Only in one area was his judgment clouded, in Duncan's opinion, and that was when it came to the matter of his English grandfather. The mere mention of the Duke of Stanhope made Ian furious, and while Duncan wanted to discuss the ancient topic once again, he was hesitant to broach the sore subject. Despite the deep affection and respect Ian had for Duncan, Duncan knew his nephew had an almost frightening ability to turn his back irrevocably on anyone who went too far or anything that hurt him too deeply.
A memory of the day Ian returned home at the age of nineteen from his first voyage made the vicar frown with remembered helplessness and pain. Ian's parents and sister, in an excess of eagerness to see him, had journeyed to Hernloch to meet his ship, thinking to surprise him.
Two nights before Ian's ship put into port, the little inn where the happy family had slept burned to the ground, and all three of them had died in the fire. Ian had ridden past the charred rubble on his way here, never knowing that the place he passed was his family's funeral pyre.
He'd arrived at the cottage, where Duncan was waiting to break the wrenching news to him. "Where is everyone?" he demanded, grinning and slinging his duffel to the floor, walking swiftly around the cottage, looking into its empty rooms. Ian's Labrador had been the only one to greet him, racing into the cottage, barking ecstatically, skidding to a stop at Ian's booted feet. Shadow-who'd been named not for her black color, but for her utter devotion to her master, whom she'd worshipped from puppyhood-had been delirious with joy at his return. "I missed you, too, girl," Ian had said, crouching down and ruffling her sleek black fur. "I brought you a present," he'd told her, and she'd instantly stopped rubbing against him and cocked her head to the side, listening and waiting, her intelligent eyes riveted on his face. It had always been that way between them, that odd, almost uncanny communication between the human and the intelligent dog that worshipped him.
"Ian," the vicar had said somberly, and as if he heard the anguish in the single word, Ian's hand had stilled. He'd straightened slowly and turned, his dog coming to heel beside him, looking at Duncan with the same sudden tension that was in her master's face.
As gently as he could, Duncan broke the news to Ian of his family's death, and despite the fact that Duncan was well-schooled in soothing the bereaved, he'd never before encountered the sort of pent-up, rigidly controlled grief that Ian displayed, and he was at a loss how to deal with it. Ian had not wept or raged; his whole face and body had gone stiff, bracing against unbearable anguish, rejecting it because he sensed it could destroy him. That night, when Duncan finally left, Ian had been standing at the window, staring out into the darkness, his dog beside him. "Take her with you to the village and give her to someone," he'd said to Duncan in a voice as final as death.
Confused, Duncan had halted with his hand on the door handle. "Take who with me?"
"The dog." "But you said you intended to stay here for at least a half year to get things in order."
"Take her with you;' Ian had clipped out. In that moment Duncan had understood what Ian was doing, and he'd feared it. "Ian, for the love of God, that dog worships you. Besides, she'll be company for you up here."
"Give her to the MacMurtys in Calgorin," Ian snapped, and Duncan had reluctantly taken the unwilling dog with him. It had, in fact, taken a rope about the Labrador's neck to make her leave him.
The following week the intrepid Shadow had found her way across the county and reappeared at the cottage.
Duncan had been there and had felt a lump of emotion in his throat when Ian resolutely refused to acknowledge the bewildered dog's presence. The next day Ian himself had taken her back to Calgorin with Duncan. After Ian dined with the family, Shadow waited while Ian mounted his horse in the front yard, but when she'd started to follow him Ian had turned and harshly commanded her to stay.
Shadow had stayed because Shadow had never disobeyed a command of Ian's.
Duncan had remained for several hours, and when he left, Shadow was still sitting in the yard, her eyes riveted on the bend in the road, her head tipped to the side, waiting, as if she refused to believe Ian actually meant to leave her there.
But Ian had never returned for her. It was the first time that Duncan had realized Ian's mind was so powerful that it could completely override all his emotions when he wished. With calm logic Ian had irrevocably decided to separate himself from anything whose loss could cause him further anguish. Pictures of his parents and his sister had been carefully packed away, along with their belongings, into trunks, until all that remained of them was the cottage. And his memories.
Shortly after their death a letter from Ian's grandfather, the Duke of Stanhope, had arrived. Two decades after disowning his son for marrying Ian's mother, the Duke had written to him asking to make amends; his letter arrived three days after the fire. Ian had read it and thrown it away, as he had done with the dozens of letters that followed it during the last eleven years, all addressed to him. When wronged Ian was as unyielding, as unforgiving as the jagged hills and harsh moors that had spawned him.
He was also the most stubborn human being Duncan had ever known. As a boy Ian's calm confidence, his brilliant mind, and his intractability had all combined to give his parents pause. As Ian's father had once jokingly remarked of their gifted son, "Ian permits us to raise him because he loves us, not because he thinks we're smarter than he is. He already knows we aren't, but he doesn't want to wound our sensibilities by saying so."
Given all that, and considering Ian's ability to coldly turn away from anyone who had wronged him, Duncan had little
hope of softening Ian's attitude toward his grandfather now-not when he couldn't appeal to either Ian's intellect or his affection in the matter. Not when the Duke of Stanhope meant far less to Ian than his Labrador had.
Lost in his own reflections, Duncan stared moodily into the fire, while across from him Ian laid aside his papers and watched him in speculative silence. Finally he said, "Since my cooking was no worse than usual, I assume there's another reason for that ferocious scowl of yours."
Duncan nodded, and with a considerable amount of foreboding he stood up and walked over to the fire, mentally phrasing his opening arguments. "Ian, your grandfather has written to me," the vicar began, watching Ian's pleasant smile vanish and his face harden into chiseled stone. "He has asked me to intercede on his behalf and to urge you to reconsider meeting with him."
"You're wasting your time," Ian said, his voice steely. "He's your family," Duncan tried again.