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A Man Who Can Dance
A Scottish Tale
* * *
On a fine day in May when the sun was shining and spring had at last arrived, Graham McNab received the news he'd worked hard to earn: Edinburgh's finest doctor, Mr. Fielder, was releasing him from his studies.
"There's nothing more I can teach you, lad. You've a gift, a power to heal. Go and use it." Mr. Fielder gave Graham a letter of recommendation written in his own hand and a gift of a set of razor-sharp surgical knives.
Graham had dreamed of this day since he was a child. He'd always been a healer. The other children in the small village where he'd grown up had brought their pets to him. Dogs, rabbits, horses, cattle, birds, and a chipmunk—all had been his patients.
But it wasn't until his parents had died of the dreaded smallpox and there'd been nothing he could do to save them had he decided he must go to Edinburgh to learn the art of medicine. He'd been fourteen at the time and had walked to the city from his home, the village of Kirriemuir, begging room and board from his uncle, Sir Edward Brock, in exchange for work in his shipping business.
Graham's goal had not been an easy one for a poor highland boy. Edinburgh University had turned up its academic nose at a student who had none of Latin and Greek. And Uncle Edward had been a harsh taskmaster, never missing an opportunity to discourage Graham's dreams of being a doctor.
Mr. Fielder's patronage had been a godsend. Graham had toiled nights over shipping ledgers and overseeing his uncle's accounts and his days apprenticed to the wise physician. He'd tutored himself in the language of medicine, sometimes going days without sleep.
Now, nothing could stop him. He'd reached the stars. His destiny lay before him.
Shifting his leather bag over to his other shoulder, Graham smiled at the added weight of the new surgical knives. He could not wait to share his news with Sarah, the governess to his uncle's twin daughters, and Graham's closest friend in the household. She would be as delighted as he was.
The house came into view. The yellow brick offices and living quarters of Sir Edward Brock were a well known Edinburgh landmark. On the other side of the road were the warehouses and beyond them, the ships that transported goods between Scotland and the world.
The road was teeming with activity on such a lovely day. The quayside walk was a popular one among locals. While they strolled and visited, merchants plied their wares and his uncle's ostlers loaded bags of grain onto a wagon or rolled kegs into the warehouse. Brock Shipping appeared, and was, a prosperous concern.
Graham paused and took pride in his role building the company's success ... but the time had come to leave the world of commerce. He stood on the threshold of great things.
And then, from the down the road, he noticed a snow-white horse prancing toward him. The animal was so magnificent, people stepped to the side and watched it pass.
Or so Graham thought until he saw men take off their hats and bow and women frown. 'Twas then he noticed the rider—and could not take his eyes off of her.
She was the most beautiful woman Graham had ever seen.
The green velvet of her riding habit faithfully followed ripe, buxom curves. Her cheeks were rosy and her Dresden blue eyes bright with laughter. Silver blond ringlets, the color of the sun's rays, peeked out from beneath a dashing cavalier's hat with a jaunty plume.
So intent had he been on his work and studies, he'd not had time to consider the opposite sex—until this moment. He was smitten.
But he was not her only admirer. A literal cavalry of gentlemen rode with her. Some were wigged soldiers in scarlet uniforms with mountains of gold braid dripping from their chests. Others wore jackets cut of the finest stuff and hand sewn to fit their wearers' shoulders. Their boots shone from champagne blacking and jewels flashed in the lace falls of their cravats.
She laughingly commented on something one of the gentlemen had said ... and as she did, she looked straight at Graham.
Their gazes met.
His heart beat double-time. His ears rang with the sound of a thousand bells. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't think. The busy street, the ostlers' calls, the sun, the stars, the very heavens faded from his mind and there was only her. Beautiful her.
Her lips parted slightly and he knew she felt the same pull of attraction, the same aura of wonderment. She even turned in her saddle so she could maintain eye contact as she rode past until one of her many suitors placed himself between her and Graham.
He took a step, unwilling to let her go—
His feet tripped over something in his path. He stumbled. Reaching out, he caught himself before he hit the ground, but it was too late. She was gone from view.
"What were you ogling, you clumsy bumpkin?" a bored, snide voice questioned.
Graham turned to come face-to-face with his cousin, Blair.
The two of them were of the same age, six and twenty, and had similar russet-colored hair, but there, all similarities ended. Graham was tall and strong, his body strengthened by years of physical labor in his uncle's warehouse, his hair unfashionably long, albeit tied back in a neat queue.
Blair didn't even have his father's height and disdained work in any form. He considered himself a gentleman and a gentleman never lifted a finger in labor. Instead, he paraded around Edinburgh dressed in the latest trends from garish striped vests to collar points starched so high, he had trouble moving his head. He wore his hair short á la Brutus. Drinking, gambling, and wenching comprised his chief pursuits. Ah, yes, and dueling. Blair was a renowned swordsman. He was one of a party of elegantly attired, idle young men who could terrorize a neighborhood if they'd a mind to.
While Graham studied to save life, Blair was willing to dispatch it over a whim or imagined insult.
The cousins did not like each other.
Blair twirled the walking stick he'd used to trip Graham and smiled. "You should watch where you are going."
"You should keep your walking stick out of my path," Graham answered. He turned, praying for one more glimpse of the woman of his dreams.
"Look at him drooling over the Garrison Commander's daughter," Blair said to Cullen, his almost constant companion and another one of the Bully Boys, the name Blair's companions labeled themselves.
"Have you looked in your glass lately, McNab?" Blair said. "Women like Lucinda Whitlow aren't attracted to giants—"
Lucinda Whitlow. Her name! Graham rolled the syllables over in his mind, loving the sound of them.
"—And she is going to marry me," Blair concluded.
Now he had Graham's complete, undivided attention. "She's marrying you?" The idea was preposterous. His cousin was a faithless rogue when it came to women. "You're joking."
"No, I'm not," Blair answered with his usual air of superiority. He pulled from his coat an invitation engraved on heavy vellum.
In bold letters at the top was printed: A MAN WHO CAN DANCE CAN DO ALL THINGS WELL. Graham knew the saying. 'Twas a Scottish wives' tale of a lass who found true marital happiness in the arms of a dancing man.
Curious, Graham easily snagged the card out of Blair's hand before his cousin could blink. Below the heading was a request for the gentlemen of Sir Edward Brock's family to be the Garrison Commander's guests at a ball to be held four days hence. The ball was being given in the honor of Miss Lucinda Whitlow for the express purpose of introducing her to all eligible bachelors in Edinburgh.
Blair leaned close. "The Garrison Commander wishes to see his daughter married. The rumor is he is anxious to seek his fortune in India, but he doesn't wish to subject his very lovely daughter to the fevers and dangers of the tropics. He wants her married posthaste and the man she chooses at the ball will receive a most excellent dowry for his pains." He pulled the invitation out of Graham's hands. "I will be that man. No one in Edinburgh is a finer dancer."
Graham stared into his cousin's smirking face. 'Twas true. Blair was a dancer. Still ...
"It isn't addressed to you alone," Graham said. "All the eligible gentleman in Uncle Edward's house are invited."
"And you believe that includes you?" Blair hooted his opinion, a sound Cullen echoed, and pointed out, "By gentlemen, the Garrison Commander isn't referring to quacks and sawbones." He whacked the side of Graham's instrument bag with the walking stick. "Are your drills and saws in there, coz? Have you cut open any bodies yet this morning and played with the innards?"
In the past, Graham had always ignored Blair's barbs. But not today.
Today, something inside Graham snapped. After years of being the butt of jokes, he wanted to put Blair firmly in his place.
Nor did his sense of chivalry want to see Miss Whitlow go to such a mean-spirited, lazy man as Blair. She deserved better.
Graham looked his cousin in the eye. "I'm going to the ball." He turned to walk toward the house but Blair quickly moved into his path, his narrow eyes glittering.
"Don't make a fool of yourself, coz."
"I won't," Graham replied tightly.
Blair snorted his opinion. "You'll embarrass the family. You've never been to a ball. What would you wear? The homespun you have on now?" He laughed. "I daresay you can't even dance."
"I'll learn." Graham stepped around Blair and continued his way to the house.
"You'll make a fool of yourself," Blair promised. The blunt words reverberated on the suddenly silent street.
Graham stopped and turned. Their argument had an audience. The ostlers, all of them men he knew and who respected him, were watching as were the neighbors, their eyes round at the unexpected boon of juicy gossip.
Even Uncle Edward was there. He'd come out of the warehouse, his brown periwig slightly askew on his head.
Pride exerted itself. For years he'd lived as his uncle's hireling, but he was a man now, a man with a profession. Graham straightened to his full height. "Miss Whitlow will be my bride."
Blair grinned and placed his hands on his hips. "Would you care to make a wager of it?" he asked softly.
Blair swaggered forward. "I'll bet ten gold coins I will win the hand of Miss Whitlow."
"You?" Graham put all the contempt he felt for his cousin in that one word.
"Yes, myself." He opened his arms, a magician revealing he had no tricks. "What of you, coz? Are you gentleman enough to accept the wager? Or do you doubt your abilities with the ladies?"
At any other time, Graham could have walked off from such nonsense—but not today. Aware of their audience, he asked, "What do you expect of me in return? You know I have no gold."
"I will stake you," Uncle Edward said. All eyes turned to him, many people surprised a father would hazard against his only son. After all, everyone knew Sir Edward doted on Blair.
Too late, Graham had a sense of foreboding. "And your terms, sir?"
Uncle Edward smiled benevolently. "'Tis for the good of my own soul," he said.
"But if I don't win ...?" Graham prodded.
"Ah, well." Uncle Edward considered the matter a few moments and then offered, "If you don't win, you can work the wager off in my business as you have been."
Graham reeled from the thought. 'Twould take him years to pay off such a debt. And yet ... he remembered the moment of connection between himself and Miss Whitlow. The air had vibrated with its power. She had been as attracted to him as he had to her. He knew it all the way to his soul.
He looked to his uncle. "I shall need the clothes of a gentleman."
"My personal tailor shall attend you," Uncle Edward replied. "If you win the wager, the new coat will be my wedding gift to you."
If he lost, Graham had no doubt the price would be added to his debt.
An instant's hesitation, then, "I'll accept the wager." He heard himself say those words almost as if in a dream. Fate played a hand in this moment. Not even the weight of his doctor's bag and instruments could deter him.
The ostlers gave a cheer. The neighbors challenged them to friendly wagers and the whole street returned to life.
"What if neither of them win the girl's hand?" Old Nate, one of the ostlers called out. Everyone listened up.
Uncle Edward answered, "She'd be a foolish lass to ignore two such handsome men ... but if she does, the wager will be a draw."
Everyone agreed his was a good solution. They went back to their betting.
Blair smiled. "I hope you can dance, coz."
"I'll know how to dance well enough," Graham promised.
"You'd best," Blair answered and strutted back to join his cronies.
Graham glanced at Uncle Edward who was laughing at something one of the neighbors said. He seemed very pleased with himself—and Graham wondered what he had done out of pride.
And love. He had no doubt he was in love. A man couldn't feel such an irresistible attraction and not be in love, could he?
Graham reminded himself the time had come for him to marry. With a lovely bride at his side like Miss Whitlow, his medical practice would flourish.
Everything was right except one small item—he didn't know how to dance.
Without another word, he set off toward the house in search of his friend Sarah. She would help him. He knew she would.
Blair came to his father's side. "Was everything as you wished?"
"You did better than expected, my son." He smiled grimly. "It will take years for Graham to work off ten pieces of gold. Just make sure you win the wager. I don't care how you do it. Brock Shipping can't survive without Graham." His words were true. Sir Edward had no head for business. Before Graham, he'd been about to go bankrupt. Graham had made him rich.
Over the years, Sir Edward had done everything in his power to keep Graham from becoming a doctor, including bribery. Unfortunately, the city's most noted doctor, Mr. Fielder, had thwarted him by accepting Graham as an apprentice and willingly let the lad work around the long hours he'd been forced to spend in Sir Edward's business.
One of these days, he'd see Mr. Fielder pay for his interference.
Sir Edward placed his hand on his beloved son's shoulder. "Make sure you win the Garrison Commander's daughter."
Blair pulled his sword from its walking stick scabbard, the blade gleaming sharp in the sunlight. "I will do all in my power, Father. Even if I must run through the other suitors."
|A Man Who Can Dance by Cathy Maxwell||1|
|Forevermore by Lauren Royal||69|
|Written in the Stars by Jaclyn Reding||46|
|The Demon's Mistress by Jo Beverley||31|
Posted January 20, 2010
I originally bought the book for Cathy Maxwell's contribution, which did turn out to be good, but I found a new author I most definitely want to read more of in Lauren Royal's contribution. All four ladies handled this slight taboo in a differently engaging manner, and I thoroughly enjoyed each one in this collection of stories.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
¿A Man Who Can Dance¿ by Cathy Maxwell. In Regency Scotland, Graham quits his uncle¿s business to start work as a doctor. When Graham falls in love with Lucinda, he asks governess Sarah to help him, but will he realize whom he truly loves? <P>¿Forevermore¿ by Lauren Royal. In 1667, Clarise and Cameron first meet at a wedding and are immediately attracted to one another. However, he must go back to the harvest even if he leaves behind the woman he loves. <P>¿Written In the Stars¿ by Jaclyn Reding. In 1816 Scotland, Gill informs her niece Harriet that the latter must marry before her next birthday or face unhappiness. Harriet knows that her Aunt¿s visions always come true. When Gill explains that Harriet must marry, family friend Tristan offers to be the groom, but though Harriet loves Tristan, she rejects his offer. <P> ¿Imaginary Heaven¿ by Jo Beverley. Lord George finds his estate bankrupt and his father dead. About to commit suicide, wealthy widow Maria hires him to pretend to be her fiancé. Van accepts. They fall in love, but she knows that once he learns the truth about her he will want nothing to do with her. <P> IN PRAISE OF YOUNGER MEN consists of four well-written historical romances in which an older woman and a younger man fall in love. Each tale is entertaining because all four couples are charming and easily belong together regardless of the ¿taboo¿. Sub-genre fans will enjoy this anthology. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.