Beguiled:Enlightenment, Book 2

By: Joanna Chambers

Chapter One

Thursday, 1st August, 1822

The Advocates’ Library, Parliament House, Edinburgh, Scotland

David Lauriston wasn’t so immersed in his reading of Viscount Stair’s Institutions that he didn’t notice how stiff his neck had grown from bending over the massive volume, but he kept reading anyway.

“The Affection of the Property and Chastity of Women, and Animosity and Jealousie that ariseth in Men naturally upon the Breach thereof, doth evince, that by Law of Nature, every man ought to content himself with his own Wife and Women ought not to be common; for as no man can endure the communication of his own, so it must necessarily follow, that he should not encroach on another’s Property.”

That was all very well, David thought, but where did it leave his latest client, Annie Findlay? The victim of a bigamist who had died intestate, leaving her with nothing but household debts and a baby to raise, neither Annie nor the child had any claim on his sizeable estate.

Perhaps, David thought, the claim would better be raised by Annie’s father? A claim against John Kerr’s estate for the cost of looking after Annie and the child? He made a quick note of that thought and returned to his reading.

“Working hard, Lauriston?”

David jerked his head up, making his interrogator chuckle.

“Chalmers,” he said, huffing out a laugh before adding in a faintly panicked tone, “Good lord, what time is it?”

“Half past four,” Chalmers answered, lowering himself slowly into the chair on the other side of David’s desk. He smiled, but his expression was tight with pain, and David felt a pang of concern for his mentor. Chalmers had been unwell in the spring and still wasn’t recovered. He seemed permanently tired and had lost weight, his plump jowls turning into loose bags of skin that hung from his jaw, giving him a mournful appearance.

“Have you time for a word about the quarry case?” Chalmers asked.

“I have to get to the tailor before five,” David said, “but I’ve a few minutes.” Generally David worked side by side with Chalmers on their cases, but the quarry case was one that had come in when Chalmers was bedridden, and David had ended up doing the lion’s share of work on it.

“I won’t take up your time. It’s just that Baxter approached me a short while ago. He wants a word—about settling, I think. I wondered if you would speak to him? Tomorrow would be fine.”

David darted a curious glance at Chalmers. He’d worked with the man on quite a few cases over the last two years, and the one thing Chalmers never delegated was settlement negotiation, a skill in which he was unsurpassed. David knew he should be pleased to be trusted with this task, but concern for the older man outweighed any pleasure he’d otherwise have felt.

“Yes, that’s fine,” he said mildly. “I’ll look him up in the morning. Any particular approach you’d like me to take?”

“You’re better placed to decide than I,” Chalmers said. “You’ve run the case on your own, and you know it inside out. I don’t know it well enough to comment.”

“Of course you do. We spoke about it just the other day—”

Chalmers held up his hand to stop David, giving him a stern look. “Please, don’t pretend. We both know I’ve let you do all the work. So much so that there’s practically nothing I can charge the client a fee for.”

“Don’t underestimate the power of your reputation,” David replied, half-serious, half-teasing. “That’s what you told me when we began working together, do you remember? They pay for the name.” David grinned and Chalmers gave a return smile, but it was wan, and it disappeared altogether when he braced himself to stand, his expression tightening with an expectation of pain.

David stretched out a hand and laid it on the other man’s forearm. “Are you all right? You seem a little tired—is there anything I can take off your shoulders?”

Chalmers tried to make his smile reassuring, but somehow it just made him look sad. “I’m fine,” he said. “I just miss having Elizabeth and Catherine at home. And being ill didn’t help, of course.”

“You shouldn’t overtax yourself. You need to get well.”

“I’m better than I was. Though I’ll admit, I couldn’t have coped without you. You’ve become my right-hand man, lad. And I’m very grateful to you. You do know that, don’t you?”

David shook his head, embarrassed. “It’s been no hardship. You know I wanted the work. Needed it, actually.”

“Don’t play down what you’ve done. I know the hours you’ve put in, lad. I know how much you lifted off me.” Chalmers sat back, pasting a better smile on his face and squaring his shoulders, trying to throw off the melancholy that was his constant companion these days. “So, what’s so important that you need to be at the tailor by five?”

David took the hint. The serious discussion was over. He assumed a disgusted expression, more for Chalmers’s amusement than anything else. “A fitting for some new clothes for the King’s visit. The Dean’s determined no one will show up the faculty. Apparently my usual sober clothing won’t do—I’ve to be decked out in patriotic blue and white.”

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