The MacAulay Bride

The MacAulay Bride

by Nancy Pirri
     
 

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In 1888, widowed Brianna MacAulay is an independent woman struggling to support her two sons. She turns her home into a boarding house, believing this will preserve her from accepting another unhappy marriage proposal, like her first. But her late husband's brother, Harrison MacAulay, has lusted after Brianna for years. Now that his brother is dead, he's determined to

Overview

In 1888, widowed Brianna MacAulay is an independent woman struggling to support her two sons. She turns her home into a boarding house, believing this will preserve her from accepting another unhappy marriage proposal, like her first. But her late husband's brother, Harrison MacAulay, has lusted after Brianna for years. Now that his brother is dead, he's determined to win and wed her. He journeys from Scotland to America to coerce her to move to his home in Edinburgh. She soon learns her sons are under his guardianship, a stipulation in her husband's will, and she has no choice but to move to Scotland. Sexual sparks fly as their mutual attraction deepens, but just when Brianna is beginning to trust him, Harrison makes a critical mistake. Brianna tries to escape but Harrison holds her captive. He soon learns that love, not dominance, will win her heart.

Editorial Reviews

Romantic Times Book Club - Faith V. Smith
4-1/2 Star TOP PICK
Pirri's delightful tale with enthrall readers. Her hero is lovable and very alpha-like when confronted with a woman who will not obey him. His confusion at Brianna's fervent refusal to wed him is priceless. Romance goes hand in hand with internal conflict in this debut novel. Sensual.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781680461404
Publisher:
Satin Romance, an imprint of Melange Books, LLC
Publication date:
06/30/2015
Pages:
198
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.45(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
November 1888
Stillwater, Minnesota

Brianna MacAulay stood inside the train depot for the third afternoon in a row, watching passengers disembark the last train of the day. She peered at the people swarming through the doorway, worried that some mishap might have befallen her husband's brother, but found no sign of the man.

There was nothing she could do now but go home and hope he would arrive tomorrow. She presumed it would then be a simple matter for him to settle her late husband's will. She frowned as she thought about the money she hadn't been allowed to withdraw from Payton's bank account. It was hers! She needed that money -- every single penny -- in order to furnish two more bedrooms in her home by spring. More lumberjacks would be arriving to work for the town's sawmills by then, and they would be in need of a place to stay. Squaring her shoulders and hitching up her black taffeta skirt and petticoats, she moved swiftly to the depot entrance and swung open the door. Huge drops of cold late autumn rain slashed across her face, and she squinted against the onslaught. She tucked the umbrella under her arm, since opening it would afford her little protection. She sighed, wishing it were snow instead of rain. Snow wouldn't ruin the hat she wore. It was her favorite, with a bird's nest perched on top, its cloth occupant having long since flown away.

She dodged puddles on the deserted boardwalk before gingerly stepping into the muddy street. She had just tossed the umbrella into the back and placed a foot upon the running board when she heard someone shouting.

"Madam! A moment, please."

A big man wearing a top hat approachedher. She lowered her foot just as he arrived at her side. He swept his cloak off his shoulders, held an edge of it high above her head, and gallantly shielded her from the rain.

"I must speak with ye," he said in a deep, accented voice.

As she peered up at him, she thought him familiar, but could not place him.

He took her elbow and nodded at Francis Marshall's Dry Goods. "Let us find protection."

She accompanied him across the street, where they ducked beneath Marshall's dark green and white striped awning. Lord knew she should never have gone willingly with this stranger, yet she could not help but wonder why he had approached her. She tilted her head back to meet his eyes, but discovered them concealed behind a pair of rain-spattered, wire-rimmed spectacles.

Then he removed his hat and smiled, and she knew he was her brother-in-law. She'd never seen a picture of him, but the pleasant curve of his lips was very similar to her husband's. With his smile the similarity ended. Where Payton had been fair-haired, blue-eyed and fine of build, Harrison MacAulay was tall and broad-shouldered, his complexion darker.

Brianna's cheeks grew warm under his intent look. "You are Harrison MacAulay?" From the moment he spoke she should have guessed his identity because of his Scottish dialect.

"I am, dear sister-in-law," he said, inclining his head, "and at your beck and call for as long as you need me." He lifted her hand and brushed it with a gentle kiss.

She shivered. Her heart raced at his warm touch that she felt through the thin fabric of her glove. She pulled her hand away, not at all happy about the way his kiss caused a funny feeling inside of her. Of course, many women would have difficulty ignoring a handsome man of such extraordinary height, lean yet powerful build, black, wavy hair and deep brown eyes.

"I... I worried that something had happened to you." A sudden bolt of lightning splitting the sky startled her, and she added, "I suggest we leave for home before the roads become impassable."

"And where are your sons?"

"My neighbor, Mrs. Crane, offered to stay with them on the condition I return shortly."

"I apologize for my lateness. Two days ago I boarded a train in Chicago. That was shortly after I sent the wire notifying you of my arrival. Alas, the train derailed and I was forced to wait for another that did not leave until this morning. I sent you a second wire."

"I never received it."

For some reason, she trusted his word, though she had long ago given up believing a single word from her husband. Payton had been a gambler and tippler, until he drowned a month ago in the St. Croix River. During the last two years of their marriage, she had learned to depend upon herself for her livelihood. Which was fine with her. She'd never been the sort of woman to sit idle day after day. Running the boarding house gave her something worthwhile to do, and she earned a fair living besides. The money she'd saved from her boarders was dwindling, though, and the next season's lumberjacks wouldn't be arriving for four long months.

"I suppose it could not be helped. Now, we must get out of this rain, although it doesn't matter since we are both drenched."

He replaced his hat, took her arm and escorted her to her buckboard. "I must fetch my bags," he said, assisting her into the driver's seat. Within moments, he returned with two leather bags and tossed them into the back of the wagon. "Have you any suggestions regarding accommodations in town?"

"I wouldn't hear of you staying at a hotel. I've a room at home ready for you."

He raised his brow. "For propriety's sake, that may not be a good idea."

"My friends and neighbors wouldn't think poorly of me for offering a family member a place to stay." She saw the hesitant look on his face and she flushed, chiding herself for being so forward. Oh, she wanted him to stay with her, yet he appeared ready to decline. If he did, it would greatly disappoint her sons. They missed a man's presence in their young lives. And as much as she hated to admit it, as much as she enjoyed her freedom, she missed a man in the house.

"Verra well. Then I shall see you later," he said and whacked Winney's hindquarters.

Brianna held onto the reins as the horse started moving forward and she shouted over her shoulder, "Aren't you coming?"

"I have business to tend to first."

"But you have no idea where I live!"

In the dimming light, she caught a flash of white and bristled when she realized he was smiling. "I'm certain I will have no trouble finding you."

As she headed for home, she couldn't help but wonder what business a stranger from Scotland could have in town with the approach of evening. From past experience where her husband was concerned, there were only a few reasons why a man went to town after dark. She shook her head and heaved a sigh, chagrined at her wayward thoughts. "All right, Brianna MacAulay. That will be enough of that sort of thinking."

• • •

Brianna stood in her parlor, satisfied that the cherry wood tables still glowed from her most recent polishing. The white lace curtains covering the windows were fresh and clean. The red, green and gold floral carpeting held nary a speck of lint. Her boys had their noses jammed against a parlor window as they anxiously awaited the arrival of their uncle.

"You will smear the glass, and after I just cleaned it," she scolded. "Now, come back to the kitchen and finish your supper."

"Not hungry, Ma," said seven-year-old Jamie.

"Me neither," announced Harry. The nine year old stared at her over his shoulder. "When did Uncle Harrison say he'd be here?"

She sighed and tried to count how many times they'd asked that same question since she arrived home more than an hour ago. "He didn't say. There will be no dessert if you don't eat the rest of your stew."

The boys turned to her, disappointment stamped on their faces. She crossed her arms and waited, fighting the urge to give into them. Admittedly, she indulged her boys -- even understood her reasons for doing so. With the loss of their father, they seemed so sad much of the time, Harry, in particular.

Harry asked, "What's for dessert?"

"Do you not recognize the scent?"

Jamie inhaled and grinned. "Apple pie!"

She headed down the hallway, slowing at the sound of someone knocking on her door. She retraced her steps, but by the time she arrived at the door her sons had already opened it. They surveyed their uncle, small faces filled with suspicion, awe and curiosity.

Harrison's cloak hung over one arm. His black jacket fit his wide shoulders to perfection. A matching waistcoat, white shirt with crisp starched collar and gray tie completed his attire. He looked handsome, authoritative and wealthy.

Her younger son stuck out his hand. "I'm Jamie." Brianna noted the pleased but melancholic expression crossing Harrison's face.

"Jamie," he said, taking his nephew's hand in his own. "You look remarkably like your father."

Brianna saw tears glistening in his eyes and thought how dreadful he must be feeling at the loss of his only brother, whom he hadn't seen in ten years. She smiled when he reached down and swept Jamie into his arms, held him close. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He appeared to be inhaling the essence of her son's innocence, as one would inhale the sweet scent of a newly opened rose. Jamie allowed the affectionate embrace until Harrison lowered him to the floor.

She frowned when Jamie clung to his leg. "Your uncle cannot walk with you attached to him."

"He is fine where he is." He settled his big hand on Jamie's blonde thatch of hair, then turned to Harry, who stood by in silence.

"Greet your uncle, Harry," Brianna gently ordered.

"You don't look much like Pa," Harry blurted out, tilting his head to the side. "Except for your smile."

"Verra astute, my boy. I favor our father, while your father took after your grandmother."

"I must also look like my grandfather, since I look like you."

From the moment Brianna had met Harrison at the train depot, she'd realized her son's strong resemblance to his uncle. Yet she'd always thought Harry resembled her.

Harrison opened his arms to welcome him, but Harry reached out and shook his hand, instead. Disappointment crossed Harrison's face but he veiled it. "You know that your father named you after me, don't you?"

Harry shook his head. "Nope. I didn't." He grinned. "We were just going to the kitchen for dessert. Want some?"

"Depends on what it is."

"Oh, well, does it matter?" Harry asked, looking his uncle over carefully. "You look like you eat everything."

"Harry!" Brianna exclaimed, shocked.

Harrison threw back his head and laughed.

Harry's wide-eyed gaze never left his uncle. "But, Ma, he's big as old Farmer Jorgenson's ox!"

Brianna sighed, gave Harrison an apologetic smile. "Have you eaten supper yet?"

"Haven't had a bite since noon."

"How does beef stew, apple pie and coffee sound?"

He grinned. "Wonderful."

After the boys ate their pie, and Harrison had finished his meal, the conversation was lively, interspersed with bouts of boisterous shouts and laughter. Brianna hated ending the evening. It had been a while since she'd seen her sons so happy. But at ten o'clock, she announced, "It's past bedtime, boys."

"Oh, but Ma, we don't have school tomorrow, and we want to talk more with Uncle!" Jamie protested.

"It is late," Harrison inserted. "I'll still be here come morning."

Brianna settled them down for the night and quietly made her way to her bedroom. With a critical look, she examined herself in the oval mirror positioned over the cherry wood bureau, tucking a stray lock of black hair into the bun atop her head. While her sapphire-colored eyes were pretty and her long, straight nose was rather ordinary, she thought her high, wide cheekbones attractive. Enough, Brianna MacAulay! Whom are you trying to impress, anyway? Still, she pinched her cheeks before joining Harrison in the parlor.

He sat in a gold velvet gentleman's chair, which happened to be large enough to accommodate his bulk, one leg crossed over his knee, arms draped over the chair's arms. He rose upon her entrance and she took a seat on the threadbare crimson divan. She welcomed the heat from the fire he had stoked. Just the thought of kicking off her shoes and tucking her toes beneath her warm woolen blanket prompted her to close her weary eyes.

"Tell me about my brother. What caused his death?"

"If I could have kept him here with me he would not have died," she said, opening her eyes. "You received my letter, didn't you?"

"Aye, but you offered no explanation as to how Payton drowned, which I couldn't understand at all since he'd been an excellent swimmer."

"Drunk on spirits was the mortician's findings. He had difficulty controlling himself in that way."

"You mentioned if you could have kept him here with you, he wouldn't be dead. What did you mean by that remark?"

"He lived..." She hung her head, too embarrassed to continue.

"Go on," he prompted. Behind the spectacles, his eyes were kind.

"Your brother kept a mistress for the past two years. He spent little time at home."

"Ah, now why doesn't that surprise me?"

She raised her brow. "Are you telling me he had a history of womanizing?"

"Aye. But it is not all that uncommon in Scotland for a man to keep a mistress -- discreetly, of course. This doesn't mean he doesn't love his wife. It's just that a wife is a lady, and a lady cannot always provide her husband with what he needs."

The man was dreadfully serious. My Lord, he hadn't lived through the pain and agony of losing a loved one as she had. Not Payton's dying, but his leaving her for another woman. "Is that a fact? May I assume a wife has the same privilege?"

He stared at her a long moment before asking, "What privilege would that be?"

"Why, to have affairs."

"Hardly," he snapped.

Tears filled her eyes and her voice quivered. "I gave your brother my unequivocal devotion. I kept his home tidy and served him fine meals -- that is, when he chose to bless us with his presence. But even that wasn't enough for him."

"How long have you been shouldering the burden for your family, Brianna?"

"For quite some time." She swallowed the lump in her throat and swiped at a tear running down her cheek. "Your brother had grand dreams of forging a fortune, and was well on his way to fulfilling them when he purchased stock in Mayor's Lumber Company. He grew fascinated with the every-day workings of that enterprise. In fact, he spent entire winters up north in the logging camps, working as a lumberjack. He loved being outdoors. But it meant him being away from home for so long. We all missed him terribly during those months, but he was working the work he loved. How could I deny him?"

Harrison frowned. "Payton didn't establish a solicitor's practice when he arrived in America?"

She raised her brow. "Payton was a lawyer?"

"Yes, a very successful one in Scotland, until he was forced to...until he decided to move to America. I had thought he'd start up his business here."

Payton had been educated? He'd never mentioned a word to her. Just thinking about his pay as a logger compared with what an attorney earned caused her to seethe.

"Continue, please," Harrison said.

"He would come home in the spring, as all the lumberjacks did, and stay until October when he'd leave again."

Harrison shoved back the edges of his jacket, jammed his hands on his hips. "Are ye telling me that my brother left ye alone for more than half a year at a time?"

Ah, there was that burr again. She nodded.

"However did you manage?"

She lifted her chin and met his gaze straight on. "With difficulty."

After Payton's death she had approached his solicitor, Reginald Nielsen. He'd told her everything had been taken care of, and that she need not worry her pretty little head about a thing. He'd also explained that until Harrison MacAulay arrived he couldn't release so much as a single cent to her.

"We shall call upon my solicitor first thing Monday morning," she announced, thinking of the money she required to purchase bed frames and mattresses from Sears Roebuck. A monthly charge of seven dollars per month, including board, was reasonable rent for a lumberjack. And renting five bedrooms would give her all the money she required to keep her home, and to feed and clothe her children.

"That will not be necessary since Mr. Nielsen and I have met, this very evening, in fact. We've straightened out Payton's financial affairs, and everything is in order."

Brianna frowned. "But Mr. Nielsen never conducts business past five o'clock, and never on Saturday or Sunday."

Harrison inclined his head. "He was willing to oblige me."

She clapped her hands in delight. "Well, that's wonderful news! Now you may return to your home in Scotland, and I may get on with my life."

He sat down beside her and gave her a gentle smile. "You seem to be an intelligent woman, and I believe you will understand me when I say your financial situation is far from good." He reached inside his pocket and withdrew a small packet of money. "This is all that is left of Payton's estate, once Nielson paid off his considerable debts." He pressed the bills into her hand. "I'm sorry, but it will be necessary to sell your home. I've requested Mr. Nielsen to immediately begin seeking a buyer."

Staring in wide-eyed dismay at the paltry sum, Brianna rose from the divan. Clenching the money in her fist, she felt a fury unlike any she'd ever felt before threaten to ignite. "How could Payton do this to us?"

She thought how she'd tolerated her husband's drinking and gambling for the sake of their children, and because she loved him. In hindsight, she realized she had known little of love when she married Payton at sixteen. Recognizing her own shortcomings, she knew she was not as easy on the eyes as many other women. She had long ago come to terms with the fact that she would never be petite and pretty. Still, Payton's taking a mistress had hurt her. But then she also knew that she had been much more in love with Payton than he'd been with her. To this day she still wondered why he'd requested her hand in marriage!

Sadly, the next time she saw him was after he'd drowned. She'd had him laid out in his blue serge suit, in a simple pine box. With tears rolling down her cheeks and her grieving sons on either side of her, she cursed him for having caused them all so much pain while he lived.

"I apologize for my brother's lack of responsibility for you and your sons. Payton never did possess one iota of common sense." He stared into the fire a moment before turning to her again. "A few years ago Payton sent me a letter regarding your welfare, if something were to happen to him. His desire was for you to return with me to Scotland."

"I am capable of taking care of myself and my sons. For two years I've taken in boarders and have done just fine, thank you." She swept past him and took her seat on the divan, folding her hands in her lap.

"You mean to tell me you open your home to strangers?"

"I was forced to do so," she said, lifting her chin, meeting the fiery look in his eyes head-on. "This is my home and I'm not leaving it."

"Hell and damnation!" he growled. "Do you think I want to do this to you?" He raked a hand through his hair. "I hate uprooting you and your sons, but we have no choice in the matter. You've been left penniless, left with nothing but your children, and I'm afraid even they aren't legally yours.

"We leave for Scotland as soon as I can make arrangements."

Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Pirri

Meet the Author

Nancy Schumacher is the owner-publisher of Melange Books, LLC, writing under the pseudonym, Nancy Pirri and Natasha Perry. Nancy has been a member of Romance Writers of America and her local chapter, Midwest Fiction Writers, for several years. She is also one of the founders of a second Minnesota RWA chapter, Northern Lights Writers (NLW).

January 1, 2011, Nancy opened her digital and print on demand, multi-genre house, Melange Books, LLC. In January, 2012, Melange's new young adult imprint was created, Fire and Ice Young Adult Books. In May, 2014, Melange's new highly romantic imprint, Satin Romance, opened.

Website: www.nancypirri.com

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