no telling what he's thinking. No Earl has done anything good by this district for generations.'
'But it's a job, Gran,' Holly said gently. 'You and I both know I need a job. I have to get one.'
There was a loaded silence. Holly knew what her grandmother was thinking—it was what they both knew. They had the princely sum of fifty pounds between them to last until Gran's next pension day. Talk about disaster.
And finally Maggie sighed. 'Very well,' she conceded. 'We do need coal and it's a miserly Christmas I'll be giving you without it. But if you're planning on applying, Holly, love, I'm coming with you.'
'Why not? You've cooked in some of the best restaurants in Australia, and I've been a fine housekeeper in my time. Together.'
'I'm not asking you to work—and it's only one position they're advertising.'
'But I might even enjoy working,' Maggie said stoutly. 'I know it's twenty years since I've kept house for a living and I've never kept a castle. But there's a time for everything, and surely even the Earl can't serve Spam for Christmas dinner, which is all I can afford to give you.' She grinned, her indomitable sense of humour surfacing. 'I can see us in the castle kitchen, gnawing on the turkey carcass on Christmas Day. It might be grim but it'll be better than Spam.'
'So you're proposing we play Cinderella and Fairy Godmother in the servants' quarters, mopping up the leftovers?'
'Anything that gets spilt is legally ours,' her grandmother said sternly. 'that's servants' rules, and at Christmas time servants can be very, very clumsy.' She took a deep breath and braced herself. 'Very well. Let's try for it, Holly, lass. This Earl can't be any worse than his father, surely. What do we have to lose?'
'Nothing,' Holly agreed and that was what she thought.
How could she lose anything when she had nothing left to lose? She and her grandmother both.
'Okay, let's go home and write a couple of résumés that'll blow him out of the water,' Holly said. 'And he needn't think he's paying us peanuts. He's not getting monkeys; he's getting the best.'
'Excellent,' Maggie agreed, and Holly thought they probably had a snowball's chance in a bush-fire of getting this job, especially as they were insisting it was two jobs. But writing the résumés might keep Maggie happy for the afternoon, and right now that was all that mattered.
Because, right now, Holly wasn't thinking past this afternoon. She was even avoiding thinking past the next hour.
If no one applied as Cook/Housekeeper over the next couple of days, Lord Angus McTavish Stuart, Eighth Earl of Craigenstone, could fly back home for Christmas.
Home was Manhattan. He had a sleek apartment overlooking Central Park and Christmas plans were set in stone. Since Louise had died he'd had a standard booking with friends for Christmas dinner at possibly the most talked about restaurant on the island. He'd make his normal quiet drive the next day to visit his mother, who'd be surrounded by her servants at her home in Martha's Vineyard. She loathed Christmas Day itself but reluctantly celebrated the day after with him. Then the whole fuss of Christmas would die down.
'If no one applies by tomorrow, I'm calling it quits,' he told the small black scrap of canine misery by his side. He'd found the dog the first day he'd been here, cringing in the stables.
'It's a stray—let me take it to the dog shelter, My Lord,' his estate manager had said when he'd picked it up and brought it inside, but the scruffy creature had looked at him with huge brown eyes and Angus had thought it wouldn't hurt to give the dog a few days of being Dog of the Castle. Angus was playing Lord of the Castle. Reality would return all too soon.
The little dog looked up at him now and he thought that when he left the dog would have to go, too. No more pretending. Meanwhile.
'Have another dog biscuit,' Angus told him, tossing yet another log onto the blazing fire. The weather outside was appalling and the old Earl had certainly never considered central heating. 'This place is on the market so we're both on borrowed time, but we might as well be comfortable while we wait.'
The little dog opened one eye, cautiously accepted his dog biscuit, nibbled it with delicacy and then settled back down to sleep in a way that told Angus this room had once been this dog's domain. But his father had never kept dogs.
Had his father ever used this room? It seemed to Angus that his father had done nothing but lie in bed and give orders.
Who knew which orders had been obeyed? Stanley, the Estate Manager, seemed to be doing exactly what he liked. Honesty didn't seem to be his strong suit. Angus's short but astute time with the estate books had hinted that Stanley had been milking the castle finances for years.
But he couldn't sack him—not now. He was the only servant left, the only one who knew the land, who could show prospective purchasers over the estate, who could sound even vaguely knowledgeable about the place.
Angus had decided he'd do a final reckoning after the castle was sold and not before. His plan had been to get rid of the castle and all it represented and leave ...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Mills & Boon, 2014. Condition: Good. Lrg. Former Library book. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Seller Inventory # GRP84565529
Book Description Mills & Boon, 2014. Hardcover. Condition: Very Good. Ex-library. Posted from the UK. Seller Inventory # mon0000027736
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Book Description Harlequin Mills & Boon, Limited. Hardcover. Condition: As New. An apparently unread copy in perfect condition. Dust cover is intact; pages are clean and are not marred by notes or folds of any kind. At ThriftBooks, our motto is: Read More, Spend Less. Seller Inventory # G0263240460I2N00
Book Description Harlequin (UK), 2014. Hardcover. Condition: Fine. leichte Gebrauchsspuren / minor wear--- 444 Gramm. Seller Inventory # 98594