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Shadowy Highland Romance: Blood of Duncliffe Series (A Medieval Scottish Romance Story) by Ferguson, Emilia (1)

PROLOGUE

Near Paris, France

1743

“The silence of this place will drive me mad.”

“Madame?” Margot – Genevieve's companion – inquired mildly, looking up from where she sewed a petticoat.

“Nothing, Margot,” Genevieve demurred. “It's just the weather. It's affecting my mood.” She looked up at the long window, feeling restless.

“It hasn't stopped raining for three days,” Margot agreed, not looking up.

“Indeed,” Genevieve agreed sadly. She set her own sewing – a hoop of delicate embroidery – aside and stood, heading to the window.

It isn't just the weather. It's the tension in this house.

Usually tranquil and comfortable, Chateau Malpons, her home, was now taut and stifling. Genevieve didn't know what the discomfort was – all she knew was that her father, usually calm, was not himself. He had been restless and quiet for a week now.

It's something to do with his visit to the capital, she decided. She leaned against the windowsill, taking care not to crease the pink brocade of her skirt as she did so, and looked down to the grounds below.

At two and twenty years old, Genevieve knew she was expected to wed soon. The life at the chateau was quiet, and she had few opportunities for meeting matches of which her father, the count of Malpons, would approve. She felt a little bad for having failed him in this way, and hoped his worry wasn't all for her.

Papa spends too much time concerned for my future. I wish he would talk to me.

The friendship between Genevieve and her father was strong, and the silence which had kept him aloof the last three months distressed her. Anything – even a reprimand – would seem better than keeping secrets from her.

“I must know what it is,” she murmured.

“Madame?”

Genevieve turned to face her companion – she'd all but forgotten she was there already. She shook her head, making rich dark curls bounce on her shoulders in disarray.

“Sorry, Margot. I was distracted. I will walk, I think. I am in a dark mood today.”

“Don't stay out long, milady,” Margot replied. “It's still getting dark before six of the clock.”

“I know,” Genevieve whispered, not wanting to feel impatient. She walked across the parquet and headed out into the hallway, taking her coat with her. She had to go outside, escape this tension, before it drove her mad.

In the hallway, she was surprised to find Mathieu, their steward. He bowed.

“Milady. Your father has just concluded his business. He wished to see you.”

“Oh?” Genevieve's heart thumped and she felt her stomach tighten with sudden apprehension. What was it her father wished to tell her?

It is about my marriage. It's something bad about our household's accounts. It's news from Uncle Thibault in Paris – he's ill.

She felt her heart thump hard even as she nodded to the man, maintaining a calm face. “Is he in the parlor?”

“He is, miss,” Mathieu replied.

“I'll see him now, then.” Genevieve felt her feet rush past, carrying her off before she'd so much as heard his “Very good, miss,” behind her.

She neared the parlor, slowing her step. Her father didn't like fuss. Not that he was domineering – not in any way – rather, he was simply so easygoing that any sort of drama perplexed him. It was a trait they usually shared.

Except I have a passion Papa seems to lack.

Genevieve's mother, Lady Claudine, had shared her passionate side: everyone told her so, and the image of Claudine, rosebud lips curved in a playful grin, a cloud of red hair loose round her shoulders, suggested everyone was right. Genevieve wished now that she could have known her more. She had passed away eighteen years ago. There was no wishing that would change the fact that she and Papa must now forge their way alone. She paused at the door of the parlor, just as her father called out to her.

“My daughter? You seem in a hurry.”

“No, Papa,” Genevieve demurred softly. “I was looking for you – Mathieu said you sent for me?”

“I wished to discuss something with you, yes,” her father nodded. A tall man with fine-boned features, Genevieve could see something of him in her oval face. However, she could also see her mother's generous, full-lipped smile, so different to his austere features.

“Yes, Papa?” she asked, walking into the silence. Crystal vases and precious porcelain stood on the mantel, neither as fragile as the mansion's quiet. Genevieve had the sense that her father was so taut with nerves that if she so much sneezed he might shatter. She felt her heart thump. What was this about? She knew he'd been receiving visitors from Paris, and that he'd gone there once or twice of late, but she'd told herself it was some matter of her uncle's and deliberately put it from her mind. Now she wasn't sure. Her father was still silent, as if readying himself. Then, he coughed and began.

“Daughter, I...I have a request to make,” he began softly. “Of you. It pains me to have to do this.”

“No, Papa!” she protested gently, softly touching his shoulder. “You know you can ask anything of me.”

“I don't want to,” her father said concernedly. “But this is of importance to our country, not just to me. So – can I ask you – will you go to Scotland?”

Genevieve stared at him. Scotland. The home of her mother's ancestors. A wild country by all accounts, bristling with fierce, barbaric sorts and tense with unrest, especially now.

“Papa?” she whispered, disbelieving.

He was turning away from her, leaning on the windowsill. His fingers were white-knuckled where they rested on the marble. “I do not wish to ask this of you, my daughter. Please believe that I have no other choice,” he whispered.

“Papa, I believe you,” Genevieve said. Her heart had started to thump with a feeling that was not remotely apprehension: It was wonder. “But...Scotland?” she repeated, still awestruck by the fact.

“I know. I'd as soon send you to the end of the Earth as into such growing unrest,” her father whispered. When he turned to face her, his big gray eyes were stark with sorrow. “But I am needed here, and there is no one else I trust. Would you?”

Genevieve swallowed down the rising excitement. Scotland! Wild land of her distant ancestors! Mysterious and unquiet, it called to her soul, reaching out to the restlessness inside her.

“Yes, Papa,” she agreed. “I will.”