On her feet again, she crossed her arms in front of her chest and nodded towards the glimpse of white bandage beneath his sleeve. ‘What about your dressing? I really think I should change it for you.’
‘It can wait until later.’
‘I only want you to be more comfortable.’
‘I’m fine. Like I said…we have a lot to do, and the work won’t get done by itself.’
Pursing her lips, Georgia turned regretfully away. ‘Okay…But nobody can say I didn’t try…’
The last thing she had expected was an invitation—though— it was more akin to a command—to join Keir at the dinner party on Saturday evening.
For the past couple of days he had been kind enough towards her, but there had been no more incidents like the one when he’d spontaneously pulled her onto his lap and kissed her, and—more pertinently—no— late-night visits to her bedroom.
Georgia knew she wasn’t imagining the distance he seemed to be deliberately putting between them. Telling herself that he must badly regret making love to her, she barely knew how she kept herself sane—but— reverting to her usual saviour of hard work helped. And when she wasn’t working alongside Keir in his study she helped Moira and the other staff in the kitchen, or ran errands for the household into Lochheel or Dundee.
She’d begun to understand that this dinner party was to be a bit of a ‘statement’ for the new Laird. Not only had he returned to Glenteign when he’d always vowed he wouldn’t, but he’d also acted like a new broom—first getting the administrative side of the household up to scratch and inspiring new confidence— in his staff, and secondly organising the bold new designs for the formal gardens.
Moira had told Georgia that the house had never looked as beautiful, and the younger woman believed her. Everywhere she looked polished surfaces gleamed, carpets and floors had been swept and vacuumed to within an inch of their lives, picture frames had been dusted, artefacts and ornaments fairly sparkled with the loving devotion they’d received, and the dining room and drawing room of a duke or a king could not have looked as decoratively elegant, she was convinced.
Georgia felt a bit like Cinderella learning that she was going to the ball. Now she’d realised how important— this event was to Keir in terms of his reputation— and standing in the community, she decided she couldn’t let him down by borrowing the same dress she’d worn to the classical concert shortly after she’d arrived. So she went into Dundee early on Saturday afternoon and, after a frustrating two hours of not finding anything she particularly liked or could afford, found the most exquisite black cocktail dress in a small retro boutique down a cobblestoned sidestreet. She was delighted when it fitted as though it had been made for her.
When the time finally came for her to wear it, Georgia had spent a good half an hour beforehand in a scented bath, and had washed her dark chestnut hair until the little lights deep in the colour gleamed like tints of burnished copper. She took great care with her make-up too, and when there was nothing else to do other than drape her burgundy pashmina round her shoulders and take a final morale-boosting glance in the wardrobe mirror she left her bedroom to head down the long silent corridor to the staircase.
Keir was in the huge chequered hallway, greeting his guests as they arrived back at the house after being shown round the gardens by the head gardener Brian. There was a smartly attired member of his staff waiting beside him with glasses of champagne ready to place into their hands after Moira Guthrie had taken any unwanted coats and jackets to the downstairs— cloakroom.
As if he’d been intimately attuned to the very moment she would appear at the top of the grand winding staircase Keir glanced round to see Georgia standing there. Everything inside him rejoiced at the sight of her. He had always considered her beautiful,— but tonight in his opinion her loveliness excelled that of Venus herself. As he observed her one side of the Pashmina shawl slipped a little down one shoulder, and the smooth radiance of her perfect skin was inadvertently revealed in a black strapless dress—including the soft, sensual swell of her breasts. He hardly knew how he took his next breath he was so transfixed.
‘Come and join us,’ he invited, over an almost tinder-dry throat.
His gaze tracked every tread as she descended the staircase. When she reached his side, his blue eyes devoured her as though he would swallow her whole.
‘You look stunning,’ he told her, uncaring that the mingled guests drinking their champagne overheard him. Turning, he lifted a fluted glass full of the fizzing, sparkling wine from the waiting tray and placed it into her hands. ‘Let me introduce you to my guests.’ He smiled.
Georgia told herself she must be dreaming. But even amidst the spellbinding grandeur of the gleaming hallway, the champagne, and the interested glances of the other smartly dressed assembled guests, it— was the man who stood beside her that held her attention— above all else. His riveting features and commanding— physique were captivating enough without the benefit of being dressed in the most exquisitely tailored tuxedo, so that he resembled the elegant hero of a bygone old-fashioned movie…Georgia’s heart throbbed so hard she thought she might faint.
But Keir was leading her up to one person after another, and her dazzled brain was barely able to recall their names as they were introduced to her even in the very next second after they’d been voiced—because she was so enthralled by the man at her side…
‘You’ll be seated next to me,’ he whispered in her ear, just after he’d suggested they all go in to dinner. And, with his hand thrillingly at her back, so that she felt the heat from his palm burning her through her clothes, Georgia just about managed to smile and nod her agreement.
CURIOUSLY, KEIR HAD not elaborated upon who she was to his guests, other than to say, ‘Georgia.’ And as the lavish dinner progressed, and the wine and the champagne flowed, she sensed the interest in her presence at his side gain momentum.
Finally, the elderly Colonel sitting to Keir’s left, where— he sat at the head of the table, leaned across and announced rather pompously over his wine saturated— breath, ‘You’ve done well for yourself, catching— the eye of our young Laird, what? All seems a bit of a mystery, though, if you don’t mind my saying. Where are you from? Who are your people? Do we know them?’
Everything inside Georgia froze. She knew that everyone at the table must have heard what the man had said, because suddenly other conversations around her seemed to die as abruptly as though a conductor had tapped his baton and ordered a silent pause. As she slowly let out her breath and the blood started to throb hotly again in her veins, she glanced across at the slightly piggy eyes examining her so relentlessly,— as though she were some daring unwanted usurper at this dinner party. With all her dignity she said quietly, ‘There’s no mystery. I’m actually working for Keir—Laird Strachan. I’m from London, and my “people” are mostly gone, I’m afraid—but even if they were still living I doubt if you and they would have moved in the same circles.’
A hand slid over hers and gripped it tight. She almost jumped out of her skin until she realised it was Keir. He was looking directly at her inquisitor, and in the flickering candlelight there was something about the set of his jaw that told Georgia he was furious, even though his expression was outwardly benign.
‘Colonel…I think your opinions are a little on the presumptuous side…if you don’t mind my saying. Georgia is my guest this evening and I would have you respect both her feelings and mine by not interrogating her as though she were some kind of miscreant. As for your enquiry about her family—I can tell you personally that Georgia can claim parentage— of the very highest caliber. I hope that satisfies.’ —
‘Of course…Meant no offence. Do forgive.’ Blustering, his cheeks momentarily as pink as the rare beef that the Dean of the Cathedral had just been served, the Colonel took hurried refuge in his generous glass of claret and the conversations around the table began to hum again, as though somebody had switched a radio back on.
Under cover of the other talk, Georgia turned her anxious gaze immediately to Keir.
‘Perhaps I’d better go? My presence might be making it awkward for you and I know how important— this dinner is for your reputation.’
‘Don’t run away.’
‘I’m not! I’m just—’
‘To hell with my reputation! If I can bear this, you can too.’ He drew her hand onto his firm thigh, encased— in its fine tailoring, and his heat instantly transferred itself to her body. It made her yearn to be alone with him, instead of having to endure this endless tension filled dinner with people she didn’t like, and who were clearly judging her behind their falsely bright smiles. He was right…she did want to run away.
Her admiration for Keir increased tenfold, because— he could endure such an ordeal and not show even by the merest glimmer of an impatient look or turn of phrase that he’d far rather be doing something else than wining and dining the local ‘great and the good,’ as he’d put it.