Once Upon a Tartan Online - Grace Burrowes Page 0,1

the clouds, except the hand in the picture was not swathed in black leather.

“Child, I do not have all day to impersonate the Good Samaritan.”

“The Good Samaritan was nice. He went to heaven.”

“While it is my sorry fate to be ruralizing in Scotland.” He hauled Fee to her feet by virtue of lifting her up under the arms. He did this without effort, as if he hoisted five stone of little girl from the roadside for regular amusement.

“Do you ever smile?”

“When in the presence of silent, well-behaved, properly scrubbed children, I sometimes consider the notion. Can you put weight on that foot?”

“It hurts. I think it hurts because my shoe is getting too tight.”

He muttered something under his breath, which might have had some bad words mixed in with more of his pernickety accent, then lifted Fee to his hip. “I am forced by the requirements of good breeding and honor to endure your company in the saddle for however long it takes to return you to the dubious care of your wardens, and may God pity them that responsibility.”

“I get to ride your horse?”

“We get to ride my horse. If you were a boy, I’d leave you here to the mercy of passing strangers or allow you to crawl home.”

He might have been teasing. The accent made it difficult to tell—as did the scowl. “You thought I was boy?”

“Don’t sound so pleased. I thought you were a nuisance, and I still do. Can you balance?”

He deposited her next to the treaty oak, which meant she could stand on one foot and lean on the tree. “I want to take my shoes off.” He wrinkled that big nose of his, looking like he smelled something rank. “My feet are clean. Aunt Hester makes me take a bath every night whether I need one or not.”

This Abomination Against the Natural Order—another one of Aunt Hester’s terms—did not appear to impress the man. Fee wondered if anything impressed him—and what a poverty that would be, as Aunt would say, to go through the whole day without once being impressed.

He hunkered before her, and he was even tall when he knelt. “Put your hand on my shoulder.”

Fee complied, finding his shoulder every bit as sturdy as the oak. He unlaced her boot, but when he tried to ease it off her foot, she had to squeal with the pain of it.

“Wrenched it properly, then. Here.” He pulled off his gloves and passed them to her. “Bite down on one of those, hard enough to cut right through the leather, and scream if you have to. I have every confidence you can ruin my hearing if you make half an effort.”

She took the gloves, which were warm and supple. “Are you an uncle?”

“As it happens, this dolorous fate has befallen me.”

“Is that a firmative?”

“It is. Why?”

“Because you’re trying to distract me, which is something my uncles do a lot. I won’t scream.”

He regarded her for a moment, looking almost as if he might say something not quite so fussy, then bent to glare at her boot. “Suit yourself, as it appears you are in the habit of doing.”

She braced herself; she even put one of the riding gloves between her teeth, because as badly as her ankle hurt, she expected taking off her boot would cause the kind of pain that made her ears roar and her vision dim around the edges.

She neither screamed nor bit through the glove—which tasted like reins and horse—because before she could even draw in a proper breath, her boot was gently eased off her foot.

“I suppose you want the other one off too?”

“Is my ankle all bruised and horrible?”

“Your ankle is slightly swollen. It will likely be bruised before the day is out, but perhaps not horribly if we can get ice on it.”

“Are you a priest?”

“For pity’s sake, child. First an uncle, then a priest? What can you be thinking?” He sat her in the grass and started unlacing her second boot.

“You talk like Vicar on Sunday, though on Saturday night, he sounds like everybody else when he’s having his pint. If my ankle is awful, Aunt Hester will cry and feed me shortbread with my tea. She might even play cards with me. My uncles taught me how to cheat, but explained I must never cheat unless I’m playing with them.”

“Honor among thieves being the invention of the Scots, this does not surprise me.” He tied the laces of both boots into a knot and slung