Castle Kinglas, Scotland
Kade sighed as he met the Earl of Arnprior’s flinty gaze. A verbal trouncing from big brother was in the offing, and he had only himself to blame since he was the idiot who’d got himself stabbed in the first place.
Nick stood behind his imposing desk in the equally imposing library of Kinglas. He continued to glower at Kade, seated opposite him in one of the leather club chairs.
“Was it really necessary for you to sleep with a Russian spy in order to complete your mission?” his brother demanded. “Good God, lad. What were you thinking to put yourself in harm’s way like that?”
Though Kade was twenty-seven and had been touring the Continent by himself for years, to Nick and the rest of the Kendricks he would always be the baby of the family who needed more protection than the rest.
He pretended to ponder the question. “Hmm, let me see. Oh, right. I was thinking that I needed to get close to Marina to complete the mission mandated by the British Crown.”
Royal, lounging in the chair next to him, smirked. “Very close, apparently.”
Kade flashed his other brother a dirty look. Royal had been holding in laughter as Kade patiently explained to Nick the reasons for his sudden return home this morning. He had been hoping for at least one day of rest, but Nick had immediately marched him off to the library for the requisite interrogation and resulting lecture.
The Kendrick brothers were used to lectures from Nick, having all required course corrections over the years. All but Kade. He’d never been called onto the proverbial carpet in front of Nick’s desk or had to escape out a window to avoid a thundering scold. He’d always been the perfect Kendrick, the one who never raised a ruckus.
“I thought you were on my side,” Kade said to Royal.
“I’m always on your side, even when you do something stupid, which is admittedly very rare in your case.” Royal placed a hand on his chest and looked soulful. “Oh, how times have changed. Now our wee lad is seducing opera singers and Russian spies.”
“The opera singer was also the Russian spy,” Kade retorted. “Besides, this was for king and country, and it was a necessary part of my job.”
“And look how well it turned out,” Nick sardonically said. “As for this spy business, which none of us even knew about until a few days ago, we will discuss that in a minute. What I want to know is how you could decide to take on such a dangerous mission without help from us? What if you’d been seriously injured, or even—”
Nick clamped his lips shut, clearly distressed. That had Kade squirming with guilt. Life had been good for the Kendrick men for many years. Grand marriages to lovely lasses, lots of bairns, and thriving businesses to keep them all busy. True, there was the occasional kidnapping or smuggling ring to deal with, but for the most part they’d all been blessed.
But farther back in the past, their lives had often been tragic and hard, leaving emotional wounds on all of them but especially on Nick. Yet Kade hadn’t been thinking of any of that when he’d agreed to take on the occasional intelligence mission for the Crown. He’d seen it only as an exciting diversion from the intensity of his life as musician and concert pianist.
A wave of weariness suddenly swamped him. The last few weeks had been taxing. His mission had ended with a narrow escape from Paris, a grim dash to the coast, a rough crossing to Edinburgh, and then a long carriage ride to Kinglas.
He grimaced in apology to Nick. “I’m sorry I worried you. It’s nothing more than a scratch, I promise.”
Kade wasn’t about to admit that it was only by the greatest of luck that he’d been able to roll out of the way quickly enough to avoid a shiv penetrating between the ribs. As it was, the blade had skittered down his back, saving him from a devastating injury.
While seducing Marina was not the soundest of plans, he’d been convinced that her notebook was hidden in the bedroom of her lavish hotel suite. That notebook contained the names of some very important men she was blackmailing on Russia’s behalf, including two high-ranking British officials. Acquiring it had been a high priority.
Meeting Marina hadn’t been a problem, since both she and Kade were performing at the Paris Opera. The enchanting soprano had seemed eager to spend time with him, but somewhere along the way she’d deduced his plan. So while he was busy convincing himself that his seduction was progressing well—not to mention pleasurably—Marina had been planning his demise.
“It was more than a scratch, according to Aden,” Nick replied. “And his letter clearly stated that you were lucky to escape without additional injury.”
Aden St. George was Chief of Intelligence at the Home Office. He was also half-brother to Nick’s wife, which made him family and thus less likely to withhold details when writing to Nick.
Kade shifted in his chair to ease the pressure on his still-healing wound. “It really wasn’t that bad. Fortunately, Marina was unable to pursue me, because she was…”
“Naked?” Royal sardonically finished for him.
Kade sighed. “I had only taken off my shirt, so good for me. I easily made my escape.”
He had no intention of revealing that Marina had also pulled a pistol from her nightstand and got off a shot as he pelted out of the room, boots and shirt in hand. He could only hope Aden had left that detail out of his letter.
Nick finally sank down into his chair. “Good God, what a cock-up.”
“At least until she pulled out the knife,” Kade joked, trying to lighten the mood.
Nick scowled at him, while Royal simply shook his head with disapproval.
“Look,” Kade protested, “the mission was vital. Besides, Marina is a talented and well-regarded soprano. I thought she was simply passing along useful information to her government. How was I to know she would leap on me like a deranged assassin?”
“Aye, and let that be a lesson to ye,” Angus suddenly piped in. “No good can come of larkin’ about with Frenchies, and an opera singer to boot. What were ye thinkin’, lad, to be tricked by such a one as that?”
Their grandfather had been uncharacteristically quiet throughout the entire discussion—so much so that Kade had forgotten he was in the room.
Angus was settled near the fireplace in his favorite wingback chair, looking predictably disreputable in his scuffed boots and tatty old kilt. With his wrinkled features and puffball white hair, he was beginning to resemble a Highland version of Methuselah, benignly smoking his pipe.
But Grandda’s blue gaze still held a sharpness that belied his age. He’d insisted on coming along for the interrogation. Ever since Kade was a wee lad, Grandda had watched over him like a she-wolf with a lone pup, and he obviously had no intention of relinquishing the post now.
“Marina is Russian not French,” Kade said. “And she tricked me because she was a very good spy.”
“Fah.” Angus stood and started to drag his chair over to the desk, scattering ashes from his pipe in his wake.
Kade jumped up, wincing at the pull to his healing wound. “Grandda, let me get that for you.”
“I dinna need ye treatin’ me like I’m an invalid. That would be ye, and I’ll nae have ye hurtin’ yerself more than ye already are.” Angus thumped his chair down beside him. “Anyway, Russian, French, they’re all the same, and not for ye to be larkin’ aboot with.”
“I was not larking.”
“Still, one does not expect an acclaimed pianist to engage in nefarious doings. And that’s especially when that pianist is a Kendrick,” Nick said.
“I’m hardly the first spy in this family,” Kade pointed out. “And may I remind you that I’m the victim. Marina stabbed me, not the other way around.”
Angus puffed vigorously on his pipe, sending smoke billowing over Kade. “Like I said, that’s what ye get for larkin’ aboot with French opera singers.”
Kade waved a hand in front of his face. “I’m supposed to be recuperating, not getting asphyxiated.”
Angus ignored his protest. “I canna think that Vicky will be best pleased to hear of this. Yer her favorite, ye ken, and still her wee innocent laddie.”
Victoria, Countess of Arnprior, was Kade’s former governess, and had arrived in his life when both his physical and emotional state had been precarious. She’d quickly become more than a teacher, loving and protecting him with a fierce loyalty. The day she’d gone from governess to Nick’s wife had been joyful for all of them, but she and Kade had always held a special bond.
Now, Kade did not relish the prospect of facing his sister-in-law. Vicky had been down in the village this morning and so had missed his arrival.
“I’m actually her favorite, ye ken,” Nick dryly said. “But your point is well taken, Grandda. Victoria does not need to know the specific details of this unfortunate affair.”
Royal waggled his eyebrows. “Emphasis on affair.”
“You’re a tremendous help,” Kade sarcastically replied.
“And she will hear nothing salacious,” Nick sternly ordered. “Victoria is distressed enough by the fact that you received a near-fatal wound under somewhat murky circumstances.”
Kade waved a dismissive hand. “The wound was only mildly infected. Braden took care of it as soon as I returned to Edinburgh.”
Unfortunately, his minor infection had grown worse during his travels to Scotland. His brother—a ruthlessly efficient physician—had cleaned the wound and poured noxious potions down Kade’s throat, all while delivering stern lectures on the idiocy of musicians pretending to be spies. Kade was closer to Braden than anyone in the world, but he’d been more than a little relieved when he’d finally been released from his brother’s care.
“Braden wrote that you suffered from several days of fever,” Nick said.
Kade shrugged. “I’m perfectly fine now, so no harm done.”
Nick shook his head. “You cannot blame us for feeling anxious, Kade. You and fevers have never had a good history.”
“Aye, that,” Royal quietly added. “We’d never recover if we lost you, lad.”
And there it was, the Kendrick specialty. Anxiety and love combined to tremendous effect, producing the maximum of guilt in the intended recipient.
“I haven’t been sick in years,” Kade replied. “And, again, can we please keep explanations as brief as possible for Vicky?”
Nick gave a brisk nod of approval. “Victoria doesn’t need to know the sordid details, especially in her delicate condition.”
Kade perked up. “Vicky’s with child again? That’s splendid news, Nick. Congratulations to you both.”
His brother finally cracked a smile. “Thank you. But she needs calm and rest, Kade, not hair raising tales of your adventures.”
Angus waved his pipe, spilling ash onto the carpet. “Och, Vicky is as strong as an ox. There’s nae need to fuss, lad.”
“Still,” Nick replied, “I will not have Victoria upset by this ridiculous—”
“Victoria already knows everything, including Kade’s adventures with opera singers,” said a stern voice from behind them.
Kade rose and turned around. His sister-in-law stood in the doorway, still garbed in her pelisse and bonnet, looking moments away from marching up and boxing his ears. But despite her thunderous scowl, he couldn’t help smiling.
“Hullo, you,” he said. “I hear congratulations are in order. The other bairns must be delighted to know another brother or sister is on the way.”
Her mouth twitched. “I suspect that a degree of bribery might be necessary to soothe little Kyle’s feelings. He’s grown quite used to being the baby of the family.”
“You’ll wrap him around your finger, just like every other male in the family,” Kade joked.
She pointed at him. “Do not think you can distract me, Kade Kendrick. I am most annoyed with you.”
Nick went to meet her. “You can give Kade a splendid scold later, sweetheart. But first get out of this drafty doorway. I don’t want you catching a chill.”
She allowed Nick to steer her to one of the chairs in front of his desk. “Nicholas, it’s the middle of July.”
“Then we don’t need you getting overheated,” replied her overprotective husband.
“Give us a hug, lass,” Kade said, holding out his arms.
She gingerly put her arms around him. “Are you sure you’re all right? From what Braden said, your wound was terribly infected.”
“My fault. It was raining that night, and I slipped on some cobblestones, landing arse over teakettle in a nice, dirty puddle.”
Flat on his back and still without his shirt on, he could have added. It had hurt like the devil, but that had been the least of his concerns at the time. Not getting shot had been top of the list.
“By the way,” he said as he and Vicky sat down. “How did you find out about the opera singer? Aden promised me he wouldn’t tell you about that part of the, er…situation.”
“Vivien wrote to me.”
“Of course she did,” Kade said with a sigh.
Vivien was married to Aden St. George. When it came to Kade’s family, there were no secrets, at least not for long.
Nick looked apologetic. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, sweetheart, but I didn’t wish to worry you.”
She rolled her eyes. “Did you really think I wouldn’t find out? I always know when something is wrong with one of you.”
“That’s true,” Angus said. “Our Sassenach lassie has a nose for trouble.”
“It comes from my years of dealing with Kendricks,” she replied. “That, however, is not my primary concern at the moment. Kade is. I cannot be happy about any of this.”
Kade took his sister-in-law’s hand and met her worried gaze. “I truly didn’t mean to worry you.” He glanced at Nick. “Any of you.”
His brother nodded. “I know, lad, but worry we do.”
Kade widened his eyes in mock surprise. “Really? I hadn’t noticed. But from now on, my focus will be entirely on my music career. My spying days are over.”
“Splendid,” Nick said. “You have a concerto to complete, and a special commission from the king is nothing to be sneezed at.”
Of that he was well aware, as the blasted thing was giving him fits. For some reason, the music wasn’t coming as easily as it usually did.
“And Braden is certain your injury won’t affect your ability to play in the future?” Vicky asked.
Kade nodded. “It’s just a matter of time and proper rest. I should be able to return to a full concert schedule by mid-autumn.”
“Then no long hours of practice, Kade. I know you, and I will lock up the music room if I have to.”
“Yes, Mother,” he dryly replied.
“Dreadful boy. But as Nicholas said, you can use this period of rest to work on your concerto. Kinglas is the perfect quiet environment. No one will bother you in the least.”
Actually, they would all bother him. His family would fuss and twitter over him like a bunch of nervous hens and drive him batty within the week.
“Although I hope you won’t be bored,” Vicky added. “Your life is so glamorous that we must seem like a fusty lot in comparison.”
“Touring isn’t all that exciting. Mostly it’s just work and spending too much time in carriages, jostling over bad roads.”
Vicky flashed him a teasing smile. “Vivien said you’re very popular, and that half the ladies in Europe are in love with you.”
Kade waggled a hand. “Probably no more than a third.”
“Kade Kendrick, I was joking!”
He laughed. “As was I. And I obviously need to have a little chat with Vivien. She’s telling too many tales out of school.”
Vicky patted his hand. “You’ve always been the sweetest and best-behaved Kendrick, so I’m sure those reports are exaggerated.”
“Kade would nae do anything to embarrass the family,” Angus stoutly defended. “But he is getting on in years. I think it’s time for the lad to settle down. Meet a nice lassie and get married.”
“Excellent idea, Grandda,” Nick said with approval.
“I am not getting on in years,” said Kade. “And I’m too busy to settle down.”
“You only think that because you’ve not yet met the right girl,” Nick replied. “And speaking of that…” He directed a meaningful look at his wife.
Vicky smiled at Kade. “Now that you’re back home, dear, we thought it might be fun to throw a ball in your honor. There are some delightful young ladies in the neighborhood. The Davenport sisters for instance.”
Alarm crawled up Kade’s spine. “Thank you, but I’m really not interested in socializing. Concerto to write, you know.”
“Aye, the Davenport lassies,” Angus chimed in. “Those two would give ye a run for yer money. Their da’s rich as Midas too.”
Nick flashed Kade an encouraging smile. “The Davenport girls are both quite lovely. I’m sure they’d be thrilled to spend time with you.”
Kade began to envision a horrifying round of social occasions, all designed to push him into the arms of a Kendrick-approved young woman.
Trying not to look completely appalled, he cast Royal an imploring look. His brother wiped a hand over his mouth, as if smother a laugh, but responded with his usual loyalty.
“Rather than dragging the poor lad to a dreary round of social events,” Royal said, “what about a stay at Cairndow? Fresh air, the mountains, the peace of the countryside, that’s what Kade needs. Not a pack of silly girls twittering after him.”
“In case you failed to notice,” Nick said, “Kinglas is the country. Besides, I would never drag Kade anywhere. I would simply suggest a few outings he might enjoy.”
“You would absolutely drag me,” Kade replied, shaking his head.
“Cairndow is the back of beyond compared to Kinglas,” Royal said. “It’s so remote that sometimes even I get lost.”
Victoria scoffed. “Now you’re being silly. Cairndow is only a day’s ride north of Kinglas, if that. Although it is very quiet.”
Cairndow was the small but tidy estate that Royal’s wife, Ainsley, had inherited from her great-aunt. It was a rather old-fashioned place but still comfortable and welcoming. And unlike the rest of his relatives, Ainsley didn’t give a damn about matchmaking. At Cairndow, Kade knew he would be left alone to work on his concerto.
“It sounds perfect,” he said gratefully to Royal.
Nick frowned. “But you just got here, Kade. Wouldn’t you like to spend more time with us?”
“Yes, of course, but—”
“Ainsley’s not expecting me back until the end of the week,” Royal cut in. “You can have a few days to visit with Kade, and then I’ll take him back to Cairndow for a proper rest.”
“Well, if you’re sure,” Victoria dubiously said to Kade.
“I’m absolutely sure,” he replied. “I’ve got to get working on that concerto, Vicky. Don’t want to disappoint the old man, you know.”
The old man was the king of England, Vicky’s natural father.
She blinked a few times. “You’re perfectly right. It would indeed be dreadful to disappoint him.”
“Then it’s all settled,” Royal said. “Cairndow it is.”
Nick eyed Kade for a few moments, as if trying to decide whether to argue, but then shrugged. “I suppose it’s for the best. We can throw a ball for you on your return, before you head to Glasgow. You can meet the Davenport girls, then.”
“Absolutely,” Kade said.
Angus stowed his pipe inside his vest and shoved himself to his feet. “Then I’d best be lookin’ over my medicinals and whatnot. We dinna want to be caught with our trews down in the back of beyond.”
Kade frowned. “Grandda, what are you talking about?”
“I’m going to Cairndow too, of course. Someone has to look after ye.”
“Thank you, but I am perfectly capable of looking after myself. There’s no need for you to fuss over me.”
“And we do have doctors in Cairndow,” Royal said.
Angus scoffed. “Fah. I’ll be takin’ over our Kade’s doctorin’ from now on. I know all of ye better than I know myself, and I’ll nae have our lad goin’ off without me, as delicate as he is.”
Kade stared down at his wizened grandfather, who barely reached his shoulder. “Grandda, I did not escape Paris just to have you kill me with your disgusting concoctions.”
“None of yer fussin’, son,” Angus said in an indulgent tone. “Yer family kens what’s best, especially me.”
Vicky nodded. “That’s true. You do need your rest, Kade. I think you should let Angus look at that shoulder, and then you can have a nice little nap. Doesn’t that sound perfect?”
Angus rubbed his hands. “Aye, that’s the ticket. I’ll get my doctorin’ things and meet you and Kade upstairs in the lad’s bedroom. Our Braden did his best nae doubt, but the old ways are still the best ways.” He patted Kade on the shoulder. “Not to worry, lad. We’ll get ye back on yer feet in no time.”
“I’m already on my feet,” Kade protested.
Royal grimaced. “And no one needs your medicinal concoctions, Grandda. Seriously.”
Angus jabbed a gnarled finger at Royal’s nose. “Ho, no sass from ye, laddie boy. There’s nae point in takin’ chances, what with Kade’s delicate constitution. He’ll nae be relapsin’ on my watch.”
“Or mine,” Vicky firmly stated.
Kade mentally sighed. Suddenly, Paris didn’t look that bad anymore.