Noah had told her how fond he’d grown of Keir’s housekeeper, Moira Guthrie, while he’d worked there, and if the woman was as friendly as he had described— then perhaps she needn’t be as daunted as she was feeling at present at the idea of living in such a grand, impressive residence. Not to mention acting as secretary to a man who appeared to welcome gestures of friendliness with about as much enthusiasm— as finding a viper in his bed!
Unlike her bedroom, the dining room had plenty of masculine touches in evidence—from the array of shining swords placed strategically round the walls to the several portraits of presumably past lairds who overlooked the proceedings with a definitely superior— air. Breathtakingly impressive, the room was decorated in true baronial splendour. In fact, as she’d followed the very amiable Moira Guthrie inside, Georgia had half expected a fanfare to sound.
She bit down on her lip to suppress a smile. Under its high-raftered ceilings and candle sconces on the walls, and seated at the long refectory table with its burnished silverware and elegant cream dinner service, it was easy to imagine herself transported to a much more elegant and mannered era. All this finery was a far cry from Georgia and Noah’s ridiculously small dining room at home, with its wellused pine table bought at a local second-hand store, and— the four matching chairs that were in urgent need of refurbishment…
Glancing briefly down at her simple pink cotton dress, worn with the heart-shaped rose quartz pendant that her mother had left her, Georgia couldn’t help musing that her employer might expect much more elegant attire in her dressing for dinner in his imposing house. Oh, well…Noah hadn’t seemed to worry about such things, and nor should she. Neither of them had ever been able to afford elegant clothes even if they’d desired them. Most of the time they had been too busy just trying to survive.
Bereft of both parents since Noah was fourteen, Georgia, just five years his senior, had taken over her brother’s care from that too young age, and worrying about finances had dominated her life for more years than she cared to remember. Even to the point of sacrificing— any opportunity for a loving relationship, according— to her concerned friends. But there was no real sacrifice in Georgia’s mind. She would do it all again tomorrow if she had to. Still, she couldn’t deny that the valuable commission to help work on the gardens at Glenteign had literally arrived in the nick of time.
Georgia had sunk every spare penny she’d had after paying the bills and running their home into Noah’s fledgling gardening business. With her blessing, he was intending to reinvest as much of the cash he’d received from that commission into making the business even more viable…In a couple of years’ time maybe they would both be able to relax a little where money was concerned, instead of working practically every hour God sent.
‘Don’t worry, my dear…we won’t be so formal every night,’ Moira assured Georgia, having seen the doubt flicker across her face. ‘We do like to do things properly at the weekends, but during the week we’re very informal. There’s a smaller dining room, just down the hall from the kitchen, and we usually eat in there. Now, if you’ll excuse me for a second, I’m just off to see where Chief Strachan is. I expect he’s busy finishing off some work and has forgotten the time. God knows the poor man’s been up to his eyes in it since he came back here! And what with poor Valerie breaking her leg, you haven’t arrived a moment too soon, lassie, and that’s a fact!’
Georgia breathed a sigh of relief when the other woman exited the room. She couldn’t deny she welcomed a few moments by herself, to reflect on where she’d landed. Considering the job in hand, there— was no doubt in her mind about her secretarial abilities passing muster—but, having finally met her new boss, she did have some concerns as to whether they would get along. Lord knew, it could be frankly exhausting working for someone without a sense of humour, and quite honestly Georgia had been hoping for a breakthrough in that department. People in London these days seemed so uptight, with most of them consumed by long working hours and making career goals their God, that it made working as a temporary— secretary for such driven individuals sometimes— frankly hellish.
Sighing, she got up from her chair to examine the paintings that bedecked the walls. Turning up her nose at the stern male portraits to rest her gaze instead on the more genial scenes of pastoral serenity that were so invitingly displayed alongside them, she— felt a little of the anxiety she was holding in her body ease from her shoulders.
‘My apologies for keeping you waiting.’
She turned at the sound of that richly attractive and commanding voice, her gaze diverted by the sight of Keir walking straight to the head of the table in a brisk manner, straightening the cuffs on his open-necked white shirt, as though about to head up a board meeting instead of sitting down to dinner. Surprisingly, he was wearing denim jeans, and the faint aura of some classic male cologne lingered in the air as he moved.
Catching the briefly intense flare of the searching azure glance that immediately came her way, Georgia felt her stomach react as if she’d just plum meted several thousand feet without a parachute. Noah should have warned her that the Laird was so…so compelling! But perhaps it was understandable— that younger brothers left out such important details when describing another man to their sisters!
Feeling ridiculously annoyed that she should be so thrown off-centre by her employer’s good-looks, when— she wasn’t remotely an easily impressed girl at all, Georgia lightly shrugged her shoulders.
‘Not at all. I was just enjoying looking at your beautiful paintings. The portraits are a little too severe for my taste, if you don’t mind my saying…but— the country scenes are lovely.’
‘You like art?’
The surprise on her face held the unspoken question. Doesn’t everybody? and Keir found himself inordinately pleased by her vehemence.
‘There are many paintings in the house—some by some very famous Scottish artists indeed. Perhaps when we’re not so busy there might be an opportunity— for me to show them to you? Now, please…sit down. There’s only the three of us this evening as some of the staff are off duty, so there’s no need to stand on ceremony. Moira, why don’t you tell Lucy that she can serve the soup?’
As the older woman turned hurriedly away again, Georgia felt her cheeks burn with indignation beneath Keir’s disconcerting scrutiny. She arranged herself in her chair. Didn’t he know it was rude to stare? She swallowed hard, irritated with herself that she should let herself be so affected by the way he looked at her. She’d worked for attractive bosses in the past…of course she had. But none had bothered her sufficiently that she couldn’t think a single straight thought without feeling flustered!
Reaching for her perfectly folded napkin, Georgia shook it out and laid it in her lap. ‘This is such an incredible— house, and the grounds—from what I’ve seen so far—are quite breathtaking! You must love living in such a beautiful place,’ she commented conversationally.
Her blood ran cold as ice water at the look in his eyes. ‘That is your assumption, is it?’
‘I only meant that—’
‘Don’t be so quick to make careless judgements, Miss Cameron,’ he advised broodingly. ‘Have you not heard the adage “never judge a book by its cover”?’
‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN?’
She found herself trapped by his glance for an almost excruciatingly long moment, and Georgia wondered what she’d said that was so wrong. There wasn’t just irritation in his chastising glare. She was sensitive enough to detect some deep unhappiness there too, and for some reason her stomach turned hollow. There was such strength of will and vitality in Keir’s strong, handsome face, and the idea that such an indomitable visage might be hiding some profound hurt behind it disturbed her more than she considered natural for somebody she’d only just met, and— she didn’t know why…
‘It doesn’t matter. Have you heard from Noah recently? No doubt you know he’s coming for a visit next weekend?’
The swift change of subject caused her smooth brows to draw momentarily together. ‘Yes, I know. He rang me yesterday. We speak on the phone every couple of days.’
‘And has he told you how he’s getting along?’
Even as he asked the question Keir knew it wasn’t Noah’s welfare that was uppermost in his mind. He admired the younger man, of course—his professionalism,— ability to work hard and deliver on a promise were commendable. But right then Keir was actually dwelling on the obviously close relationship he enjoyed with his disarming sister. To speak on the phone so often when they were away from each other was hardly something he could have imagined doing with his own brother.
He and Robbie had drifted apart many years ago—with Robbie preparing to take on the mantle of Laird after their father, with all that that entailed, and— Keir leaving Glenteign just as soon as he could, to— pursue his determination to go into business for himself and put his less than joyful childhood memories firmly behind him. Talking to his brother on a regular basis would only have reminded him of that dark period in his life, and Keir definitely didn’t want reminders. The fact that he was back at Glenteign now, after all these years, and had inherited— the role of Laird of the estate himself when he’d never wanted anything remotely to do with it again, was— a twist of fate he hadn’t foreseen. He was still learning to live with it…