One gossiping parrot, a few sips of whiskey, and a sprig of mistletoe will often seal one’s fate.
Ethan Copeland was only in England at his father’s request. It was important that he meet his uncle and experience other options open to him as the nephew of a duke. However, after five months, Ethan is ready to return home. He, and his companions, two parrots named Rogue and Lady, longed for the warmth and sunshine of the New Orleans plantation. What he hadn’t expected was to encounter a Scottish lass who had a taste for whiskey and an adventurous heart
Fanella Grant had little adventure in her life and visiting the ancient castle might be the best thing to happen in a very long time. However, when her first night of exploring finds her locked in a wine cellar with a very handsome American, Fanella realizes this adventure may be more than she could have imagined.
Unfortunately, all could be ruined by a parrot not only repeats what he hears, but also what he sees.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~
Chapter 1 …I’m pleased to announce that I am to marry Lady Claresta Copeland, daughter and only child of the Duke and Duchess of Ellings. The wedding is to take place on the thirty-first day of December in the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and fifteen, at Chatwell Castle in Shropshire, the ancestral estate of His Grace. As the Christmas Season will be upon us, Her Grace has planned a fortnight of activities leading up to the nuptials and looks forward to a castle full of guests to celebrate. It is my wish for your family’s presence at this celebration. Donovan MacGregor *** December 18, 1815, Chatwell Castle Fanella Grant leaned out the carriage window and craned her neck to take in the centuries-old grey stone of the inner wall that loomed over them, casting wide shadows, nearly blocking out any light as they crossed the wooden drawbridge. Excitement bubbled within as she couldn’t wait to explore the castle, if she were allowed to do so, of course. This was the ancestral home of the Duke of Ellings, and it might not be permissible to go beyond a few gathering rooms and her chamber. Fanella dearly hoped that no such restrictions were placed upon them, for she wished to investigate from the tallest turret to the darkest crevice of the ancient dungeon. Unfortunately, her sister didn’t share Fanella’s desire for quests into the unknown, though today, Jesse also gawked out the carriage window much as Fanella had done. Sometimes Fanella felt as if her mind and body were starved for something new. Something exhilarating. She hoped that she’d finally be able to quench that thirst during the next fortnight. Across from the sisters sat their older brother, Ian, and his wife Davina, and they didn’t seem at all interested in their destination, only each other. As they entered the bailey, the wind that had buffeted the carriage as they drew near the castle was almost non-existent now that they were inside the protective walls. Duncan, another older brother, had chosen to ride instead of being cooped up in the carriage with family. He must have been miserable upon his horse, though Fanella had little sympathy as he could have ridden in the carriage if he had wished. “How many guests have been invited do ye think?” she asked. “I’ve no idea, though I’m certain all of the MacGregors will be here,” Ian answered. Thank goodness it was a large castle since the MacGregors alone could fill an entire manor. As their carriage finally came to a stop, a footman opened the door and assisted Fanella out before doing the same for Jesse and then Davina with Ian following. Fanella nearly slipped on the cobblestone walk, but that was because she was looking up to the very top of the castle keep, awed by the white stone and number of windows. To the left was a rounded tower and she idly wondered if a princess had ever been sequestered and hidden for protection. Oh, she did have a fanciful imagination, but how could she not in such a setting? “Come along, Fanella,” Davina called as the rest of her family wound up the stairs and stepped into a cavernous entry, far larger than any common room she’d ever been in before. The floor of black and white worn stone resembled a chessboard, long and wide enough to accommodate a game if humans decided to become the pawns, knights, bishops, and all other pieces required. Had this at one time been the great hall where everyone had gathered? “Harriet, our housekeeper, will show you to your chambers,” the butler offered. “A maid has been assigned to each female guest and a footman for the gentlemen. They await you and any further instruction.” Fanella blinked in surprise. Though they had maids at home, she’d never had one of her own. In fact, before her oldest brother had inherited the title, Marquess Brachton, they’d been too poor to employ anyone above a cook and housekeeper, and even after their finances improved, their maids only assisted the girls when it was absolutely necessary. “If you will follow me.” Harriet led them forward and stopped at the foot of two separate stone staircases facing opposite directions and curving away from each other, both leading to the second level. Did they branch off into separate parts of the castle? “The women and married couples have been given chambers in the east gallery on the second and third floors. Bachelors have been given chambers in the west gallery on the third floor, above the family set of chambers,” she nodded to Duncan. “I’ll show you the way after I’ve seen that the rest of your family is settled.” “I don’t believe His Grace wishes to have his guests mingling after hours,” Duncan whispered to Ian, who chuckled. Fanella simply frowned. Why would the locations of chambers have anything to do with mingling? Instead of asking, as her brother often had odd notions, Fanella followed the housekeeper down a long corridor and then another as she tried to memorize all of the turns so that she didn’t become lost. Not that she still didn’t wish to explore, but Fanella was beginning to believe that with all the different stairs and corridors, it would be quite easy to become turned around and end up wandering for hours until finding her way out, much like a maze she once enjoyed at a house party the year before. “This is to be your chamber, Miss Fanella,” Harriet advised. “The next is for Miss Jesse and the one beyond, for Mr. and Mrs. Grant.” She was even to have a chamber of her own? She’d not expected such. When they’d attended house parties in the past, she and her sister had always shared a room. Her own maid and her own room, this holiday would be quite enjoyable indeed. “Thank you,” Ian offered. “Your trunks should have already been delivered and servants are waiting within. Dinner will be served at seven.” With that, she continued in the opposite direction of where they’d come with Duncan following in her wake. Fanella gave her sister a smile then entered the chamber she’d been assigned and nearly gasped in delight. The floor, darkened wood and scarred with age, peeked out from beneath a thick rug of blues, greens, roses and yellows. In the center, damask curtains had been pulled back to reveal a bed so high that Fanella would need the wooden steps in order to crawl inside each night. In the fireplace on the inner wall, a fire had been built to ward off the chill and opposite the door, a square window, curtains opened to let in the light. This was better than she ever imagined. It was almost as if she’d stepped back in time. “Good afternoon, Miss Fanella.” Fanella nearly jumped at the sound as she hadn’t even noticed the slight girl with dark hair and brown eyes standing before the wardrobe. “I’ve begun unpacking your things and will send a dress for pressing before tonight’s supper if you would like.” F anella hadn’t really thought beyond their arrival and realized she probably should choose a dress. “Is it very chilly in the castle and how formal will supper be?” They didn’t dress for dinner at home, at least nothing beyond what they’d worn most of the day. Even though the family now had wealth, the habits of wearing one dress a day hadn’t changed, unless they had guests, or their clothing had become dirty somehow. “If you don’t mind, Miss Fanella, I can choose something appropriate after your trunks have been emptied.” Fanella let out a sigh. “Thank ye. Yer guidance will be much appreciated.” The maid blushed and turned away as she removed another gown to hang in the wardrobe. “May I have your name?” “Iris.” Fanella reached inside the trunk to retrieve another gown. “Oh, you shouldn’t, Miss Fanella. I’m here to see to your things.” “I’m perfectly capable of helpin’, Iris, and I doona mind in the least,” she assured the maid. “While we see to everythin’ bein’ put away, why doona ye tell me about our hosts and the castle. Are there any guests invited other than the MacGregors and Grants?” *** At the gust of wind, Ethan Copeland pulled his carrick coat tight and flipped the collar high to protect the back of his neck. He’d have worn a hat but it would have likely been lost in the wind. From his view atop the south tower, the valley and hills stretched out before him, a bleak desolate canvas of white and grey contrasted occasionally with nearly black, naked trees. When he and his family had first arrived five months ago, he’d found the scenery welcoming, with the various shades of green and the carpet of grass dotted with wildflowers. He’d also enjoyed the change of the trees. There wasn’t much to enjoy now. But, in truth, there was little difference in the landscape between here and home. Except, Kentucky was no longer home. It hadn’t been since 1812. Carriages had begun to arrive this afternoon and Ethan had made himself scarce until he found himself above the castle where he’d not need to converse with strangers. The guests would be here for an entire fortnight and during that time his cousin, Claresta, would marry Donovan MacGregor. The latest carriage was followed by a man on horseback, and Ethan watched as three women and a man disembarked from within. The first to step out, a blonde, glanced up at the castle but didn’t look to where Ethan observed. Two more misses emerged—three misses, or he assumed they were misses, who would ignore him and cast an appreciative eye toward his older brother—Darius—the future Duke of Ellings and the only reason his family was in England in the first place. Ethan had at first been amused at his brother’s irritation. They’d traveled across England, and as soon as anyone learned who Darius was, mothers and misses had sought his attention, even though he was a horrible American. Apparently, a title was more important than where one was born and from whence they’d come. Since, Ethan had grown bored and was ready to be done with leisure activities and return home. “This is where you’ve gone!” Ethan turned to find his younger sister, Constance, approach, the wind blowing her cloak away from her body and causing her auburn hair to fly across her face. “Why do you insist on avoiding everyone?” “It’s not as if I’m missed,” he reminded her. Ethan was fourth in line for the title, after his father and older brothers, and he was of little interest to anyone. “I miss you so you should join me in the parlor.” “Or, you could remain here with me.” “Not in this wind.” She sighed and looked out across the land. “I haven’t been this cold since Kentucky.” “Me neither.” Ethan rubbed his bare hands together and then blew into them. He shouldn’t have left his gloves with his hat inside his chamber. “Then why are you up here?” Why indeed? He’d come up here for the silence, but his face was nearly numb. Besides, there were far warmer places where he could avoid the guests. “Let’s get out of this wind,” he finally said. “And you’ll return to the parlor with me.” “No.” Constance rolled her eyes. “What do you have against everyone?” “Nothing.” “Then prove it by taking tea with me.” “I don’t need to prove anything.” She hitched a brow and crossed her arms over her chest. Constance had always been the most obstinate of his nine siblings. “Ethan, it’s rude to our family and the other guests,” she argued. “If mother and father were here, you’d be taking tea because they’d make you.” “But they aren’t here, are they?” His father refused to return to England. However, he had insisted that some of his children make this journey, meet his family and come to know the home where he’d been raised. Six of them had been forced to sail to England while four remained happily back in New Orleans. Father had also understood that some of his children might wish to remain, and the others would make this journey one day, once they were older, to decide where they wished to live. As they were the nieces and nephews of the duke and the title would one day belong to Darius, they would know privilege they’d not yet experienced. Ethan knew he wasn’t going to stay, however, Darius didn’t have a choice, unless he wished to turn his back on the title. Of course, Darius could return to New Orleans and live out his life until Uncle Daniel passed away, but even then, their father would be the new duke, if he still lived. Uncle Daniel and Father were in agreement that Darius shouldn’t remain ignorant of what would be required of him and thus Father insisted that Darius become educated for the role he’d inherit after His Grace and Ethan’s father were gone. As for the rest of his family, Ethan wasn’t certain what they’d decide. Was it possible that he might sail back to Louisiana alone? “You will join me,” Constance ordered. It was all he could do not to laugh. At seventeen, Constance was eight years younger than Ethan and he wasn’t going to be ordered about by her. “Please,” she begged and then sighed. “You know I’m not comfortable meeting new people and there seem to be so many. The MacGregors are a rather boisterous lot, especially now that the Trents have arrived as well.” The two families were related by marriage, the Trents being the groom’s step-family, from what he understood. “What of our other siblings?” “Ethan,” she whined, without giving him an answer. Of course, he already knew how shy his sister was and he’d not be doing his duty by his sister by denying her request. “I’m surprised you actually wish to join the gathering.” Constance let out a heavy sigh. “As I told you in London, I cannot spend the rest of my life hiding in my chamber when strangers are about. But, I cannot take that first step without you.” Even though they had several siblings, it was always to Ethan that Constance turned. It was Ethan that she had trailed after as a child and Ethan found himself always watching out for his younger sister and keeping her out of danger. And, he’d been the one she’d clung to when their home was destroyed nearly four years ago. Though her older sisters, Susanna and Julianna, would be better suited in keeping Constance near and making certain she was included, it was Ethan that she’d always preferred. “I promise that when I am more comfortable you can go off and hide somewhere, but please stay with me until I’ve met everyone and maybe make a friend?” When she looked up at him, pleading in her blue eyes, Ethan couldn’t deny Constance’s request, which she well knew. “Very well, but make a friend fast,” he grumbled as he led her back inside. As soon as he handed his coat off to the footman and entered the parlor, Ethan regretted his promise to his sister. He’d seen the carriages arrive, but had lost count of the number of guests. There was no room for him to sit so he stepped to the side and watched as a blonde woman wearing a pale blue gown stood and offered her seat to Constance. When she turned, her grey eyes met his and Ethan recognized her as the woman who had stared up at the castle. She was quite lovely with her high cheekbones and full lips. The blonde glanced back to those gathered and slowly edged her way across the room, as if she were trying to escape but didn’t wish to be noticed. Ethan bit back a grin because he well understood her need to do so. If Constance hadn’t begged him, he’d not be in here either. “Where are ye off to, Fanella?” Ethan glanced to the entry where a tall man stared at the blonde-haired woman. “If ye must ken, it’s overly warm in here.” The man nodded. “Aye, but I ken ye. Where are ye off to?” Who was he to Fanella that he could demand such answers? A husband? She didn’t look the man in the eye but glanced about. “Maybe a walk…or rest…” He narrowed his eyes. “Is that all?” “Aye, what else would I be doin’?” “Goin’ where ye shouldna.” She sniffed but didn’t say anything, though her lips pursed as if she’d like to argue with the man. “What of Jesse?” The man nodded to the settee. “Should ye leave her alone?” “It isna as if she’s among strangers. Most of the MacGregors arrived earlier than us. Besides, ye are here and now ye can watch out for our sister.” Ah, brother and sister, and for some reason, Ethan was quite pleased that the two were not married. “Stay out of trouble, Fanella.” She pursed her lips. “Why do ye always think I’m up to mischief.” He narrowed his eyes on her. “Because I ken ye.” “Really, Ian, I’ve not been a child for some time. I simply wish a few moments to myself. Perhaps I need to rest given the excitement of Donovan marryin’. I never thought to see the day, not after what happened with Mary,” she added. Mary? Who was Mary? “Doona change the subject,” Ian chastised. “I ken ye lass, yer excitement has nothin’ to do with Donovan.” This time she rolled her eyes and sighed. “Verra well, I simply wish to see more of the castle.” “As long as ye only view the common rooms. I’ll not have ye disturbin’ anyone.” “Ye worry too much, Ian. I promise to be the perfect guest and not brin’ embarrassment to ye.” A moment later she glided into the corridor. Ethan was to attend the wedding of his cousin, Claresta, to Donovan MacGregor but nobody had ever mentioned a Mary. Was his cousin aware that the groom had loved another? Did he still love another and Claresta was simply a replacement? Was it his place to tell her? Ethan glanced back to his own sister, who was now having a very animated conversation with another woman. The same one that Fanella had been seated with before she stood. As his sister had made a friend, and quicker than he’d anticipated, Ethan slipped out of the room to follow Fanella to learn what he could of this Mary when he caught the glimpse of a pale blue skirt at the far end of the corridor. There was nothing back there except stairs leading down into the lower portion of the castle where there was nothing of interest, and certainly no common rooms. Is that what Ian meant by Fanella staying out of trouble? Did she have a tendency to go where she wasn’t supposed to? Was she the sort who needed constant supervision? Chatwell Castle was his father’s childhood home and would one day be the residence of his older brother, so it was Ethan’s duty to see that Fanella did not cause any harm or destruction and to find out who this Mary was before his cousin was hurt.
MISTLETOE, WHISKY AND A ROGUE is the 4th book in the Scot to the Heart Series and can be purchased here: