With a small sigh, Jillian stood up and smoothed her dress. "Remember, the man will be a guest in this house for several weeks. I'm sure if we treat him like a gentleman, he will act as one." She wasn't sure if she believed that, but she wasn't about to have her maid entertain fantasies about any skirt-lifting.
She straightened her shoulders. Time to begin earning her money. She descended the stairs and moved toward the drawing room, pausing for only a second before she opened the door. And gasped.
What on earth was the man wearing?
Ian Macleod looked around the fancy parlor the skinny mon with the fancy suit and nose out-of-joint had shown him to. Light, filmy curtains hung at the windows, hardly anything to keep a night's chill out. Paintings of pale English men, trussed in lacy frills like some young bairn presented to the clan by a proud maithar, lined the walls. All of the chairs looked too fragile to hold his weight. How had he allowed that blethering idiot who had shown up at his holdings to talk him into this?
He didn't want to be an earl. Would have preferred never having to cross the Borders. His great-grandfather may have fought with King George in hopes of saving the clan, but his great-grandmother's people had rallied to Bonnie Prince Charlie. And all for naught. The Disarming Act had disbanded the clans and even forbidden a mon to blow the pipes or wear his plaid.
Which was why he was here. The English lands would provide enough profit for him to help his people. Once he had taken stock and felt confident he could leave an overseer in place, he would return to Scotland. He wanted as little to do with the English as possible. While it might be illegal for his people to be verbal about it, his clan still looked up to him as their laird. His younger brother, Jamie, would stand in his place while he took care of whatever he must do here. Between them, his people would be well.
Ian made a derisive sound, thinking about the suggestion the Englishman had made that some neighboring widow would give him lessons in manners. By the auld gods, he didn't need some auld woman telling him how he should act. A mon measured another mon by the strength of his sword arm and the worth of his word. Always protect children and never hurt a woman, although if she were willing, there was no harm to tupping her thoroughly.
He grinned suddenly. If those two silly lasses who'd giggled their way past him in the hall were any indication, he'd have no more trouble bedding English women than he did Scot ones. Although he was nigh thirty, he'd ne'r had a complaint from a lass, only purrs of pleasure after the act.
He looked up as the door opened and almost gaped. The woman in the doorway was breathtakingly beautiful. Her soft, chestnut hair was burnished with faerie gold and the deep green of her eyes reminded him of the tranquil depths of the forest near his home. Her fair skin was nearly translucent and she looked like a woodland nymph, except that the rounded fullness of her breasts outlined by the well-fitted bodice were very, very real. He felt his groin tighten painfully. Whoever this lass was, he meant to have her.
"Do ye work here, lass?"
One delicate eyebrow went up as she considered him. "In a manner of speaking, I suppose one could say that what I do on a daily basis is work."
A bit long-winded the wench was, but he'd forgive her that. Her voice was as throaty and low as a burn rumbling gently downhill.
"And what do ye do?" he asked with a slow smile.
"One could say that I...run this household."
"Ah. Ye be the housekeeper then." Ian took a step closer and lowered his voice. "I'm the new earl at Cantford, here to see the widow. The auld woman is going to try to teach me English ways."
"Indeed?" The lady walked past him rather stiffly to stand at the window.
"Aye. I dinna ken why. 'Tis nae wise to try to change a mon."
"Indeed?" she said again.
Was that all the lass could say? He hoped she wasn't dim-witted. He liked a woman who could spar with him. In bed and out. But if she were nae bright, she was still beautiful. Standing by the window, the sun highlighted the faerie gold in her hair and accentuated the smooth curve of her cheek and the full lushness of her lips. He hoped that his sporran hid what his wayward tarse was doing. By Dagda, he'd never had such a strong reaction to merely sighting a lass before. And an English one at that.
"Is the widow taking a wee nap? I could come back later."
"There's no need for that." She raised her chin. "I am Jillian Alton, Marchioness of Newburn. I believe you are my pupil."
For a moment he was nonplussed. This was the widow? This young lass? Och, being on English soil had just gotten much better. "I hope ye'll forgive the mistake. The eejit--the idiot--who told me about ye dinna say ye were a bonnie lass." He gave her his most winning smile, the one his older sister always said made her forgive him for all his youthful escapades that she had to cover up for.
Lady Newburn ignored it. "Regardless of my age, Lord Cantford, what is expected by the Prince of Wales is that I prepare you for your new role."
Ian's grin widened. "Ye'll find me a verra apt...pupil. I aim to please ye, Jillian."