The second book in the Skye's Legacy series, 1999
“Is he dead, Mother?" The boy peered closely and curiously at the body slumped in the dark-blue tapestry chair.
The woman held a small looking glass attached to the gilt cord about her waist up to the man's nostrils. The mirror remained clear, not the faintest hint of breath upon it. "He is dead, my son," she replied matter-of-factly. Then, reaching into the bosom of her gown, she drew forth a dagger with a beautifully carved and bejeweled handle. She looked at the weapon a moment, admiring its artistry, regretting it would be lost to them. Handing it to the boy, she commanded, "Put it into his heart as I have shown you."
The boy stared down at the blade in his hands. "I always wanted this dagger," he mused. "Why must it be this dagger, Mother? I shall not be allowed to have it now, shall I? It isn't fair!"
"We have been over this several times, my son," the woman said quietly. "This weapon is known to belong to your older brother. As he and Lord Jeffers have had a very public falling out over Lady Clinton, when this dagger is found in Lord Jeffers's heart, it will be assumed that your brother killed him." She smiled. "You do want to be your father's heir, caro mio, don't you? How much nicer to be his heir than just his second son. There is little satisfaction in being a second son."
"I suppose so," the boy said, and he sighed. "Will they hang Dev for this murder, Mother?"
"If they catch him," the woman replied. "But hopefully they won't. I really don't want your elder brother's death on my conscience. I just want my darling little boy to be his father's heir. It isn't our fault that your father was married, had a son, and was widowed before I wed him."
"But if they don't hang my brother, then how can I be our father's heir? What if Dev proves his innocence?"
"Your brother will have no chance to prove his innocence, dearest," his mother explained patiently. "We have been over this before. Your brother is rash, and he will be convinced to flee England before he can even be arrested. He will never dare to come back, with the threat of execution hanging over him. Now push the dagger into Lord Jeffers's heart, dearest." She lightly touched his hand encouragingly.
The boy did as his mother had bid him, twisting the blade with some pleasure, she noted, not particularly shocked. The woman took the goblet from which her victim had been drinking, splashing the remaining contents into the fireplace, where they hissed briefly, then died away. Using her own handkerchief, she wiped the goblet free of the residue of finely ground glass and hair-the items she had used to kill her prey. Then she poured fresh wine from the decanter into the goblet, and replaced it upon the table opposite a second goblet, which she tipped over to give the appearance of both anger and haste on the part of the victim. "There," she said, well satisfied with her efforts.
Her son was growing fretful. "Can we leave now, Mother?" The boy whined impatiently.
She nodded. Taking his hand, the pair slipped unnoticed from the house that Lord Jeffers had rented when he was in residence in London. His valet, the only servant Lord Jeffers employed, had been given the night off. The woman had made certain, using one of her own serving girls, that he would not return until dawn. Even now, as she and her son mounted their horses-which had been hidden in the alley belonging to their victim's house-and rode quickly back to their own elegant abode, the woman knew her stepson would have been informed already of Lord Jeffers's demise, and encouraged to escape lest he be blamed for the crime.
Of course the young man would argue-he always did-and attempt to reason with the family's majordomo, but poor desperate Rogers would convince him, for he loved the young man whom he had known his entire life as he would a son. Rogers was old now. His weakening mind could easily be confused. The woman had coolly informed him, just before she and her son had left the house that evening, that Lord Jeffers would be found murdered in the morning with the young master's dagger in his heart. If Rogers did not forewarn the young man, he would surely be arrested, convicted, and hung for the crime. After all, was not the quarrel between the two men over that strumpet, Lady Clinton, public knowledge? Lord Jeffers had no other known enemies.
"But, my lady, how could you know such a thing?" the old man had quavered. Then he shuddered when she smiled knowingly at him. He was not so old that he didn't realize she knew because she planned to commit the murder herself. He had always suspected she was a dangerous woman, but as a servant he was helpless to her will. His master was at court with the king. There was no way he could get a message to him in time. Besides, would his lord believe such a tale?
Rogers had always known that her ladyship was jealous of the young master's position. He knew she coveted it for her own son, but he had never imagined she would kill for her child. Still, she was giving the elder son a fair chance to escape with his life, even if he would lose everything else he held dear. She would have the young master's inheritance for her own.
He bowed stiffly. "I will see my lord makes a good escape, your ladyship."
The woman nodded. "I knew that I could count upon you," she said. Then she added, "You have always been a careful man, Rogers. Is it not comforting to at least know he will be safe, and that you will have a comfortable old age?"
"Yes, my lady," he had replied impassively, "I am grateful for your kindness." But when she had gone, he had run up the staircase of the house faster than he had ever imagined he could at his age, delivered the bad news to his young master, and then convinced him, not without great difficulty, to flee for his own safety. Less than a year later, Rogers had died quietly in his sleep. The truth of Lord Jeffers's death went with him.
“Welcome to France, madame," the due de St. Laurent said V T to his mother-in-law as he handed her from her great traveling coach.
"Merci, monseigneur," Catriona Stewart-Hepburn said, curtseying stiffly, her famous leaf-green eyes making contact with the due's but a moment and then peering beyond him anxiously.
James Leslie, the duke of Glenkirk, stepped quickly forward, a smile on his handsome face, his arms open to enfold his mother into his warm embrace.
"Jemmie!" she cried out, her eyes filling with tears even as his arms closed about her, and he kissed her soft cheek. "My bairn!"
Glenkirk laughed, and then he hugged his mother. "Hardly a bairn, madame. Nae at my age." He stepped back, and gazed upon her. " 'Tis good to see you, madame. When we learned that you would be coming, we brought over our entire brood so you could finally meet your grandchildren, some of whom are already half grown."
"And your wife, Jemmie," his mother said. "You have been married more than a decade, and I have never met her."
"Jasmine has been so busy having our bairns that I couldna let her travel. She was nae a lass when I married her after all." He tucked her hand in his arm. "Come, and let us go into the chateau. They are all awaiting you, my wife and family, and my sister, and her children."
"Jean-Claude," Lady Stewart-Hepburn said, turning to her son-in-law, " 'tis really quite good of you to have us all."
"The château is large," the due de St. Laurent replied cordially, "and a few more children makes little difference."
His mother-in-law raised an eyebrow, and then she laughed. James Leslie had three sons of his own, plus two stepdaughters and two stepsons. Seven in all, and it was hardly a trifle especially when added to her daughter and son-in-law's six children. Her youngest child, her daughter, Francesca, had married her dashing French duke fourteen years ago when she was sixteen, and had lived happily with him ever since. Shortly afterward her beloved second husband, Francis Stewart-Hepburn, had grown suddenly ill, and died. But he had lived to see both of his daughters settled. Francesca with her Jean-Claude, and Jean, or Gianna as she was known, the wife of the marchese di San Ridolfi. Their son, Ian, was another matter, and had yet to settle down.
"How is Jeannie?" the duke of Glenkirk asked his mother as they entered the house.
"So Italian that you would never fathom that she was a Scot," his mother answered him.
"And Ian? What mischief is he up to these days?"
"We must speak on Ian," came the terse reply.
They entered a bright salon where the family awaited them.
"Grandmère! Grandmère!" Francesca's children rushed forth to surround her, demanding her attention as they welcomed her.
"Welcome, Mama," the duchesse de St. Laurent said as she kissed her parent. "I thank God that you have come safely to us."
"The trip is long, and it is tedious, Francesca," her mother replied, "but not dangerous." How beautiful she was, Cat thought. She has his wonderful auburn hair, and my eyes. When she smiles, I see him. She acknowledged Francesca's children, the four boys and two little girls, greeting each by name. Then, looking across the salon, Lady Stewart-Hepburn saw that her eldest son had joined a beautiful woman with night-dark hair and spectacular jewelry.
Seeing the direction of her gaze, the duke of Glenkirk led his wife forward. "Madame, my wife, Jasmine Leslie."
Jasmine curtsied gracefully. "Welcome to France, madame. I am pleased that we finally meet."
"As am I," the older woman said, kissing her daughter-in-law on both of her smooth cheeks. Then she stepped back a pace. "You are very beautiful, Jasmine Leslie, and quite different from the wife I chose for Jemmie when he was young."
"I hope I compare favorably, madame," Jasmine answered.
Lady Stewart-Hepburn laughed. "Isabelle was a sweet child, but a moon to your sun, my dear. Now, I want to meet my grandchildren! All of them! I consider your bairns mine, too, as my Jemmie has been father to them longer than their own sires, eh?"
For a brief moment, Jasmine was speechless, and her turquoise eyes grew misty. Then, recovering herself, she beckoned her offspring forward. She was truly touched that Jemmie's mother could be so generous.
"Madame, may I present my eldest child, Lady India Lindley."
The young girl curtsied prettily.
"And my eldest son, Henry Lindley, the marquis of Westleigh. My second daughter, Lady Fortune Lindley. My son, Charles Frederick Stuart, the duke of Lundy."
While the girls curtsied, the young boys bowed.
Lady Stewart-Hepburn acknowledged them graciously, saying to the eleven-and-a-half-year-old duke of Lundy, "We are distantly related, my lord, on your late father's side."
"My grandfather spoke of you once," the young duke replied. "He said you were the most beautiful woman in all of Scotland. I see he did not lie, madame."
His stepgrandmother burst out laughing. "God help us all, my lord, but you are surely a true Stuart!" She wondered what this boy would say if he knew that the now-deceased old man who had been his grandfather had once been an unstoppable satyr who had destroyed her first marriage.
"And these are Jemmie's bairns," Jasmine was continuing. "Our eldest, Patrick, then Adam, and Duncan. We had a little lass, but lost her almost two years ago. She caught measles and died a month after my dearest grandmother. She was named for that lady, and for Janet Leslie. Janet Skye."
"I remember my great-grandmother, Janet," Cat told Jasmine. "We called her Mam. She was a very formidable woman."
"As was my grandmother," Jasmine replied.
"Is it true you were once in a harem?" India Lindley suddenly burst out.
Cat turned to look at the girl. She was easily on the brink of womanhood, and every bit as beautiful as her mother with black hair and the most wonderful golden eyes. "Yes," she answered. "I was in the harem of the sultan's grande vizir."
"Which sultan?" India persisted.
"There is only one sultan," Cat said. "The Ottoman."
"Was it exciting or awful?" India's eyes were alight with unbridled curiosity.
"Both," Cat told her.
"India!" Jasmine was mortified by her daughter's outrageous behavior, but then, India was so damned headstrong, and always had been.
"My mother was raised in a harem," India volunteered.
"Was she?" Now it was Cat's turn to be intrigued.
"My father was the Grande Mughal of India," Jasmine explained. "My mother was English. She is married to the earl of BrocCairn."
"I remember your mother," Cat replied. "Velvet is her name. She stayed with us at Hermitage years ago. You don't really look like her, do you?"
"I have some of her features, but I am mostly a mixture of my maternal grandmother and my father," Jasmine answered.
That would indeed account for the slightly Oriental tilt of Jasmine's unusual turquoise eyes and the faint golden tint of her skin, Lady Stewart-Hepburn thought. She let her gaze wander to the pert India. The girl had skin like milky porcelain and a faint blue sheen to her midnight-colored hair, but where had she gotten those eyes? They were like a cat's. Gold, not amber, and with tiny flecks of black in them. The older woman settled herself into a chair by the fire. France in April was a chilly place. The fuss of her arrival had died about her. Her children and their mates had ensconced themselves about her on a settee, a chair, and a stool. Her grandchildren were amusing themselves.
"How old is India?" she asked.
"She will be seventeen at the end of June," Jasmine said, suspecting what her mother-in-law would next ask. She was not disappointed.
"And she is not married?"
Jasmine shook her head.
"You had best see to it soon then," came the pithy observation. "The wench is ripe for bedding. Close to overripe, and susceptible to trouble, I would wager."
James Leslie laughed at his mother's words. "India has nae yet met a man to attract her attention, Mother. I want my girls to wed for love. I did, and I hae never been happier."
"Mam had me betrothed to your father at four, and we married but moments before your birth when I was barely sixteen," Lady Stewart-Hepburn noted. "Love was not a consideration in making the match, although I came to care for your father."
“But you loved Lord Bothwell unconditionally,'' the duke of Glenkirk reminded his parent. "Besides, yer first marriage took place forty-seven years ago. Times have changed since then, Mother."
"And you would allow your stepdaughter to make an unsuitable match in the name of love?" Cat was surprised to find she was appalled. I am obviously growing old, she thought.
Jasmine interposed herself between her husband and his mother in the conversation. "India will never choose unwisely, madame, for she is most proud, and extremely aware of her heritage. She is the grandchild of a great monarch, and her father's family was an old and very noble one. It pleases her that my stepfather, and her stepfather, both have ties to the royal family. She adored my grandmother, Madame Skye, and was weened upon the tales of her adventures, and her relationship with Great Bess. When the time comes, India will pick the right man."