Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Lady Admired - A Tenacious Trents Novel (Book 10)

Lady Admired - 
A Tenacious Trents Novel
(Book 10)

The one thing Rose Trent, Dowager Countess of Bentley, ever wanted was freedom. Now it’s within her grasp. Or it was, until she was kidnapped on the very first holiday she’d ever taken. What should have been traumatic has turned into the most adventurous time in her life, aided by a most unlikely Scot. Unfortunately, she only has a fortnight to thoroughly enjoy herself before her stepson shows up to pay the ransom.

Laird Aiden MacGregor usually thinks through everything before taking action. Order is necessary to the running of a successful business and home. But, one simple rash action throws everything into disorder. He hadn’t been the one to kidnap the delightful and beautiful Lady Bentley, but he’d be the one to pay the price. As such, he decides to spend the last days on Earth making everything right with his family, securing their future, and spending every moment he can with Rose before he swings from the gallows.

With a word from her, or perhaps promise, his neck might be saved, but at what cost and is Rose willing to save him?

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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.
“Aye, at least a fortnight, I assume,” he said as if it was of no inconvenience or a disruption to her life.
“Do you intend to keep me in the dungeon, locked in a room?” She may be standing in a lovely library, but that did not mean there was not a cell waiting for her somewhere. She was his captive.
“I’m no’ a barbarian. Ye’ll have a room and be free to move about. Ye jus’ canna leave.” Laird MacGregor laughed. “Yer my guest.”
“Guest indeed,” she muttered under her breath. Guests could end their visit whenever they wished. “May I send a note to my friend? I’m sure she is searching and has sounded the alarm.”
Laird MacGregor studied her. “I’ll read it before I send it.”
Rose straightened. “My correspondence is personal.”
“I read it or it willna be delivered.”
Rose pressed her lips together as her aggravation for the Scot increased. “It will be delivered today?”
She blew out a breath. “Do you have parchment and a quill?”
Laird MacGregor stood and gestured to the chair before his desk. Rose slid into the deep leather chair and tried to sit forward so she could write. It was a big desk for a large man and not at all comfortable for a woman of her stature.
He leaned over and put a blank sheet of paper in front of her. Rose took a deep breath and dipped the quill in ink.

Dearest Ada,
Please forgive me for abandoning you at Stirling Castle. It was not my wish nor my plan. Apparently, once again, my husband’s ill deeds have brought an end to any pleasantness I may have enjoyed.
 At one time a debt was owed to Bentley and he held onto some jewels as collateral. When the debt was repaid, Bentley kept the jewels, claiming interest. I am to be held until they are returned. Clayton will receive a letter and description and I am sure he will bring them himself.
I beg of you not to worry about me. I am being kept as a guest and no ill has befallen me.
As I anticipate that my stay will be weeks in duration due to the length of time it will take to get a letter to my step-son and for him to return with the jewels, please have my things packed and delivered to

“No names.” Laird MacGregor ordered.
Rose glanced up. The man was reading over her shoulder. She knew he was directly behind her, but to read as she wrote was most rude.

delivered to send them along with the man who brings you this letter.

“Tell her no’ to alert the authorities.”

Which will probably make her friend all the more concerned, but Rose did as he asked. It was not as if she had any control over Ada after she received the correspondence and would be quite happy if the whole of the army stationed at Stirling Castle would arrive to rescue her. That would serve MacGregor right for taking her.

Please do not tell anyone what has happened. It would be futile for anyone to try to find me, as I am not even sure where I am.
Do not worry, my dear friend. I will send word again to assure you that I remain safe and am unharmed. Do try to enjoy your stay in Edinburgh and visit with your friends. I will be fine and will look on this as an unexpected adventure.

Your friend,
Rose Trent

Rose read over the letter one last time before sanding it. She prayed Ada would not worry overmuch and Rose did wish for her friend to continue enjoying her visit to Scotland. Ada’s holiday should not be ruined because of the current circumstances.
She folded the parchment and stood, handing it to MacGregor. He was a large man, the top of her head coming to his chin. Perhaps she should be frightened, but Rose was not. Over the years she’d become a good judge of character and none of the repulsive, wariness, loathing or fear she often experienced when meeting her husband’s cronies surfaced in the presence of Laird MacGregor. Of course, he had kidnapped her, so there was that.
So, why wasn’t she frightened? Perhaps it was because there wasn’t anything Laird MacGregor could do to her that her husband hadn’t already done, and she survived. She would survive this as well.
“Mrs. Murray will show ya to yer room. I hope ye have a pleasant stay.”
A plump older woman entered a moment later, as if she were listening at the door. “Right this way, my Lady.”
Rose had no choice but to follow. Actually, she could have remained and demanded answers to further questions, but at the moment she wished to be alone to think.
If only she knew where she was. After being taken from the walk when she had gone to view Stirling Castle she’d been blindfolded the moment she’d been placed into the carriage. They had ridden for what seemed like hours before it was finally removed, and only because Laird MacGregor announced they were safely on his lands. Still, they rode for another thirty minutes, or so it seemed, but she could not even tell in what direction because the blinds were pulled on the carriage, not allowing any sunlight in.
Kidnapped indeed and all because of jewels her late-husband had stolen. Would she ever be free of that blasted man?

Aiden MacGregor had given up hope of ever recovering his great-grandmother’s jewels. He had even visited Bentley three times while the man was still alive and sent several letters, but Bentley would not take the money. He wished to keep them for himself.
It wasn’t as if they were very valuable. Aiden had spoken the truth. It was sentiment. The one thing his great-grandmother brought to the marriage, and pawned at one time so that repairs could be made to the distillery and manor. When his grandfather finally turned a profit, he had retrieved them, presenting them to his wife before she passed. She had not cared about the jewels as much as her husband, but he had wanted to keep his word to her and to prove that he was honorable and that it was not a mistake to marry a poor Scot who was trying to shake the family reputation of being thieves and outlaws.
They were a symbol of family, of giving, sharing, loving and trusting. Something his brother, Beathan, had not understood. When Aiden tried to explain to Bentley, the gentleman had laughed at him, calling him ten times a fool and ordered him gone. Aiden suspected Bentley was more interested in keeping something that someone else wanted. It would not have matter if it were an old shoe or the crown jewels.
What he had not expected was Lady Bentley’s fire and confronting him. Of course, he would expect such from a Scottish woman, but not a Sassenach. They were weak and biddable, but there was nothing docile about Lady Bentley. He rather admired her strength, as well as her beauty, and the fire in those crystal blue eyes.
The former Lord Bentley was at least sixty when he died. Lady Bentley was no more than thirty, if a day. Then again, she was Bentley’s third wife, and apparently, he preferred young brides. Aiden well understood a first wife being ten and eight, but not a third, when she would have been thirty years younger.
Aiden had one young wife, and it was not an experience he would repeat again. Oh, he loved his Meg, but when she was gone, he had no desire to seek another young woman to fill his nursery even more. Though a good woman in his bed and in his home was one thing he did miss. There were none of his acquaintance of the right age and not married.  ‘Twas a shame Lady Bentley was married to the man he detested, a Sassenach, and that he kidnapped her. Under different circumstances, he might have sought her out.
He rose from his desk and crossed to the sideboard before pouring himself a glass of whisky. He took a sip, closed his eyes, and savored the taste. This was the best his men had created thus far. It had taken time to produce a good whisky and within a month they would break the cask on a fifteen-year old single malt to see how it fared against those that had left for only three, six or ten years. If it was as good as he hoped, then the family would be able to restore the reputation they had once enjoyed of distilling some of the finest whisky in Scotland.
“I’m ready ta leave. Do ye have the letter?” asked Ewan, the second son of his brother Beathan, as he came into the library.  Ewan was not the brightest of his nephews, and only ten and eight, but delivering the letter to the Trents should not be too difficult, if he wasn’t distracted by a pretty face in the meantime.
“Aye, it’s on my desk.” Aiden nodded in that direction. “The sons are at their estates, but the message can be delivered to any one of them. But, make sure ya give it to the Earl of Bentley, Mr. Jordan Trent, Mr. Matthew Trent or Mr. John Trent, and nobody else.”
“Of course, Uncle Aiden. I willna make a mistake. I promise.”
He dearly hoped not. He would have trusted the letter with someone else, but Ewan was able to travel quicker than anyone he knew. When he didn’t get distracted, of course. Or, lost his way. “Maybe ye should take someone with ya.”
“I promise ta do right, Uncle Aiden,” Ewan assured him. “It’ll be delivered to one of the four gentlemen and I’ll return straight away.”
“See that ya do.”

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