Authors: Meara Platt
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Seattle WA 2016
Copyright 2016 Myra Platt
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.
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Cover Design by Greg Simanson
Edited by Laurel Busch
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to similarly named places or to persons living or deceased is unintentional.
Print ISBN 978-1-5137-0870-6
EPUB ISBN 978-1-5137-0971-0
Library of Congress Control Number: 2016901957
To Neal, Brigitte (my fair Gigi), and Adam, the best husband and kids ever. I’m so lucky to have you as my family. To my own boisterous and meddlesome family, who enrich my life beyond measure with your love and general brilliance. To all my readers, for your generosity and support of these stories. I wish you all the beauty in your lives that you’ve given to me. As always, to my intrepid first readers, Barbara Hassid, Lauren Cox, Megan Westfall, Rebecca Heller, and Maria Barlea; and to my longtime friends and terrific authors in their own right, Pamela Burford, Patricia Ryan, and Stevi Mittman. To brilliant photographer, Jeff Loeser, for my back cover portrait. To my wonderful web designer, Willa Cline. Heartfelt gratitude to the best support team that any author can have: Laurel Busch, Samantha Williams, Jennifer Gracen, Patricia Eddy, and Greg Simanson. I look forward to working with you on many more projects. To the wonderful management at Booktrope: Kenneth Shear, Katherine Sears, Jesse James Freeman, Jennifer Gilbert, and their amazing support staff.
To Nora and Jacqueline, for being my best friends as well as my sisters
Mayfair District, London
The sound of a sweet, feminine voice reached Lord Graelem Dayne’s ears, and a soft hand came to rest upon his much larger, rougher one to draw it off the boot he was clutching. “Sir, you mustn’t touch your leg. I think it’s broken.”
the damn thing is broken,” Graelem said as he lay sprawled on his back in the middle of Chipping Way on this warm and sunny morning, writhing in agony and glowering at the snorting beast that had just burst through the open townhouse gate of Number 3 Chipping Way at full gallop and knocked him senseless.
That horse, the color of devil’s black, had been rearing and fighting its rider while she struggled to bring it under control. As Graelem had tried to roll out of the way, one of its massive hooves had landed with full force on his leg, cracking sturdy bone.
“Hellfire!” An excruciating jolt of pain shot straight up his body and into his temples the moment he tried to move his leg.
He was in trouble.
Serious trouble, not only because the horse was still skittish and snorting, but also because Graelem’s now broken leg would make it impossible to complete the business he’d come down to London to accomplish. At the moment, he couldn’t walk, and his every breath was a struggle as it came in short, spurting gasps.
What was he to do now?
There would be no balls, soirees, or musicales for him for the next month, that was for certain. He’d never cut a striking figure hopping about on one leg, for he was a big oaf even when on two functioning legs.
He glanced at the angry beast.
Just as Graelem thought he was about to be trampled once more, the beast lowered its massive hooves, let out a few soft neighs, and finally calmed.
“Pull the boot off my leg!” he ordered the young woman who’d slid off the saddle in a blur of green velvet and rushed toward him a moment ago. He wished she had been a man so he could pound his fist into his face for so recklessly galloping into him and efficiently destroying his courtship plans along with his leg.
“Now!” he commanded, knowing the task would be much harder once his leg had swelled as it was starting to do now. Cutting through leather was no easy feat, and any attempt to do so would be far more painful than one swift tug done immediately.
“Of course. I’m so sorry!” She knelt beside him and braced her hands on the heel of the boot, letting out a sob as she apologized again.
Damn, why couldn’t she have been a man?
She sounded young, hardly more than a girl.
He inhaled sharply as those soft hands began to tug at his boot.
“I have it,” the young woman said in a soothing voice that flowed over him like warm honey. “Close your eyes and take another deep breath. I’m afraid this will hurt.”
He let loose with a string of invectives as another dagger-sharp jolt of pain stabbed up his leg and into his temples. His heart felt as if it were about to pound a hole through his chest.
“Oh, I’m so very sorry!” She set aside the boot and turned to face him. Her lips quivered as she struggled to hold back anguished tears.
“I know, lass.” He tried his best to answer gently, for he suddenly felt quite protective of the girl. Although why he should feel that way when she was the cause of his misery was beyond him. She did appear sincerely remorseful.
But whatever had possessed her to ride that demonic beast? Where was she going in such a hurry?
Before he had the chance to ask, he heard male voices calling out and the sound of hurried footsteps coming toward them. His blurred gaze remained on the young woman dressed in the dark green velvet riding habit. Had she really been the rider on that demonic horse?
“Amos,” she said with a shaken breath, “put Brutus back in his stall before Father orders him shot.” Then she turned to the other man who’d run out of the townhouse to lend assistance. “Pruitt, please fetch Uncle George at once.”
“Right away, Miss Laurel.”
As both men left to do her bidding, the girl called Laurel sank onto the grass beside him and took hold of his hand, cradling it in her lap. Her soft hands were shaking. As his vision cleared from the blur of pain, he caught a good look at her face and experienced another jolt. The girl was beautiful.
She was also trembling, obviously overset by the incident. He felt the urge to squeeze her hand and assure her that all would be well. However, he dismissed the ridiculous notion at once. How could the mere touch of a chit who’d almost killed him affect him in any way but cold revenge?
Still, he couldn’t deny that his anger was fading… or that his blood was heating.
He attributed that surprising effect to the pain of his broken leg.
“Sir, is there someone we can summon on your behalf? I’ll send one of our footmen—”
“Lady Eloise Dayne,” he said with a nod. “She resides on this street at Number 5.”
“Lady Dayne? Oh, my heavens!” Laurel let out another shaken breath. “Sir, are you by chance her grandson? The baron who lives in Scotland and just arrived in town last night?”
He nodded again. “Indeed, lass. Graelem Dayne.”
“You’re Graelem… I mean, Lord Moray! And Eloise is your grandmother! Oh, this gets worse and worse.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Those men called you Laurel.”
“Yes, I’m Laurel Farthingale.” She still sounded as though she were about to burst into tears. “I live here at Number 3 along with my parents and sisters, and a horde of Farthingale relations come to London for the season. We’re your grandmother’s neighbors. Friends, too. Though she won’t be too pleased that I’ve almost killed her grandson. Are you in terrible pain?” She let out a quiet sob. “I wish there was something I could do to ease it.”
There was, but she’d finish the job her horse had started and kill him if he told her what he was truly thinking.
Was he that depraved? At the very least, his senses were addled. How old was she? Old enough to be out in society, he guessed, but not much beyond her first season.
She was pretty enough to be snatched up quickly, assuming she didn’t kill her beaus first.
She eased beside him and let out a mirthless laugh. “I’m in for it now. Probably punished for the entire year,” she muttered.
Her eyes rounded in horror. “You mustn’t be! This is all my fault. Truly, it isn’t much of a loss. This is only my first year out in society and I’m still quite overwhelmed by it. Everyone is so polite and impeccable in their manners, I worry that I’ll never fit in. My parents think I’m too spirited. That’s the polite term they use, but they really think I’m a hot-tempered hellion. I suppose I am, as you’ve unfortunately discovered.”
He tried to fashion a response, but couldn’t, for he found himself staring into a pair of magnificent blue-green eyes that sparkled like sunshine on a Scottish mountain lake. His own baronial estate was on Loch Moray in the Scottish lowlands near the English border. It was a beautiful lake, almost as breathtaking as Laurel’s eyes.
The girl also had a body that could bring a man to his knees. She sat too close, leaning over him in a way that got his heart pounding a hole in chest again… no, the pain was still addling his good sense.
He sank back, but couldn’t turn away from the girl. She was a pretty sight indeed. It wasn’t merely her shapely form, for the girl was fully clothed, with the jacket of her riding habit buttoned up to her slender throat and the flowing skirt covering everything else that a man would wish to explore. He liked the scent of her as well, a hint of strawberries and warm, summer breezes.
“Laurel, what’s happened here?” An efficient-sounding gentleman approached them, a thoughtful frown upon his face. He carried a black satchel with him, obviously a medical bag of some sort.
“Uncle George, this is all my fault! The gentleman is Lord Graelem Dayne. He’s Eloise’s grandson and I almost killed him!” She also repeated the details of the accident to Eloise when she came running out and paused with her hand over her heart to stare in horror at his injury.
“Good morning, Grandmama. It’s not quite as bad as it looks.” He got out little else, for Laurel quickly jumped in to assure his grandmother that she had been completely at fault.
Eloise glanced at him and then her gaze shifted to Laurel.
“All my fault,” Laurel repeated with a tip of her chin, obviously determined to endure whatever punishment was to be meted out.
“Now, now, my dear,” Eloise said. “I’m sure my grandson will find it in his heart to forgive you. Won’t you, Graelem?”
He supposed he would. The girl may have been a little reckless, but she had been honest and had readily admitted her mistake. It spoke of her good character. Or was he too quick to forgive her because she was the prettiest thing he’d ever set eyes upon?
A lock of rich, honey-colored hair spilled over her brow.
He felt a sudden desire to undo the pins from Laurel’s hair and run his fingers through her exquisite, dark gold mane.
Laurel’s uncle said something about needing to cut through the fabric of his trousers before setting his broken leg. He nodded, not paying much attention, for his head was beginning to spin.
The last thing he recalled as he was suddenly overcome by a wave of nausea was Laurel nudging him onto his side and wrapping her arms around him as he cast up this morning’s breakfast onto the grass.
He always was one to charm the ladies.
* * *
Laurel kept a hand on each of Lord Moray’s shoulders to hold him up because his big body was still heaving even though he did not appear to have anything left inside him to come out. “Perfect,” he finally muttered and sank back against her, too dazed to notice he was leaning against her shoulder and not a tree or the ground.
“Do what you must, Dr. Farthingale,” he said, lightly rolling each
in the way Scotsmen did whenever they spoke. It wasn’t a heavy brogue, but one mingled with English refinement, as though he’d spent time in both worlds.
He appeared the sort who moved about easily in both worlds, for there was a quiet confidence about him, even though he wasn’t at his best just now.
All my fault
Uncle George began to quietly explain what he needed to do to treat his broken leg. “Once properly set, I’ll fashion a splint around it. Then we’ll help you into Lady Dayne’s house.”
“Graelem, it’s best you stay with me until you recover,” Eloise said, wringing her hands in obvious concern. “You’ll need looking after for the next few weeks.”
Lord Moray closed his eyes a moment and nodded. “I had planned to stay at Gabriel’s townhouse, but I arrived late last night and haven’t bothered to unpack yet. Will you send word to his butler to bring my belongings here?”
“At once.” Eloise appeared relieved. “Gabriel’s is a big, empty house anyway. What with him gone off again to who knows where on his latest misadventure—” She broke off, suddenly tense. “No matter. It’s settled. You’ll stay here.”
Lord Moray turned toward her uncle. “Go ahead, Dr. Farthingale. Do what you must,” he said again. “Bloody thing hurts like blazes.”
Uncle George frowned at her. “Hold him down, Laurel. This shouldn’t take too long.”
Since Lord Moray was still leaning against her, she merely kept her hands wrapped around his shoulders and prayed he wouldn’t be too much to manage. He was far too big and muscled for her to restrain against his will. “Hold my hands, my lord. I think it will help.”
He ignored the suggestion at first. However, as her uncle worked on his leg and the pain appeared to become unbearable, he finally complied. His hands felt warm on hers, and she realized she was still shivering with fear… and guilt.
She might have killed the man!
Her heart broke with each twinge of his body. He refused to cry out despite the excruciating pain he must have felt, and she suspected he was purposely trying to spare her feelings. Of course, he couldn’t hide the sudden shift of his muscles at every tug and agonizing twist.
“I’m almost done, Laurel,” her uncle assured her, looking up briefly to give her a smile. A mirthless smile, for he was disappointed in her behavior and the tension in his expression showed it.
She was relieved of the need to say anything when her youngest sisters bolted out of the house and stopped beside her to gawk. “Crumpets! Who is he?” Lily asked, while the other twin, Dillie, edged closer to his prone body, for he’d closed his eyes again and appeared to be resting. Or passed out.
The twins shrieked and drew back when he opened one eye. “Who are you?” he shot back.
Laurel quickly introduced them, and then explained to her sisters what had happened. “Eloise knows. She’s preparing her guest quarters for his recovery.”
Dillie glanced at him wryly. “Welcome to London, Lord Moray.”
To Laurel’s surprise, he laughed lightly. “Not quite the welcome I had in mind, Dillie.”
“But one you’ll never forget, I’ll wager. I hear you’re Eloise’s favorite grandson.”
Laurel groaned. “Yes, Dillie. He is.” Which made what she did all the worse.
“Because if I were going to trample someone—”
“The point is, I shouldn’t have hurt anyone,” Laurel said.
“That goes without saying,” Lily chimed in.
Laurel rolled her eyes. “Stop gawking at him.”
However, she saw that Lord Moray was curious about the twins as well, for they were identical and impossible to tell apart. Though only fifteen, they were quite clever for their tender years… usually. Daisy was almost eighteen, and as the middle sister among the five of them, she was always the one to keep the peace.
Where was Daisy when she needed her?
“You’re awfully big,” Lily said, stating the obvious as she addressed Lord Moray once again. “You won’t be easy to carry into Lady Dayne’s townhouse, much less up the stairs. But perhaps if you shift your weight and—”
Dillie poked his shoulder. “I agree. You’re all muscle.” She cast Laurel an impish grin. “But I suppose you noticed that.”