The Heir's Chosen Bride
As a widow and a single mom, Susan is wary about meeting the man who has just inherited the rambling castle in Australia where she and her small daughter live. Surely New York financier Hamish Douglas will want to sell up?
Hamish had planned to turn the castle into a luxury hotel - until he met beautiful Susie. He might see everything as a potential business deal, but even he couldn't deny the attraction between them. Nor could he evict her and her baby from their beloved home. For Hamish, surely marriage was the only sensible solution?
But Susie is the last person who will accept a marriage proposal just because it's "sensible." If Hamish wants to marry her, he'll have to prove he loves her first!
Information required on whereabouts of Dougal Douglas (or direct descendant), brother to Lord Angus Douglas, Earl of Loganaich. Contact solicitors Baird and O'Shannasy, Dolphin Bay, Australia, for information to your advantage.
"MR DOUGLAS, you're an earl."
Hamish groaned. He was hours behind schedule. The Harrington Trust Committee was arriving in thirty minutes and his perky secretary-in-training was driving him nuts.
"Just sort the mail." 'But this letter says you're an earl. You gotta read it."
"Like I read e-mails from Nigeria offering to share millions. All I need to do is send my bank account details. Jodie, you know better."
"Of course I do,'she told him indignantly. Honestly, he was being a twit.
But she forgave him. Who wouldn't? Hamish Douglas was the cutest boss she'd ever worked for. Jodie had been delighted when Marjorie had retired and she'd been given the chance to take her place. At thirty-three, Hamish was tall, dark and drop-dead gorgeous. He had ruffled black curls, which fought back when he tried to control them. He had deep brown twinkly eyes and the most fantastic smile…
When he smiled. Which wasn't often. Hamish might be one of the most brilliant young futures brokers in Manhattan, but he didn't seem to enjoy life.
Maybe he'd smile when he realised he really was an earl.
"This one's different," she told him. "Honest, Mr Douglas, you need to look. If you're who these people think you are then you've inherited a significant estate. A significant estate in lawyer speak…I bet that means a fortune."
"I've inherited nothing. It's a scam." 'What's a scam? Is Jodie bothering you with nuisance mail?"
Uh-oh. Jodie had been rising, but as soon as the door opened she sat straight back down. Marcia Vinel was Hamish's fiancée. Trouble. Jodie had overheard Marcia on at least two occasions advising Hamish to get rid of her.
"She's a temp from the typing pool. Surely you can do better."
"But I like her,'Hamish had replied, much to Jodie's delight. "She's smart, intuitive and organised — and she makes me laugh."
"Your secretary's not here to make you laugh," Marcia had retorted.
No, Jodie thought, shoving the offending letter into the tray marked PENDING. Life's too serious to laugh. Life's about making money.
"What's the letter?" Marcia said, with a sideways glance at Jodie to say she didn't appreciate Jodie knowing anything about Hamish that she herself didn't. "Is it a scam?"
Jodie knew when to turn into a good secretary. She tugged on her headset, paid attention to her keyboard and didn't answer. "What's the letter?" Marcia said again, this time directly to Hamish.
"It's some sort of con," Hamish said wearily. "And Jodie's not bothering me any more than anyone else is. Hell, Marcia, I have work to do."
"I came to tell you the Harrington delegation's been delayed," Marcia told him. "Their flight's two hours late from London. Relax."
He did, but not much. That meant rescheduling and… "I'll rearrange your appointments." Jodie emerged from her headset and he cast her a look of gratitude. "Only I do think you should read the letter." She mightn't like Marcia, she decided, but at least Marcia would make Hamish look at it.
He went back to frowning. "Jodie, get real. Letters saying I'm an earl and I've inherited a fortune are the stuff of a kid's fantasy."
"But it doesn't say send bank account details. It says contact a solicitor. That sounds fusty rather than scammy. Real."
"Let me see," Marcia decreed, and put out an imperious hand. Marcia was a corporate lawyer working for the same company as Hamish. She was the brains, he was the money, some people said — but Hamish had earned his money with his wits, and there was a fair bit of cross-over.
The two were a team. Jodie handed it over. There was silence while Marcia read. The letter was on the official notepaper of an Australian legal firm. It looked real, Jodie thought defiantly. She wasn't wasting her boss's time.
And Marcia didn't think so either. She finished reading and set the letter down with an odd look on her face.
"Hamish, do you have an uncle called Angus Douglas? In Australia?"
"No." He frowned. "Or…I don't think so." 'Surely you know your uncles," Jodie said, and got a frown from Marcia for her pains. She subsided but she didn't replace her headset.
"My father migrated from Scotland when he was little more than a kid," Hamish told Marcia. "There was some sort of family row — I don't know what. He never told my mother anything about his family and he died when I was three."
"You never enquired?" Marcia demanded, astounded, as if such disinterest was inexcusable.
"About what?" 'About his background. Whether he was wealthy?" 'He certainly wasn't wealthy. He migrated just after the war when every man and his dog was on the move from Europe. He married my mother and they had nothing." He hesitated. "All I know…" 'All you know is what?" said Marcia, still staring at the letter.
"While I was at college my roommate was doing a history major. I went through some shipping lists he was using, just to see if I could find him. I did. Apparently my father left Glasgow in 1947 on the Maybelline. There was no other Douglas on the passenger list so I assumed he was alone."
"Maybe he had a brother who migrated as well," Marcia said thoughtfully. "Maybe his brother went to Australia instead. Honey, this letter says someone called Angus Douglas, Earl of Loganaich, died six weeks ago inAustralia and they're looking for relations of Dougal Douglas. Your father was Dougal, wasn't he?"
Hamish's face stilled. "What?" Marcia said, and Jodie watched her face change. She knew that look. She'd seen it when Marcia was closing on a corporate deal. The look said she could smell money.
"There probably aren't that many Dougal Douglases,'Hamish said slowly. "But…my father's address on the shipping manifest was Loganaich. I'd never heard of the place. I looked it up, and it's tiny. I thought some day I might go find it, but…"
"But you got busy,'Marcia said, approving. He certainly had. Hamish had been one of the youngest graduates ever to gain a first-class commerce-law degree from Harvard. After that had come his appointment with one of the most prestigious broking firms in New York, and he'd whizzed up the corporate ladder with the speed of light. At thirty-three, Hamish was a full partner and a millionaire a couple times over. There'd been no time in his fast-moving history for a leisurely stroll around Scotland. "Hamish, this means you really might have inherited."
"This is cool." Jodie beamed, forgetting her dislike of Marcia as imagination took flight. "The letter says they're not sure whether they have the right person, but it does fit. It says your father was one of three brothers who left Scotland in 1947. The oldest two went to Australia and your dad came here."
"He can read it for himself," Marcia snapped and handed it over to Hamish.
"It'll be a scam." 'Read it," Marcia snapped.
And Jodie thought, Whoa, don't do that, lady. If Hamish was my guy I wouldn't talk like that.
But Hamish didn't notice. "It's probably nothing," he said at last, but dismissal had made way for uncertainty. "But with the Loganaich connection… Maybe we should check."
"I'll make enquiries about this law firm," Marcia said. "I'll get onto it straight away."
"There's no need…" 'There certainly is," Jodie breathed. "Oh, Mr Douglas, the letter says you're an earl and you've inherited a castle and everything. How ace would that be? A Scottish earl. You might get to wear a kilt."
"No one's seeing my knees," Hamish said. He grinned — and then the phone rang and a fax came through that he'd been waiting for and he went back to work.
Castles and titles had to wait.
"They think they've found him."
Susie Douglas, née McMahon, was sitting on a rug before the fire in the great hall of Loganaich-Castle-the-Second, playing with her baby. Rose Douglas was fourteen months old. She'd been tumbling with her aunt's dog, Boris, but now baby and dog had settled into a sleepy, snuggly pile, and the women were free to talk.
"The lawyers have been scouring America," Susie told her twin. "Now they think they've found the new earl. As soon as he comes, I…I think I'll go home."
"But you can't." Kirsty stared at her twin with horror. "This is your home."
"It's been great," Susie said, staring round the fantastically decorated walls with affection. The two suits of armour guarding the hallway were wonderful all by themselves. She talked to them all the time. Good morning, Eric. Good morning, Ernst. "But I can't live here for ever. It doesn't belong to me. I agreed to stay until Angus died, and now he has." She took a deep breath. "I've been marking time for too long, Kirsty, love. Eric and Ernst belong to someone else. It's time I moved on."
"You mustn't." Yet there was a part of Kirsty that knew Susie was right. This moment had been inevitable.
Susie had come so far… After the death of her husband, Rory, Susie had fallen apart, suffering from crippling depression as well as the injuries she'd received in the crash that had killed her husband. In desperation Kirsty had brought her to Australia to meet Rory's uncle. Lord Angus Douglas, Earl of Loganaich. It had been a grand title for a wonderful old man. In the earl they'd found a true friend, and in his outlandish castle Susie had recovered. She'd given birth to her daughter and she'd started to look forward again.
Susie's home was in America. Her landscaping business was in America. Now Angus was dead there was nothing keeping her here.
But while Susie had been recovering. Kirsty, her twin, had been falling in love with the local doctor. Kirsty and Jake now had a rambling house on the edge of town, kids, hens, dog — the whole domestic catastrophe. Kirsty's home was solidly here.
"I don't want you to go," Kirsty whispered. "Angus should have left this place to you."
"He couldn't." 'I don't see why not." 'This castle was built with entailed money," Susie explained. "After the original Scottish castle burned down, the family trust made money available for rebuilding. Angus managed to arrange it so he rebuilt the castle here in Australia, but he still couldn't leave it away from the true line of the peerage. If I'd had a son it'd be different, but now it goes to a nephew no one knows. It belongs to a Hamish Douglas. An American."