Stifling a yawn, Braden descended the center staircase to the entrance hall of the house. Tangling with murderous thugs was bound to stimulate one’s system and prevent sleep. So did questions about his mysterious rescuers—especially a woman who seemed perfectly comfortable wielding swords.
And that sign language? Pondering that had certainly kept him awake. Braden had seen something similar before, and he’d be following that up later this morning.
Their butler emerged from the back hall to greet him. “Good morning, sir. Mr. Kendrick and Joseph are having breakfast in the dining room, if you care to join them.”
“Thank you, Will. I mean, Macklin. Now that you’re a proper butler, I’ll have to observe the appropriate protocols.”
Will flashed him a wry smile. “It seems just as odd to me as it does to you, Dr. Kendrick. I hope I don’t disappoint.”
“You won’t. You’ve been helping to keep us in line for years. When I was racketing about this place on my own, I tended to let things slide. I’m sure you and Mrs. Kendrick were properly horrified at the state of affairs.”
Will Macklin had been with the family for as long as Braden could remember, originally hailing from the village attached to the Kendrick ancestral estate, Castle Kinglas. Eventually working his way up to under-butler at Kendrick House in Glasgow, he’d recently been promoted to butler at the family establishment in Edinburgh.
Braden had taken up permanent residence in Edinburgh several years ago as a student. Subsequently, he’d accepted a position at the Royal Infirmary and the medical college. He’d have been satisfied with a small set of rented rooms near work, but the rest of the family had been appalled by that notion. Nick, Braden’s oldest brother, was Laird of Arnprior, and had insisted on purchasing an elegant townhouse in New Town as a home for Braden and a port of call for various visiting Kendricks.
Major changes had recently come to the house on Heriot Row. Logan, the second oldest Kendrick and owner of a booming shipping company, had decided to move his family from Glasgow to Edinburgh. Thanks to the recent completion of the Forth and Clyde Canal system, Logan’s Glasgow offices now had steady access to the nearby port of Leith. So, along with his wife and two children, Logan had decided to settle into Heriot Row for as long as needed to establish another thriving branch of Kendrick Shipping and Trade.
Logan, who was fourteen years older, had been away for much of Braden’s youth, building up his trading company in Canada. Since his return to Scotland had coincided with Braden’s permanent move to Edinburgh, their paths had only occasionally crossed.
While Braden might sometimes regret the loss of his peace and quiet, it was a good and necessary opportunity to spend time with Logan, Donella, and the two bairns. As much as he might be inclined to forget it at times, he was still a member of Clan Kendrick. That meant family came first, even if that family could sometimes be downright nosy and interfering.
“The house was in prime condition, sir,” Will politely protested. “It needed nothing more than a good airing out.”
It had needed more than that, since Braden had closed most of the place up, making do with one maid and a cook.
“Hmm, I’m quite sure I heard my sister-in-law shriek with horror at the state of the attics.”
Will struggled to repress a smile. “Mrs. Kendrick never shrieks, no matter the provocation.”
“I’ll try to keep provocations to a minimum, regardless. Speaking of which, no one heard me come in last night?”
“I don’t believe so, sir.”
“Let’s keep it that way. And if any of the servants should ask about the battered state of my clothes, just say I slipped and had a fall in the muck.”
Thoroughly used to the wide variety of Kendrick antics, Will nodded. “Of course, sir. And I’ll see to your coffee and breakfast immediately.”
“Just coffee, please. I’ll grab a roll to take along with me.”
As he turned to head to the dining room, Braden didn’t miss the butler’s sigh. Everyone from Logan on down to the kitchen maid thought him underfed. At home, someone was always trying to shove cakes, scones, and assorted delicacies down his throat. It was nonsense, since he was perfectly fit. But he was used to being compared to his older brothers, who were exceptionally brawny men who looked more like Highland warriors than men of the city.
He quietly stepped into the elegant dining room, its formal nature softened by the view out the bay windows to the city gardens. Although it was a bit grand for Braden’s taste, Donella insisted they eat their meals together there as a family, on a regular schedule. When Braden had objected that his work defied scheduling, his sister-in-law countered that he needed a more orderly lifestyle, more rest and food, and more leisure time with family. Any attempt he had made to explain the average physician’s day had been firmly refuted, which was typical Kendrick behavior. Wayward family members were to be alternately cajoled and bullied into line. All in their best interests, of course.
But Kendricks also excelled at ignoring each other when it suited. Over the years, Braden had become a master of that family attribute.
Seated at the head of the table, Logan glanced up from his copy of the Caledonian Mercury. “Glad to see you slept in this morning, lad. I’m sure you needed it. What time did you get in last night, anyway?”
“Oh, sometime after midnight,” Braden replied as he perused the generous breakfast laid out on the mahogany sideboard.
“It was just after two o’clock, Uncle Braden,” said Joseph, seated to the right of Logan.
Braden mentally sighed. Logan’s son was thirteen. But he was exceptionally bright and incredibly observant, sometimes inconveniently so.
Logan frowned. “Son, were you reading late again? Staying up half the night isn’t good for you. Besides, you read so much during the day.”
“Yes, but that’s for my studies, Papa. And I’m reading Robinson Crusoe right now. It’s a bang-up adventure, you know.”
“Yes, I know, but—”
“And you gave it to me, remember? It was your favorite book when you were my age. You said I should read it.”
“Ouch. Hoisted on your own petard,” Braden said as he took a seat on the other side of the table.
“Lad runs rings around me,” Logan ruefully replied.
Joseph gifted his father with a beatific smile. “Mamma says it’s because I’m so smart.”
“Smartest one in the family,” Braden added.
“No, that would be you, Uncle Braden. Mamma says that, too.”
“Och, not true. You’re the smartest Kendrick of all.”
Joseph was greatly advanced in his studies, and when not studying, the lad was usually found with his nose deep in a book. Braden had recently started tutoring him in chemistry, at the boy’s request. Given how ably his nephew picked up complex formulas, Braden suspected he would grow up to be a scientist, or even a physician.
Logan adopted a comical expression. “Hang on, what about me? I do run a rather large and successful business. Can’t be a dummy and do something like that, you know.”
Joseph patted his father’s hand. “Of course not, Papa. But everyone knows that Uncle Braden is the smartest of the brothers. Uncle Nick and Grandda always say so.”
“Splendid. Well, I hope I’m good for at least something around here,” Logan said with mock complaint.
Joseph went back to slathering butter on his scone. “You’re good at bashing heads. Uncle Nick says you’re the best when it comes to that.”
Given that Logan was a veritable giant whose fighting skills had been honed in the wilds of Canada, that statement wasn’t an exaggeration.
Logan snorted. “Thank you, son. I’m also very good at sticking to the point, which is that you stay up half the night reading.”
“I wasn’t just reading last night, Papa. I was waiting for Uncle Braden to get home. He’s usually not so late, so I was worried.”
Smart as a whip and sensitive, Joseph tended to worry too much about the safety of his family. It stemmed from long separations from his father when he was just a tyke.
“You know I sometimes have to make emergency calls late at night,” Braden gently said. “There is never any need to worry.”
“I’d like to think that’s the case,” Logan said. “But where were you last night? Not Old Town again, I hope.”
Braden repressed a groan. “I was perfectly fine, in any event.”
“But you weren’t,” Joseph said with fatal candor. “I think you might have been robbed. You were very dirty, and you had a big rip in your coat. I saw it when you tried to sneak down the hall to your bedroom.”
Good God. The lad would make an excellent spy.
Logan threw his son a startled glance. Then his gaze transferred to Braden, his eyes narrowing to slits as cold as the North Sea.
“Care to explain?” he asked in a mild voice.
Braden wasn’t fooled. If he didn’t think fast, a volcanic eruption was imminent.
Fortunately, the door opened and Will came into the room, followed by a footman carrying a coffee service.
Logan transferred his ire to the butler. “Macklin, why the hell didn’t you tell me that Braden was robbed last night?”
“I wasn’t robbed,” Braden interjected.
Joseph frowned. “But you were in a . . . a fracas. I heard you say that to Macklin last night, when you came in.”
Logan slammed down his coffee cup, slopping the brew onto the starched tablecloth. “And why the hell am I only hearing about this now?” He stared daggers at Braden, then at Macklin.
“It was nothing, really,” Braden said. “Very minor.”
His brother pointed a finger at him. “Now, look here, Braden. You may be—”
“I said it was nothing,” Braden firmly interrupted.
Logan swept an irate gaze around the room. Since that gaze had been known to cause grown men to whimper like babies, it wasn’t surprising that the footman, new to the household, almost dropped the coffee service. Will deftly snatched it and placed it on the sideboard.
“Can I pour you a cup of coffee, Dr. Kendrick?” he asked, unperturbed by his employer’s glare.
Braden flashed him a grateful smile. “Yes, please.”
“Macklin, this is not the end of the conversation,” Logan said. “When someone in my household gets attacked, I want to know about it.”
“Of course, sir. Can I freshen up your coffee?”
Looking massively annoyed, Logan continued to scowl at their butler before holding out his cup. “Deranged, the lot of you.”
“Do stop blustering, dearest,” Donella said as she entered the room. “It’s much too early in the day to be terrifying your family, much less the staff.”
“I’m not terrifying anyone,” Logan grumbled. “Unfortunately.”
Braden grinned at his brother. “Losing your touch?”
Donella patted her husband’s shoulder. “Of course he’s not losing his touch. Why, poor Ryan looks like he’s seen a ghost.”
Their new footman now looked mostly bewildered. Braden couldn’t blame the poor fellow.
“I apologize, Mrs. Kendrick,” Will said. “I’m still in the process of training the new staff.”
“I’m afraid no amount of training can fully prepare anyone for our rather demented family,” Braden commented.
Donella took the empty seat on the other side of her husband. “That’s certainly true. I’m still getting used to them, even after several years.”
“Says the woman who was kicked out of a convent, and then followed that up by triggering a kidnapping and a clan feud,” Logan dryly said.
“Thankfully, you rescued me by throwing several men off a bridge into the River Tay,” Donella replied as she reached for the teapot.
“Only two men, love,” Logan corrected.
“True. You shot the rest of them.”
Ryan, who’d been clearing empty plates from the sideboard, knocked over a tray of scones.
“You may return to the kitchen,” Will told him with heavy disapproval. “Immediately.”
The poor footman almost tripped in his haste to get out of the room.
“It’ll be a miracle if the fellow doesn’t give his notice forthwith,” Braden commented.
Donella sighed. “And I was so hoping that Ryan would work out. Really, Logan, you simply must stop growling at everyone.”
“How is this my fault?” her husband protested. “Besides, I only growl at family members who get themselves into dangerous situations and then try to hide it from me.”
“Possibly because you kick up such a fuss?” Braden said before taking a gulp of coffee.
“Papa does get fashed when any of us gets attacked,” Joseph said.
“No more getting attacked,” barked Logan. “I forbid it.”
Braden smiled at Joseph. “I was perfectly fine, lad. I promise.”
Thanks to a mysterious young woman and her equally mysterious companion. That detail, however, was not something his family needed to know.
“But Papa can help protect you,” Joseph earnestly replied. “It’s his job.”
“Exactly right, my boy,” his father said with an approving nod.
“I cannot disagree,” Donella said. “I saw your coat, Braden. The rip is quite beyond repair.”
“Well, that’s a bother,” Braden replied.
At that observation, Logan looked ready to explode.
Donella glanced at her husband’s face. “Macklin, perhaps you might bring us some fresh tea,” she said to the butler.
When Will tactfully retreated, Braden looked at the clock on the mantle. “Good Lord, the time. As delightful as this discussion has been, I’m off. Already late for work.”
Logan jabbed a finger at him. “Don’t even think about it. You were attacked, Braden. And how was your coat ruined? Perhaps by a knife?”
“Och, don’t be silly,” Braden said.
Donella wrinkled her nose. “Truly, Braden, we’re not trying to be busybodies. We just worry about you.”
Braden eyed the faces studying him with obvious concern. They were all so different—his brawny older brother, who had the strength and courage of a giant, his lovely sister-in-law, whose kind heart had rescued Logan from a lonely life, and his nephew, whose gentle nature was complemented by a maturity beyond his years.
What united them was their steadfast devotion to each other and to every member of the family. Behind all the bluster and nonsense was love—and worry. Kendricks were champion worriers. Given all the tragedies they’d suffered over the years, it was hardly surprising.
Now that the cat was well out of the bag, trying to dismiss their concerns would only fash them more.
“It was a bit of a sticky wicket,” he admitted. “But it wouldn’t have been a problem if I hadn’t slipped and fallen arse over teakettle.”
“It happens to the best of us, lad,” Logan said in a sympathetic tone. “That’s why it’s best to be prepared for every contingency.”
“What did happen, dearest?” Donella gently prompted.
After a quick glance at the clock, because he really was going to be late for his meeting, Braden gave a highly expurgated version of events.
Logan nodded his approval. “Throwing your bag in the bastard’s face was quick thinking, lad.”
Donella tapped her husband’s arm. “Language, dear.”
As if on cue, father and son rolled their eyes in identical fashion.
Braden repressed a smile. “I would have been well away from the bast . . . er, idiots, if I’d not slipped in some disgusting muck. Fortunately, my would-be attackers spent most of their time issuing empty threats instead of getting down to the business of robbing me.”
Joseph frowned. “Then how did they manage to wreck your coat?”
“Er, that happened when I slipped and fell. I hit the cobblestones quite hard.”
“Now this is starting to sound like a fish tale,” Logan said with disapproval. “Pursued by two armed villains, you go down in the muck, and yet somehow you return home basically unharmed and unrobbed. Please explain how you managed that feat.”
“We were just off Cowgate at that point, so I raised bloody hell calling for the watch. There’s a watch booth right near there, you know. As soon as the watchman heard me, he blew his whistle and came running.”
Logan crossed his arms over his chest. “I have never seen a watchman come running in my life.”
“Well, this one responded promptly. Clearly, the pair that attacked me last night were short on courage, since they took to their heels when they heard the whistle.”
His brother narrowed his eyes, obviously still suspicious.
Donella poured her husband another cup of coffee. “Thank goodness for the watch, then. But perhaps you could be a bit more careful, Braden. Try to avoid some of the more dangerous parts of Old Town.”
“I’d be happy to comply, if only my patients wouldn’t insist on living there.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound callous. We are so fortunate to be up here in New Town, while so many live in those dreadful tenements.”
Logan leaned over and gave her a kiss. “Good thing you’re doing a bang-up job of giving away half our fortune to charitable causes, love.”
“We can afford it,” she pertly replied.
“Aye, we can.” Logan returned his attention to Braden. “I’m afraid I’m going to insist that you carry a pistol from now on, old man. I know you’re not fond of them, but I’m even less fond of the idea of you getting carved up like a joint of beef.”
Braden snorted. “A distinctly unappetizing thought.”
“Then we’re agreed. You will start carrying a pistol with you at all times.”
“I will at night, but I hardly think pistols are appropriate for the Royal Infirmary or the classroom.”
His brother leaned forward. “You’ll carry one at all times, or I’ll start going with you on these night calls.”
Braden snorted. “That is certainly not happening.”
“And you work hard enough, darling, without taking on bodyguard duty,” Donella said. “If Braden is properly armed and takes precautions, he’ll be fine.”
“This isn’t new for me, you know,” Braden added. “I’ve been dealing with patients in Old Town for several years.”
Logan tapped a finger against his chin. “That’s actually an excellent idea, Donella. The best solution might be to hire Braden a bodyguard.”
“Good God, Logan,” Braden said, exasperated. “This is literally the first time anyone has tried to rob me. And that’s because almost everyone knows who I am, and that I’m there to help them.”
His brother shook his head. “A bodyguard is the best solution. I’ll speak to Macklin about it. Maybe one of the new footmen.”
“Perhaps Ryan?” Braden sardonically asked.
“I can go with you,” Joseph chimed in. “As long as it’s not too late. Papa taught me how to shoot, and I am very good at noticing things. Plus, I think I want to become a doctor, so I can see how you work.”
Braden smiled at him. “Well, thank you, lad, but I think your papa might have ideas about that.”
“Perhaps next year, Joseph,” Donella tactfully said. “You’re still a bit young to be making house calls, especially at night.”
“Oh, rats,” the boy said, sighing. “You always say I’m too young to do the fun things.”
“Let’s be clear. My son is not going anywhere near the stews, not this year or next year, either,” Logan sternly added.
Joseph eyed his father with disapproval. “I’m not a little boy anymore, Papa. I’m getting very tall.”
“You are rather shooting up like a weed,” Donella said with a smile.
Braden stood. “Look, I really must—”
“Sit down,” Logan rapped out. “We have not finished this discussion.”
“Sorry, I have to go. I’m already miles late for my meeting with Blackmore.”
His brother adopted his most intimidating glower. “Braden Kendrick—”
“We’ll pick it up later, old man.” He strode for the door, and then turned to face his brother. “I promise.”
“That is an entirely empty promise, because you always make sure to evade the blasted subject.”
“How clever of him,” Donella said with a twinkle.
“I thought you were on my side,” Logan tartly said to his wife.
Donella simply widened her eyes at him.
“You do tend to yell when you’re fashed, Papa,” Joseph said. “No wonder Uncle Braden avoids you.”
“I forbid anyone avoiding me from now on.”
His son snickered.
“No one will avoid you, my love,” Donella said in a soothing tone. “Let me get you one of these orange scones. They’re so delicious, aren’t they Joseph?”
“Papa should definitely have one, and probably some plum cake, too,” Joseph said. “Plum cake always makes him feel better.”
“I feel perfectly fine,” Logan protested as his wife starting piling food on his plate.
Once again, Braden’s big, tough brother had been rolled up. He found it all rather hilarious, but it simply confirmed for him how complicated families—and especially wives—could be.
Braden had been rolled up by a woman once before, one he had truly loved. And how had that ended?
In a trip to hell.
It was an experience he had vowed never to repeat again.