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“God, if you were reading up on Seb’s foibles, I’m surprised you came here at all.”
But Monters is watching me with this unreadable expression. All the guys here are handsome, but this guy is particularly . . . interesting. All handsome face and good posture, his eyes a really pretty shade of green. Sherbet may be the marquess, but this guy seems more aristocratic than any of them.
Or maybe he’s just stuck up.
“Wasn’t aware tabloids counted as ‘research,’” Miles says, folding his arms over his chest, and okay, yeah, definitely stuck up.
I cross my own arms, mimicking his pose. “They’re actually all we’re given to read in America,” I say. “Tabloids for books, sad slices of cheese in plastic for lunch . . . It’s truly a godforsaken place.”
Gilly hoots at that, elbowing Miles in the ribs. “Blimey, she’s got your number, mate.”
Miles only gives me this look somewhere between a smirk and a grimace, and I’m tempted to ask what his problem is.
But before I can, Seb strides to the middle of the room, lifting a glass of champagne. “A toast!” he calls, and Sherbet approaches carrying several flutes of bubbly. I take a glass and thank him.
Ellie comes to stand right next to me, while Alex hangs back, still watching his brother with this wary expression, his head tilted down slightly.
“To Alex and Ellie,” Seb says, and the rest of us lift our glasses with him.
“To Alex and Ellie,” we repeat, and I take the tiniest sip of champagne. The bubbles tickle my nose, and I wrinkle it as I look for somewhere inconspicuous to stash the glass.
I’ve just turned toward a little table near the sofa when the front door opens with a crash.
“What in the hell is going on here?”
Or at least I think that’s what the man in the doorway says. His face is red, white hair jutting out from underneath a cap and a matching white beard reaching nearly to his sternum, and his accent is so thick that the words are mostly a series of rolls and grunts and a kind of spitting sound.
Still, there’s no mistaking the fact that he’s really pissed.
In the middle of the room, Seb just grins and wags a finger. “McDougal,” he says, his own Scottish accent musical but comprehensible. “You weren’t supposed to be here today.”
“What?” Ellie asks, looking between Seb and the man, and Alex steps forward, his shoulders tight. “Sebastian—” he starts.
The man—McDougal—is still talking, the words coming fast and furious, his cheeks scarlet above his white beard, and there’s a lot of pointing and possibly cursing, and while I have no idea what’s being said, it doesn’t seem all that friendly.
“Calm down, mate,” Stephen—Spiffy—says, throwing back his champagne. “It’s not like he’s not gonna pay for the place.”
Ellie’s head swings to the side to look at Seb. “Wait, what? I thought you said you bought this house.”
Sighing, Seb shoves his hands in his pockets and rocks back on his heels. “Well, I’m certainly going to,” he says. “If this gentleman will just be reasonable.”
“Um . . . are we . . . trespassing? Is that what’s happening right now?” I ask, glancing around the farmhouse.
Seb shoots a look at me and gives me an easy smile. “Of course not, love,” he says, and even though I might be an unwitting accomplice to a crime, I still feel my stomach flutter at that endearment.
“Ye damn sure are!” the man bellows, and okay, maybe I’m actually getting better at the accent because I understood him perfectly.
Sebastian is still all charm as he approaches McDougal, who is now incandescent with rage. I’m not sure how this went from “super-charming welcome party” to “property theft” in just a few minutes, but here we are, and I look up at that rude guy, Miles.
He’s still standing by the window, champagne undrunk, his expression somewhere between irritated and bored. Or maybe his face just always looks like that, hard to say.
“If you had accepted my offer last week, we wouldn’t be in this mess,” Seb says to Mr. McDougal. Then he turns to look over his shoulder at Ellie and Alex.
“I found this place last time I went to Sherbourne, and the view was too good to pass up. But Mr. McDougal here wouldn’t sell, so . . .” He shrugs, and I glance over at Ellie, my eyebrows somewhere in my hairline, probably.
“Holy crap,” I say in a low voice, but she just hisses, “Not now, Daisy.”
“I’m not selling my house to ye, ye smug bastard,” McDougal says, poking Seb in the chest, “just because ye like the look a’tha land. Ye canna steal things just because ye take a fancy to ’em!”
“It’s like we’re in Outlander,” I whisper to El. “This is really a lot more than I bargained for.”
“Daisy!” El says again, giving me a glare before walking forward with her best princess smile, Alex coming to stand next to her.
“Mr. McDougal, we are terribly sorry for this misunderstanding,” she says, her voice so soothing it’s like an auditory head pat. “You do have a lovely home, and—”
“This is breaking and entering!” Mr. McDougal continues, and Seb sighs, rolling his shoulders.
“I did not break, although I did enter.”
“And who let ye in?” Mr. McDougal is practically panting now, his barrel chest heaving, and I glance over my shoulder to see Spiffy and Dons edging close to the wall, choking back giggles. What are they—
“Bloody hell,” Miles mutters next to me, and I look up to see he’s watching Spiffy and Dons, too.
My eyes land on the crossed swords affixed to the wall just as Seb grins at Mr. McDougal and drawls, “Lovely lass who lives here gave me a key.” Making an exaggeratedly innocent expression, he adds, “I believe she said she was your granddaughter?”
If I’d thought that Mr. McDougal seemed rage-y before, it’s nothing to how he looks now. Face purple, he gives this huge shout and lunges for Seb just as Spiffy and Dons pull the swords from the wall, metal scraping along stone as the points of the swords drag on the floor.
“Duel!” Spiffy shouts, and for the first time, I realize just how drunk he and his brother are. Like, crazy drunk.
And now they’re armed with swords that look like they were last used about three hundred years ago.
“Stephen!” Alex says, stepping forward to snatch the sword away from him, but before he can, Dons rushes forward with his own sword.
Straight at the farmer and Seb.
Chapter 9
Some good things that happened this afternoon:
1) Mr. McDougal did not press charges and accepted both Alex’s sincere apologies and his offer to meet the queen upon her return from Canada.
2) We managed to get to Sherbourne Castle just as a huge rainstorm swept in, literally walking up the front steps as the bottom seemed to fall out of the sky, drenching everything.
3) No one actually got stabbed. Dons had been trying to toss the sword to Seb in some sort of cool maneuver, but it ended up just clattering to the floor before it could do any damage.
4) . . .
No, that’s it. Those were the good things that happened today, and the rest was a complete disaster.
The castle, however, is gorgeous. Well, parts of it are. The entire back end of it appears to be a ruin, but the main building is exactly what I would’ve dreamed of as a kid had I been into the whole princess-and-castle thing. There’s even a turret with a flag flapping in the wind, and it’s easy to imagine standing there, watching, like, Braveheart come riding in from battle, all blue-faced and yelling about freedom.