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This is what convinced me that ah’d found the right McClaren.” Duncan slid the pocket doors open with a dramatic flourish.
I was first aware of heavy furniture in a dark room. A low conversation faded into the wood panels and brocade fabric and was consumed by the flames of a huge fireplace. Two wing chairs flanked the fireplace, and both were occupied.
“Who are you talking to, Alexander?” Duncan sounded annoyed.
I glanced from the pale form in one chair to the very real and solid man in the other. The flames lit his cheekbones but cast his eyes in deeper shadow as Alexander steepled his long fingers and studied me. Red highlights, possibly cast by the flames, shimmered in his hair.
“Never mind,” Duncan said to him, apparently not seeing the occupant of the other chair. “Ah’ve always thought ye were touched in the head, McClaren. Cassie, this is your long-lost cousin.”
Interesting. This was the first time Duncan had mentioned family. “Technically, I guess that I’m the lost one,” I said to Alexander in an effort to be friendly.
Alexander yawned, stretched his longlegs in front of him, and crossed them at the ankles in an obvious attempt to insult.
“Ignore him,” Duncan said, switching on a light. “Ah try to. This is what ah wanted ye to see. Cassie, meet Charles McClaren.”
He stepped forward and gestured. Above the mantle hung the portrait of a tall, black-haired man in full Scottish regalia. He and Grumps were so alike they could have been brothers.
Charles McClaren’s cloak was tossed over his right shoulder with careless elegance and bound over his heart with a crested broach. The crest bore a backwards “C” linked to “MC.” Charles and I had the same initials. The family crest.
I met Charles’s eyes and smiled. I’d never met him, of course, he’d been dead for two hundred years or so, but I felt as if I knew him. The faint smell of tobacco smoke and the whispered memory of bagpipes embraced me. Welcome home, lass. The words weren’t spoken, but they were understood.
Alexander finally stirred from his chair. He unfolded a long, strong frame, caught my chin and turned my face to his.
I jerked away, and his narrow lips twisted into a smile. “Well, Duncan,” he said, his brogue thick, “ye certainly found a good likeness.”
It wasn’t easy to give him a scorching look when my nose was level with his broad shoulders, but I tried. He might smell like leather and sunshine and have a voice as smooth as whiskey, but my long-lost cousin was an obnoxious jerk.
I noticed that the flames had only accented the reds in his hair, not created them. A chestnut lock curled against his throat and framed the firm line of his jaw.
I didn’t touch. Instead I reached into my shoulder bag, dug out a rather large wooden box, and lifted it to the mantle. “My grandfather’s ashes,” I said, turning my back on Alexander and speaking to Duncan. “He would have loved this.”
“Indeed I shoulda,” my grandfather said. His voice in death suddenly sported a brogue he’d never had in life. I was used to his popping up unexpectedly, and I didn’t startle. Neither did Duncan. Interestingly, Alexander did. His eyes swiveled from Grumps to me, and then he held my gaze.
The other spectral form in the room wafted to his feet. “This house isna big eno’ fer another haunting!” he growled.
“Then you will just have to leave,” Grumps told him, forgetting the brogue. “I like it here.”
“You look just like him,” Duncan said to me, indicating the portrait. “Charles McClaren, the first Laird of McClaren Manor.”
“Pretender,” Alexander hissed.
He was referring to me. I tilted my head in his direction but didn’t look at him. “Duncan, I get the impression that my cousin doesn’t like me. Why?”
Duncan caught my hand, pulling me closer to him and farther from Alexander. “Don’t pay any attention to him. He’s just mad because he was disinherited. In fact, he’s not even supposed to be here. He lives in the gameskeeper’s cottage. He works for ye.”
Alexander’s eyes flashed from hazel to vivid green and his whole body tightened. He said something, but his temper was so high and his brogue so thick that I didn’t catch it.
Apparently Duncan did. He stepped forward and shouted right back at the other man. Alexander was well-built but Duncan was, too, and it was obvious that these guys had a history.
I worked myself between the two men and pushed them to arm’s length. “Wait a minute, guys,” I said. “Duncan, why didn’t you tell me there were other heirs?”