Authors: Cynthia Breeding
For Larry, who was a rogue in his own way. May you find peace in the gloaming.
Merciful Heavens! He is here
. Jillian Alton, Lady Newburn, took a deep breath as she heard the bell clang at the front entrance of the Mayfair townhouse. Was she really going to be able to follow through on what the Prince of Wales had persuaded her to do? How did one
a wild Highlander to fit into
Society? She must have been quite mad to think it possible.
Or scared of being turned out on the streets. Jillian bit her lip as she stared out her bedroom window. Now that Wesley, the long-lost son of her elderly, dead husband had been found in France, he would be returning to claim the family holdings as the rightful marquess. A widowed marchioness—even if she were only three-and-twenty—would have no place here. Prinny’s payment for her services would allow her to buy back the townhouse Papa had lost to his gambling debts and provide for her younger sister, Mari’s Season next year. Most of all, the money would allow her to be financially independent.
No man would ever own her again. For that freedom, she would take on a whole clan of barbarians.
Jillian closed her eyes, recalling the conversation from two weeks ago.
“The Earl of Cantford died without issue,” the prince said after she’d been shown into his private sitting room at Carlton House. “We were finally able to trace a male descendent back through the grandfather and locate an Ian Macleod near Glenfinnan.”
“A Scotsman will inherit the title?” Jillian asked in surprise.
The prince sighed. “It seems so. Our grandfather bestowed the title on his great-grandfather for helping to squelch the Jacobites finally in ’45. It’s all quite legal.”
“I’m sure it is,” she answered, “but what has that got to do with me?”
Prinny gave her the captivating smile he used on so many women and folded his hands over his large paunch. “Cantford’s lands are adjacent to Newburn. We’re sure your dear departed Rufus would want your next door neighbor to be civilized.”
Jillian bit back a retort. Her
departed husband had been anything but civilized, although she was the only one who bore the marks to prove it. To Prinny’s set, he had always been a model of decorum. “I still fail to see how I can change that.”
“As a widow, it would be perfectly proper for you to…um…refine the man’s ways. We shudder to think that the gentle women of our court be subjected to loutish behavior.”
Other than your own, she almost said, but one didn’t call the prince regent a lecher. At least not out loud.
“The objective, naturally, is to make the man suitable for a proper marriage so an heir can be produced to insure the title carries on.”
Jillian winced. Her husband had told her often enough that she must be barren since no child had come along, but it still hurt when the subject was mentioned.
The prince’s voice took on silken tones. “You have always had the most excellent of manners, my dear. Always a proper lady. We are sure that’s one of the reasons Rufus married you. And for your beauty, of course.”
She was hard-pressed not to give a very unladylike snort. The old marquess had offered to pay off her baron father’s gambling debts at White’s in exchange for her hand in marriage at the end of her Season. She had been seventeen and devastated. Thank God, Mama hadn’t been alive to see her sold, or how Papa had begged her forgiveness with tears in his eyes.
“We can make it very worth your while,” Prinny added. “Name your price.”
He didn’t even blink when she told him.
Jillian’s eyes flew open as her maid, Darcy, and the parlor maid burst through her door giggling.
“Oh, mum. You should see him.” Darcy said with a roll of her eyes and a sigh. “He’s right fetching, he is. Makes me almost wish I warn’t a proper lady’s maid and could lift my skirts for him.”
“Darcy, we don’t speak like that,” Jillian admonished gently, but she couldn’t be too hard on her. The girl’s country upbringing had helped her take care of ugly welts Rufus inflicted on Jillian when a more squeamish maid would have swooned away.
“Yes, mum,” the maid agreed, and then both girls giggled again.
With a small sigh, Jillian stood up and smoothed her dress. “Remember, the man will be a guest in this house for several weeks. I’m sure if we treat him like a gentleman, he will act as one.” She wasn’t sure if she believed that, but she wasn’t about to have her maid entertain fantasies about any skirt-lifting.
She straightened her shoulders. Time to begin earning her money. She descended the stairs and moved toward the drawing room, pausing for only a second before she opened the door. And gasped.
What on earth was the man wearing?
Ian Macleod looked around the fancy parlor the skinny mon with the fancy suit and nose out-of-joint had shown him to. Light, filmy curtains hung at the windows, hardly anything to keep a night’s chill out. Paintings of pale English men, trussed in lacy frills like some young bairn presented to the clan by a proud
lined the walls. All of the chairs looked too fragile to hold his weight. How had he allowed that blethering idiot who had shown up at his holdings to talk him into this?
He didn’t want to be an earl. Would have preferred never having to cross the Borders. His great-grandfather may have fought with King George in hopes of saving the clan, but his great-grandmother’s people had rallied to Bonnie Prince Charlie. And all for naught. The Disarming Act had disbanded the clans and even forbidden a mon to blow the pipes or wear his plaid.
Which was why he was here. The English lands would provide enough profit for him to help his people. Once he had taken stock and felt confident he could leave an overseer in place, he would return to Scotland. He wanted as little to do with the English as possible. While it might be illegal for his people to be verbal about it, his clan still looked up to him as their laird. His younger brother, Jamie, would stand in his place while he took care of whatever he must do here. Between them, his people would be well.
Ian made a derisive sound, thinking about the suggestion the Englishman had made that some neighboring widow would give him lessons in manners. By the auld gods, he didn’t need some auld woman telling him how he should act. A mon measured another mon by the strength of his sword arm and the worth of his word. Always protect children and never hurt a woman, although if she were willing, there was no harm to tupping her thoroughly.
He grinned suddenly. If those two silly lasses who’d giggled their way past him in the hall were any indication, he’d have no more trouble bedding English women than he did Scot ones. Although he was nigh thirty, he’d ne’r had a complaint from a lass, only purrs of pleasure after the act.
He looked up as the door opened and almost gaped. The woman in the doorway was breathtakingly beautiful. Her soft, chestnut hair was burnished with faerie gold and the deep green of her eyes reminded him of the tranquil depths of the forest near his home. Her fair skin was nearly translucent and she looked like a woodland nymph, except that the rounded fullness of her breasts outlined by the well-fitted bodice were very, very real. He felt his groin tighten painfully. Whoever this lass was, he meant to have her.
“Do ye work here, lass?”
One delicate eyebrow went up as she considered him. “In a manner of speaking, I suppose one could say that what I do on a daily basis is work.”
A bit long-winded the wench was, but he’d forgive her that. Her voice was as throaty and low as a burn rumbling gently downhill.
“And what do ye do?” he asked with a slow smile.
“One could say that I…run this household.”
“Ah. Ye be the housekeeper then.” Ian took a step closer and lowered his voice. “I’m the new earl at Cantford, here to see the widow. The auld woman is going to try to teach me English ways.”
“Indeed?” The lady walked past him rather stiffly to stand at the window.
“Aye. I dinna ken why. ’Tis nae wise to try to change a mon.”
“Indeed?” she said again.
Was that all the lass could say? He hoped she wasn’t dim-witted. He liked a woman who could spar with him. In bed and out. But if she were nae bright, she was still beautiful. Standing by the window, the sun highlighted the faerie gold in her hair and accentuated the smooth curve of her cheek and the full lushness of her lips. He hoped that his sporran hid what his wayward tarse was doing. By Dagda, he’d never had such a strong reaction to merely sighting a lass before. And an English one at that.
“Is the widow taking a wee nap? I could come back later.”
“There’s no need for that.” She raised her chin. “I am Jillian Alton, Marchioness of Newburn. I believe you are my pupil.”
For a moment he was nonplussed.
was the widow? This young lass? Och, being on English soil had just gotten much better. “I hope ye’ll forgive the mistake. The
the idiot—who told me about ye dinna say ye were a bonnie lass.” He gave her his most winning smile, the one his older sister always said made her forgive him for all his youthful escapades that she had to cover up for.
Lady Newburn ignored it. “Regardless of my age, Lord Cantford, what is expected by the Prince of Wales is that I prepare you for your new role.”
Ian’s grin widened. “Ye’ll find me a verra apt…pupil. I aim to please ye, Jillian.”
Jillian tried not to stare. Ian Macleod was one of the tallest and most broad-shouldered men she had ever seen. His eyes were almost as dark as the wild black hair that flowed to his shoulders. He was dressed in full Scottish regalia, including a kilt that showed off well-turned, muscular calves. A huge claymore was slung across his back and a wicked-looking knife protruded from his belt. He couldn’t have looked more barbaric if he’d stepped off one of Prinny’s prize war paintings at Brighton.
The way he was smiling at her made her uneasy, but it wasn’t fear she was feeling. It felt more like a thousand butterflies fluttering in her stomach.
This wouldn’t do. She couldn’t just stand here like some moonstruck child. And had he called her by her first name?
“Lesson number one,” she said as she walked across the room. “I am referred to as Lady Newburn. You never address a woman by her given name in polite society.”
“And if I’m not in polite society?” He took a step closer. “What then?”
He seemed to tower over her and she wasn’t a short woman. A pleasant scent of soap and leather and something she couldn’t define drifted toward her. “One is always polite, my lord. And one doesn’t wear one’s weapons inside a home.”
One of his dark brows lifted as he seemed to consider this. Then, with deliberate slowness, the Scot undid the straps of the baldric and let the big sword slide down his back. His gaze held hers as his long fingers loosened the belt that held the knife’s sheath and let it fall to the floor. His eyes smoldered as his full mouth quirked up at one corner.
“Anything else, my lady?”
Jillian felt her face flush. What did he mean by that? And why was the room so warm suddenly? “N-no. That will be fine. Please sit down, my lord.” Maybe having him at eye level at a safe distance would stop the quivering inside her.
He looked around. “I dinna think those chairs will hold me.”
“They’re quite solid, I assure you. Please sit and I’ll ring for tea.”
“Ye doona have a wee dram of whisky, do ye?”
“It’s hardly the time of day to be drinking spirits, my lord.”
Merciful God. Was the man a sot? When Rufus got drunk…
He blinked. “Ye have a time of day for that? A mon drinks when he’s thirsty.”
“You’ll find that we have quite a number of rules that we live by,” she said and picked up a small bell to ring for service. “Tea is drunk between the hours of five o’clock and six o’clock, dinner is served at seven and then a light repast is served once the evening’s entertainment is over.”
He tilted his head, his dark eyes glinting. “What kind of entertainment?”
She had the strange feeling the question had another meaning. She felt the blush creep across her face again. He had an uncanny way of making innuendos that no Englishman would dare to do. Or maybe she was just imagining it.