Alec Mackenzie's Art of Seduction (Mackenzies & McBrides #9)

Alec Mackenzie's Art of Seduction (Mackenzies & McBrides #9)

Jennifer Ashley

Chapter 1

The Attic of Kilmorgan Castle, June 1892

Ian Mackenzie heard his name like music on the air. He didn’t look away from the task he’d set himself, laying each page in its neat stack on the desk, exactly where it needed to go. He knew Beth would come to him the same as he knew when his next breath would be.

She entered the attic with a rustle of skirts, pausing in the open doorway to push a strand of hair from her face. Ian did not have to glance up at her to follow her every move.

“Ian? What on earth are you doing?”

Ian did not reply until he’d laid another page in its stack and squared it to match the notebook next to it. Beth liked him to answer, but Ian wanted to think out the sentences in his head beforehand so he could respond to her satisfaction. What he considered the most important part of an explanation was not always what others did.

“Reading,” he said after a moment. “About the family.”

“Oh?” Beth moved to him, the faint cinnamon scent that clung to her distracting. “You mean your family history?”

Ian had divided the surface of the large kneehole desk, left over from a century ago, into sections, one for every generation of the Mackenzie family. Those sections were divided into immediate members of that family. Papers, letters, ledgers, and notebooks had their own piles in each section, and they were stacked chronologically.

He laid his broad hand on the leftmost pile. “Old Malcolm.” Malcolm’s wife Mary’s journal had provided entertainment for many a winter night with tales of Malcolm’s exploits.

“Alec Mackenzie.” Ian rested his hand on the next pile then the one after that. “And Will.”

“You found their papers?” Beth asked in surprise. “I thought Alec and Will Mackenzie fled into exile after Culloden, when the entire family was listed as dead.”

Ian shrugged. “All is here.” He didn’t speculate on how the letters and journals of Will, Alec, and their families had arrived at Kilmorgan—he only cared that they had.

“Have you read them?” Beth looked over the neat stacks, a little smile on her lips. Ian had come to learn this expression meant she was interested.

Ian didn’t answer. He’d of course read each paper, each notebook, before deciding into which stack it should go.

Alec Mackenzie had left sketchbooks full of drawings of his children, his wife, his brothers, his sisters-in-law, his father. Another portfolio held sketches of the skylines of London and of Paris, and of the lands around Kilmorgan, as well as portraits of Alec Mackenzie himself, some of them intimate, Alec only a kilt, a wicked glint in his eye.

Ian opened one of the sketchbooks and pushed it toward Beth. This was of Alec as a young man, dressed in the manner of the early eighteenth century. His pale shirt had cotton lace at the cuffs, his long hair was pulled into a queue, and a strong face laughed out of the picture at them.

“Intriguing.” Beth’s breath was warm on Ian’s cheek. “He was the artistic one, I gather, like Mac.” She touched the paper. “But who drew this? Was his wife an artist too?”

“Celia.” Ian turned over a page to show a young woman with dark curls under a small lacy cap, a round face, and a rather impish smile. “She drew the cities.”

“Oh.” Beth clasped her hands as Ian revealed a stretch of London as it had been in 1746. Rooftops marched through the fog—she recognized the view from Grosvenor Square toward Piccadilly and Green Park, but gaps existed where houses were now. “That must be the sketch for the painting that hangs in Mac’s wing. How exciting.” She looked at Ian with shining eyes. “Tell me about them.” Her smile widened. “I know you remember every word of these.” She touched the cover of a journal.

For a moment, Ian’s interest in his ancestors faded as he lost himself in Beth’s brown eyes. Beth was beauty, she was silence, she was the peace in his heart.

She was also stubborn in her own quiet way. She grasped his sleeve and towed him to a dusty settee, one gilded and upholstered in petit point, which had come to Kilmorgan straight from Versailles.

Beth nestled into Ian’s side and drew her feet up under her, a further distraction from deeds of the remote past. “Go on,” she said. “Tell me their story. All the details. I’ll let you know which bits to leave out when you tell it again to the children.”

Ian pictured the two of them gathering with Jamie, Belle, and Megan in one of their cozy chambers in Ian’s wing of the house, plus his son’s and daughters’ antics and blurted questions as Ian tried to tell them a straightforward tale. Jamie and Belle especially constantly interrupted him, and stories rarely got finished the way Ian planned them. He looked forward to it.

For now, Beth was warm at his side, her hair soft beneath his lips.

“Once upon a time,” he began—Beth had explained that all stories should begin with Once upon a time.

“A few months after the Battle of Culloden,” Ian continued, “Alec Mackenzie left Paris and returned to England, in search of Will, who’d vanished for too long a while. Will’s contacts hadn’t seen him, rumor had it he might have been arrested, and the family was worried.

“The last place Will had been reported was London, so Alec packed his things, took his daughter, assumed a false name, and went to London …”

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