Near Bonnybridge, Scotland, May 11, 1815
“Why have I been kidnapped?” Rose Trent, Dowager Countess Bentley, was not sure if she was more affronted, frightened or perhaps a tad bit delighted.
Truthfully, nothing frightened her any longer. After being marriage to a beast in gentleman’s clothing, Rose believed she could face anything. Even the fierce Scot who now towered over her. His sun streaked brown hair fell to his shoulders and did not look as if it had seen a pair of clippers in a very long time.
He may wish to frighten her, but there was not a drop of coldness in his light brown eyes. Not like she had witnessed in her blessedly now dead husband.
Any wise lady would be frightened, of course, but Rose couldn’t find it in her. In fact, this might be the most exciting thing that had ever happened to her. Of course, no harm had come to her person yet.
“Kidnappin’ is a bit harsh, lass.”
She nearly laughed at being called such. That phrase was meant for young girls. She had lost her girlhood a very long time ago.
“I’m keepin’ ye ta trade.”
Now she was affronted. “Trade?” she nearly screeched. She was not chattel or goods to be passed about and she was dearly sick to death of men who thought to disregard her as if she wasn’t a person at all. Moreover, she certainly was not going to stand here and allow a stranger to belittle her in any way. She was finally free of the past and not about to be relegated back to it. Rose straightened her spine and lifted her chin. For once, she was going to have control over her own destiny. Well, about as much as one could have after they had been kidnapped.
“Aye, trade. Yer late husband took somethin’ of mine and I tend to keep ya until it’s returned.”
Rose stifled a sigh. “What did he take?” Did she really wish to know?
“The family jewels.”
This caught her attention. “Jewels?”
“Aye. My older brother used them for collateral on a debt. When it was paid, Bentley claimed them as interest and wouldna take more money.”
Sadly, this did not surprise Rose in the least. “Well, have your brother go and retrieve them. There’s no reason to keep me.”
“I wish it were possible. He died six years ago.”
“Oh.” This took her a bit aback. “I’m sorry for your loss.” Why had he waited until now to reclaim the jewels? Her husband had been dead for two years. Surely, Clayton, the heir, would have handed them over if he had known how they had been obtained.
“Aye, so am I. Not only did I inherit his debt, but his family as well.”
“Debt?” Maybe this man was in more dire straits than she realized. Just because the manor spoke of wealth that did not necessarily make it so. She knew families in London who were a hairbreadth away from debtor’s prison but lived as if Rumplestilskin was spinning gold in their cellar.
“Aye.” He nodded sadly.
“What do they look like? I’ll be happy to retrieve them for you.” Bentley, nor the Trents, had need of any further wealth, or jewels that did not rightfully belong to them.
“Do ya take me ta be a fool?” He slammed his hand down on the desk.
Perhaps she should be a bit frightened after all. “Of course not,” Rose managed to stammer out. “I simply thought it a reasonable solution.”
“If I let ya leave ta get the jewels, I willna see ya again.”
“On my honor. I would do as I promise.”
He smirked. “Forgive me if I doona trust the word of Bentley’s widow.”
Rose gasped. Now she was most definitely outraged and wagged her finger at him. “I’ll have you know that I am nothing like my deceased husband, and I am insulted you would even make that suggestion.”
The Scot reared back, his eyebrow shot up.
Good! He would soon learn she was no wilting violet. Never again would she cower before any man, no matter how much he may threaten or try to intimidate her.
He shrugged. “For now ya are my guest.”
“And exactly who are you?”
“Laird Aiden Robert MacGregor.” He stood straighter as he introduced himself, clearly proud of who he was.
Rose simply nodded. The name meant nothing to her. “Are these jewels so very valuable?”
“Sentimental value. They belonged to my mother, her mother, and her mother before her.”
Sentiment was behind her being taken? It wasn’t for the money? She looked around again. There was nothing to indicate he was suffering from an empty purse. He may have inherited his brother’s debts, but Rose suspected Laird MacGregor made good on them. The carpets were too plush and the furniture too fine.
“Did any of your step-sons accompany you on this trip?”
“No, they are at their country homes.” At least as far as she knew. Though no definite plans were set, there had been discussion of the families returning to their country homes shortly after she and Ada sailed for Edinburgh. However, they could have easily remained in London until the end of the Season.
Oh, dear! Ada must be beside herself with worry and wondering what had happened.
“Ye had no companion?” He asked with surprise.
“My dear friend, the dowager Viscountess Acker.”
He nodded, but did not show any reaction to the name.
“A letter will be sent to Bentley with a description of what I want.”
“That could take weeks,” Rose cried. What if the boys hadn’t gone straight to their country estates? In truth, Clayton was the only concern. He was the earl now and possessed any jewels his father would have possessed. Were they at the estate or in London?
It could take a fortnight or longer for Clayton to find the jewels, gather his brothers and head to Scotland. He simply would not send them in hopes of her return. No, her stepsons would most definitely come in search of her and then Laird MacGregor would regret that day he took her. Of that, Rose had no doubt.
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