‘He seems happy enough…settling in and immersing— himself in the job that has to be done.’ The edges of her mouth lifting in a tentative smile, Georgia laid her hands one on top of the other in her lap, as if considering her words very carefully.
Sensing that his cutting remark had made her nervous, Keir told himself he should have been more guarded. Usually he was. After all, shielding his true feelings from others had become second nature to him since childhood.
‘It was very good of you to recommend him to your friends in the Highlands,’ Georgia continued. ‘He’s grown to love Scotland, and I know he would have found it a wrench to leave. Also, I don’t think I thanked you for offering me this job of filling in for your own secretary. It’s good to get out of London for a while. How is she, by the way? Your secretary, I mean?’
‘Recovering slowly. It was a bad break, unfortunately,— with some complications. She may have to have another operation to put it right.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘That’s why I needed someone who could step in and competently take over where Valerie left off. I’ve only been back at Glenteign for nine months myself, and what with organising the work on the gardens and getting them up to scratch again after the death of my brother…Well, there’s a lot of work involved in running an estate like this and it doesn’t get done by itself. Come and sit down, Moira…Is Lucy bringing the soup?’
‘She’ll be along directly.’
Georgia felt relief that the other woman had reappeared. Even though she’d been shocked and sym pathetic— to hear that Keir had so recently lost his brother, and she longed to learn more, she was also wary of saying the wrong thing again. Hunger was also gnawing at her. Fast food at a motorway service station was no substitute for good home-cooked food, and that was a fact! She was honestly looking forward to her meal.
Sitting opposite Georgia at the beautifully laid table, Moira let her friendly brown eyes focus kindly on her.
‘I just wanted to tell you, lassie, that Hamish has had the food you left for him, and is now curled up by the range in the kitchen. He was looking quite content when I left him, so there’s no need for you to worry. I’m sure he’s going to settle in just fine!’
‘Thank you. It was very good of you to see to him like that. I’m sure he’s loving every bit of all the extra attention he’s been receiving!’
‘He’s a wee lamb, that’s what he is! It’s lovely for us to have a dog about the place again…isn’t it, Chief Strachan?’
‘If you say so…’ Refusing to be drawn, Keir glanced impatiently at the doorway just as the soup arrived, carried on a large solid silver tray by a very pretty auburn-haired girl who couldn’t have been much older than seventeen.
When she would have served Keir first at the head of the table—as no doubt she usually did—surprisingly— he directed her down to Georgia instead.
A brief smile touched the corners of a mouth that seemed somehow reluctant to utilise that gesture too often, and his gaze was wry. ‘No doubt you’re only too ready for your meal after your long drive, Georgia, and we won’t keep you waiting any longer to fulfil your great need!’
Although pleased by his apparent thoughtfulness, Georgia was slightly embarrassed too. Perhaps he’d seen her relieved glance at the bowls of steaming soup on the tray Lucy carried and secretly thought it unseemly somehow that a woman should so unwittingly— display her hunger? She was inhabiting a whole new world of manners and formality that she wasn’t used to, and she would probably have to learn to be a little less impulsive and less apt to reveal her feelings.
‘Well, it smells absolutely delicious! Carrot and coriander, if I’m not mistaken?’
‘That’s right lassie. So…do you like to cook yourself?’ Moira asked politely.
Daring a swift glance at Keir from beneath her curling chestnut lashes, Georgia picked up her spoon, waiting for both he and Moira to do the same before she started eating. ‘I’ve always tried to prepare fresh food for me and Noah when he’s at home, and, yes, I do enjoy a bit of cooking…But it’s not always possible when we’re both busy working and invariably get in quite late. I usually try and do something nice at the weekends, though…like a roast on a Sunday, with a home cooked pudding to follow. Apple crumble is Noah’s favourite.’
‘There’s not many young women of your age who know a lot about cooking in my experience,’ Keir commented thoughtfully. ‘Apart from your brother, do— you often cook for other people?’
In the flickering candlelight, his blue eyes glowed like the glint of fireflies, and for a moment Georgia felt as if they were the only two people in the room. ‘No, not really. Like I said…’ Her cheeks throbbed and burned beneath his unflinching cynosure. ‘I’m usually busy working…both outside and in the home.’
‘Are you telling me that you don’t have a social life?’
Where was this leading? Georgia wondered, a sense of panic flowing through her bloodstream. All she wanted to do was enjoy her soup and assuage her hunger—not answer too awkward questions that made her feel vaguely as if she was being interrogated.
‘I see my friends, and we do the usual things—like— going to the cinema or eating out…So, yes—I do have a social life.’
The fact that she hadn’t done any of the above for quite some time now, because she’d been too busy working hard, worrying about finances and fretting about Noah’s welfare, was Georgia’s private business and not the kind of thing she would remotely want to discuss with people she’d just met…however curious.
Keir saw the slightly agitated rise and fall of her chest in the unremarkable pink dress and didn’t know why he was suddenly fishing for details about her private life. He was only aware of a disturbing tension deep inside him whenever his glance happened to settle on her beautiful face, which it seemed to be doing at a rather compelling rate. He should have quizzed Noah more about his sister. He should have somehow learned that she had the ability to mesmerise— with her eyes, her smile, her voice…he should have learned that she blushed easily when discomfited— or embarrassed, and that her smooth, silky skin glowed like satin in the flickering candlelight…If Keir had known these things before he’d gone ahead and hired her—then he might never have agreed to her coming to Glenteign at all. Georgia Cameron was too much of a disturbing distraction. Especially when there was so much that had to be done.
As much as he didn’t want to be back in the family home, now that Robbie was gone he had a responsibility— to carry on in his stead. Besides that, there was also the livelihood of the staff to think of, as well as the local people in the surrounding villages who had lived and worked on this land since time immemorial— and had certain expectations of their Laird.
Glenteign had been in Keir’s family for generations,— and now there was no one left but him—and a distant ailing uncle in Cape Town, who was hardly interested or even desirous of coming back to Scotland after spending the majority of his life tending vineyards in South Africa. Keir had to be focused and committed to the task in hand if he was going to win the respect of people who looked up to him, and he needed to inspire the help and support that was necessary to help him do that. No…it wouldn’t help his case one bit to become too friendly with the bewitching Ms Cameron…
‘Let’s eat, shall we? Or the soup will get cold.’
Directing a final rueful glance Georgia’s way, Keir deliberately diverted his attention to his meal…
Rising early the next morning, Georgia pushed the memory of last night’s slightly strained atmosphere at dinner determinedly out of her head. Today was a new day, she told herself, and she and her new boss needed time to get to know each other’s ways before they both relaxed their guards a little around each other and felt more comfortable.
Although she didn’t think it was likely that someone with the responsibility of such a large country estate and the weight all that must place on his shoulders would ever really relax their guard around anyone.
Nevertheless, Georgia was even more determined this morning to make things work. She’d been given a great opportunity to get out of London for a while and live in the countryside, which had always been a longed-for dream, as well as earning the best salary she’d made in ages, and she wasn’t going to waste even a second filling her head with self-doubt about whether she’d done the right thing or not.
Allowing her lips to curve with pleasure at the thought of being able to explore her new surroundings— at her leisure on her day off, she hurriedly washed and dressed. Throwing on jeans, trainers and an old sweatshirt of Noah’s that she had commandeered— a long time ago, she headed off to the kitchen to collect Hamish for his walk.
The rest of the house was as silent as a church as she carefully undid the sturdy locks on the front door and stepped outside. It was a rare morning, as her dad would have said, and a fine mist clung like a draped silken cobweb over the mountain peaks that edged above the tall firs in the distance. For a disturbing moment Georgia knew a pang of longing so great that she stood stock still, with Hamish gazing expectantly up at her, her hazel eyes awash with tears.