Mary Fran and Matthew

MacGregor Trilogy - 1.5


Grace Burrowes


One glimpse of Lady Mary Frances MacGregor, and Matthew Daniels forgot all about the breathtaking Highland scenery and the misbegotten purpose for his visit to Aberdeenshire.

“For the duration of your stay, our house is your house,” Lady Mary Frances said. She strode along the corridor of her brother’s country home with purpose, not with the mincing, corseted gait of a London lady, and she had music in her voice. Her walk held music as well, in the rhythm and sway of her hips, in the rustle of her petticoats and the crisp tattoo of her boots on the polished wood floors.

Though what music had to do with anything, Matthew was at a loss to fathom. “The Spanish have a similar saying, my lady: mi casa es su casa.”

“My house is your house.” She either guessed or made the translation easily. “You’ve been to Spain, then?”

“In Her Majesty’s Army, one can travel a great deal.”

A shadow creased her brow, quickly banished and replaced by a smile. “And now you’ve traveled to our doorstep. This is your room, Mr. Daniels, though we’ve others if you’d prefer a different view.”

She preceded him into the room, leaving Matthew vaguely disconcerted. A proper young woman would not be alone with a gentleman in his private quarters, and Mary Frances MacGregor, being the daughter of an earl, was a lady even in the sense of having a courtesy title—though Matthew had never before met a lady with hair that lustrous shade of dark red, or a figure so perfectly designed to thwart a man’s gentlemanly self-restraint.

“The view is quite acceptable.”

The view was magnificent, including, as it did, the backside of Lady Mary Frances as she bent to struggle with a window sash. She was a substantial woman, both tall and well formed, and Matthew suspected her arms would be trim with muscle, not the smooth, pale appendages a gentleman might see at a London garden party.

“Allow me.” He went to her side and jiggled the sash on its runners, hoisting the thing easily to allow in some fresh air.

“The maids will close it by teatime,” Lady Mary Frances said. “The nights can be brisk, even in high summer. Will you be needing a bath before the evening meal?”

She put the question casually—just a hostess inquiring after the welfare of a guest—but her gaze slid over him, a quick, assessing flick of green eyes bearing a hint of speculation. He might not fit in an old-fashioned bathing tub was what the gaze said, nothing more.

Nonetheless, he dearly wanted to get clean after long days of traveling. “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble?”

“No trouble at all. The bathing chamber is just down the hall to the left, the cistern is full, and the boilers have been going since noon.”

She peered into the empty wardrobe, passing close enough to Matthew that he caught a whiff of something female… Flowers. Not roses, which were probably the only flower he knew by scent, but… fresher than roses, less cloying.

“If you need anything to make your visit more enjoyable, Mr. Daniels, you have only to ask, and we’ll see to it. Highland hospitality isn’t just the stuff of legends.”

“My thanks.”

She frowned at the high four-poster and again walked past him, though this time she picked up the tartan draped across the foot of the bed. The daughter of an earl ought not to be fussing the blankets, but Matthew liked the sight of her, snapping out the red, white, and blue woolen blanket and giving it a good shake. Her attitude said that nothing, not dust, not visiting English, not a houseful of her oversized brothers, would daunt this woman.

Without thinking, Matthew picked up the two corners of the blanket that had drifted to the blue-and-red tartan rug.

“Will you be having other guests this summer?” He put the question to her as they stepped toward each other.

“Likely not.” She grasped the corners he’d picked up, their fingers brushing.

Matthew did not step back. Mary Frances MacGregor—Lady Mary Frances MacGregor—had freckles over the bridge of her nose. They were faint, even delicate, and they made her look younger. She could have powdered them into oblivion, but she hadn’t.

“Mr. Daniels?” She gave the blanket a tug.

Matthew moved back a single step. “You typically have only one set of guests each summer?” Whatever her scent, it wasn’t only floral, but also held something spicy, fresh like cedar, but not quite cedar.

“No, we usually have as many guests as the brief summers here permit, particularly once Her Majesty and His Royal Highness are ensconced next door. But if your sister becomes engaged to my brother, there will be other matters to see to, won’t there?”

This question, alluding to much and saying little, was accompanied by an expression that involved the corners of the lady’s lips turning up, and yet it wasn’t a smile.

“I suppose there will.” Things like settling a portion of the considerable Daniels’s wealth into the impoverished Balfour coffers. Things like preparing for the wedding of a lowly English baron’s daughter to a Scottish earl.

“We’ll gather in the parlor for drinks before the evening meal, Mr. Daniels. The parlor is directly beneath us, one floor down. Any footman can direct you.”

She was insulting him. Matthew took a moment to decipher this, and in the next moment, he realized the insult was not intentional. Some of the MacGregor’s “guests,” wealthy English wanting to boast of a visit to the Queen’s own piece of the Highlands, probably spent much of their stay too inebriated to navigate even the corridors of the earl’s country house.

“I’ll find my way, though at some point, I would also like to be shown where the rest of my family is housed.”

“Of course.” Another non-smile. She glanced around the room the way Matthew had seen generals look over the troops prior to a parade review, her lips flattening, her gaze seeking any detail out of order. “Until dinner, Mr. Daniels.”

She bobbed a curtsy and whirled away before Matthew could even offer her a proper bow.


“Miss MacGregor?”

Mary Fran’s insides clenched at the sound of Baron Altsax’s voice. She pasted a smile on her face and tried to push aside the need to check on the dining room, the kitchen, and the ladies’ guest rooms—and the need to locate Fiona.

The child tended to hide when a new batch of guests came to stay.

“Baron, what may I do for you?”

“I had a few questions, Miss MacGregor, if you wouldn’t mind?” He gestured to his bedroom, his smile suggesting he knew damned good and well the insult he did an earl’s daughter by referring to her as “Miss” anything. A double insult, in fact.

Mary Fran did not follow the leering old buffoon into his room. Altsax’s son, the soft-spoken Mr. Daniels, would reconnoiter before he started bothering the help—though big, blond, good-looking young men seldom needed to bother the help—not so with the skinny, pot-gutted old men. “I’m a bit behindhand, my lord. Was it something I could send a maid to tend to?”

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