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A Perfect Wife

By´╝ÜReece Butler

Chapter One

“What do ye think of my wee Kiera’s dowry, lads? Rich enough for ye?”

Laird MacKenzie, the Lord of Kintail, leaned back in his chair with too much satisfaction for Duff MacDougal’s liking. He hadn’t known Kiera was MacKenzie’s daughter when they’d met and handfasted. He’d thought she had a croft they could share with his identical twin. Only after they’d made a babe did he discover Kiera had a ‘wee tower’.

Handfasting wasn’t good enough for the daughter of such an important man. Last night Duff’s older twin, Malcolm, had married her in a formal ceremony, a plot hatched by their respective lairds. A few days before the wedding they’d discovered Malcolm would become laird and Duff his steward, which meant he’d be in charge of the day-to-day running of Kiera’s small towerhouse. It would be a challenge, but he was confident he could learn.

They’d planned to spend the day in bed with their new wife, as well as the next few after that. MacKenzie had put off the usual meeting on dowry details until this morning.

Duff and Malcolm had just discovered why.

Kiera’s dowry included a castle with a six-story tower and modern three-story additional section designed by a French architect. There were more than twenty separate chambers within the thick walls. In the large walled bailey were stables, kennels, a bakehouse, alehouse, and more. As his brother’s steward Duff would be in charge of more people than he had brothers, which was saying a lot, as he had fifteen of them. And each of those people had underlings to do all the things he and his brothers had always done themselves or gone without.

The thought of such responsibility scared the hell out of him. He’d enjoyed playing the laughing fool while Malcolm was stern and responsible. That life was over. The only one of them who had any experience and training in running a castle was Kiera. Duff had no problem taking her advice in private, but Malcolm often acted as if he had a stick up his arse.

Kiera was an outspoken woman and the chance of sparks flying was high. Of course, a big fight could lead to great make-up sex. And since Malcolm was her husband and laird, he must be obeyed. That could lead to interesting possibilities, including turning their new wife’s bare arse bright red. He’d much rather think of that than how he was going to get dozens of servants to do his bidding when he wasn’t sure what work many of them did.

Duff looked to Malcolm when he shook out his shoulders, preparing to answer.

“I now see why ye sent Duff to meet Kiera as a stranger, and why she said naught to him about who she was. ’Tis a great responsibility ye have put on our shoulders. Is this why ye put off speaking of Kiera’s dowry until after we wed?”

Outwardly Malcolm seemed relaxed. As his identical twin, Duff could sense he was anything but. That was two of them.

“Many men covet a woman of such wealth. She, and I, didna wish her to marry one who’d set her aside once he gained control jure uxoris. Ye now hold Kinrowan by right of yer wife. Under law ye can spend all the profits of the land, and even sell the right of it to another.”

“MacDougals have little but honor, my lord,” replied Malcolm. “My brother and I will ensure Kinrowan is kept well for the MacKenzies.”

The old man nodded his acceptance at Malcolm’s quiet comment. “’Tis one reason I chose ye for my wee lassie.”

“No doubt many men wanted her riches, uncaring she’s a treasure all by herself.”

MacKenzie tilted his head to look at Malcolm from under bushy gray eyebrows. “I do believe ye mean that.”

“I dinna lie, Laird MacKenzie.”

A grunt was the only reply. MacKenzie looked to the side, out the open window. The sounds of men and horses drifted in. Duff wondered if there was a hunt planned and if he could escape it to return to Kiera’s warm bed. His head was spinning at the news, and he wanted to forget everything in her embrace. After, when they were all satisfied, they could talk of this. Malcolm shifted, clasping his hands behind him. When his chin came up Duff braced himself.

“Duff and I owe ye much, Laird MacKenzie. Thanks to the dowry offered by Laird Fraser for Fiona, my brothers at Duncladach are nay likely to starve this winter. They will still go to bed hungry many nights. I humbly ask that ye send my brothers some of what comes to me through Kiera. Nothing that would take from the people of Kinrowan,” he quickly added, “but ye have spoken of much, and I remember too many weeks with little more than a wee bowl of watery pottage each day.”

Though MacKenzie sat and Malcolm stood tall, there was no doubt who was the most powerful. They were now MacKenzie’s men and would support him, through his daughter, even to death. Dying a hero was easy. It was surviving the daily cuts that sliced into a man when others had more education, better manners, adequate food, and finer clothing.