Snowy Night with a Highlander

Snowy Night with a Highlander by Julia London Read Free Book Online

Book: Snowy Night with a Highlander by Julia London Read Free Book Online
Authors: Julia London
anything he’d ever felt in his life, and had run back into the burning wing.
    Cold, hard fear was a sobering agent; he clearly remembered yanking his shirttail from his trousers and holding the tail over his mouth and nose. He remembered how intense the heat was from the blaze in the salon—the furniture, the draperies, the carpet, all in flames. He pushed past the brave souls who were trying desperately to beat the fire into submission, ignored their cries to come back, and entered the room.
    The smoke was so intense that he’d dropped to his knees. But still Duncan had crawled, searching for his friend, desperate to find him.
    He never found Devon. A moment after he entered the room, a piece of drapery and its apparatus had come tumbling down in a fiery blaze. His shoulder and arm and a sliver of his face were badly burned. His servants had pulled him out of the fire and rolled him on the carpet to extinguish the fire on his body. Duncan remembered only that; the rest of it, including the rapidity with which the fire spread, destroying the western wing of what had been a grand estate, he did not recall.
    The charred remains still stood—Duncan had not yet found the will or energy to repair it. The shell stood as a silent but constant reminder of all that he’d lost.
    Devon’s remains were found a few days later—or rather, the soles of his boots and a gold ring were foundin the salon. He’d fallen so far into his cups he’d passed into oblivion, and his absence had gone unnoticed by his equally inebriated friends.
    The cause of the fire was never discovered, but no one needed to suggest it was a drunken mishap that had sparked it. Most around Blackwood blamed Duncan and his libertine ways for it. So did Duncan.
    He spent weeks in a painful fog, and it was months before he could manage the physical pain. He suspected it would be years before he could manage the emotional pain of it. To make matters worse, people who had once flocked to him were repulsed by his burns and disgusted by the unnecessary death of his friend. Duncan had gone from king of Highland society to pariah.
    Yet he could scarcely complain—after all, his life had been rather shallow before the fire. He’d lived from one moment to the next without regard for anyone but himself.
    And while he still dreamed of himself as a whole man, with a functioning arm and an unmarked face, he nonetheless felt himself a profoundly changed man. He kept to himself these days, using Cameron as a front man to do his business so that he did not repulse anyone with his unsightly appearance. He did not enjoy the genteel company of women as he once had, but then again, he had come to regret his cavalier treatment of them and everyone else in his life when he’d had a life to speak of.
    He regretted so many things.
    Duncan shifted beneath the coats and rugs and closed his eyes, methodically stretching the fingers of his scarred hand as far as he could, then closing them again, over and over as he did every night, hoping that somehow some use would come back to the gnarled fingers.

Chapter Five

    F iona was awakened by the smell of cooked ham. Mrs. Dillingham was at the long table in the kitchen cutting thick slices of bread when Fiona came down from her attic bedroom. At her elbow was a pail.
    “Good morrow, milady!” she said cheerfully, “I hope you slept with the angels.”
    “I did. Thank you.”
    “ ’Twas me pleasure, it was. Eat, eat!” she exclaimed, gesturing to the feast that graced the table. “I’ve made your breakfast.”
    Grateful, Fiona sat. As she ate, Mrs. Dillingham stood at the table and put the slices of bread, ham, and other items wrapped in paper into a pail. When she’d filled it with what seemed like enough food to feed an army, she picked up a handful of straw and began to stuff that in the pail, too.
    “You must hurry on, then, for your man is anxious to be on his way,” Mrs. Dillingham said. “He says he feels snow coming, and

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