The Marshal and the Heiressby Patricia Potter
Award-winning author Patricia Potter sweeps readers to an ancestral estate in Scotland where a lady’s heart is reawakened by the surprising arrival of a rugged American lawman
After hunting down outlaws during America’s Civil War, marshal Ben Masters faces a new challenge. His promise to a dying woman has made him the guardian of Sarah Ann/b>… See more details below
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Award-winning author Patricia Potter sweeps readers to an ancestral estate in Scotland where a lady’s heart is reawakened by the surprising arrival of a rugged American lawman
After hunting down outlaws during America’s Civil War, marshal Ben Masters faces a new challenge. His promise to a dying woman has made him the guardian of Sarah Ann Hamilton, an orphaned little girl who must be returned to the Scottish estate she has inherited. But at Calholm, Ben encounters a clan divided by greed and ambition. Only Sarah Ann stands between the coveted Scottish keep and those next in line to inherit. One of them is the child’s beautiful aunt.
Five years ago, Lisbeth Hamilton came to Calholm as a young bride. When her husband died, she found a new passion: establishing a world-renowned stable and breeding a champion steed to rival any in the British Isles. Now the entire family’s fate rests with the rugged American who has upended their world . . . and who arouses strong emotions in Lisbeth. With deadly intrigue swirling around Calholm and Ben Masters laying claim to her heart, she realizes how far she’ll go to protect the child they have both come to love and the passion they were meant to share.
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The Marshal and the Heiress
By Patricia Potter
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Patricia Potter
All rights reserved.
Aboard the Lady Mary on the Atlantic Ocean 1868
Ben tried to keep the irritation from his voice as he stuck his head under the lifeboat. The shirt he had grabbed and thrown on without buttoning flapped in the wind.
Damn, but it was cold. He'd known cold before, but not like this; the icy ocean wind seeped through his bones. It didn't help his bad leg, either, which had stiffened during the voyage.
"Annabelle, come on, now. Come out of there," he cajoled in the soothing voice he'd used many times before to try to lure his prey from hiding. Unfortunately, the present outlaw wasn't responding one bit better than those in the past.
He pulled his head out and squinted up at Mrs. Franklin T. Faulkner. The dowager, who had sat at the captain's table with him the night before, had her mouth pursed in disapproval.
If only his fellow marshals could see him now. They would laugh themselves silly.
"I'm looking for my daughter's cat," he explained curtly, then turned back to his mission, digging deeper under the lifeboat. Sarah Ann would be inconsolable if she lost the half-grown calico cat they'd rescued off the streets of Boston before boarding the ship. The cat, though, had been irritatingly ungrateful. Once adopted and feeling safe, she delighted in scampering out the cabin door to antagonize the ship's rat-catching cats. Apprehending her tested every one of Ben's hunting skills.
"A cat?" Mrs. Faulkner said.
"A cat," Ben confirmed, his hand stretching toward the ragged bundle of fur.
"Annabelle?" she added in a disbelieving tone.
Ben didn't answer. He wished the woman would scurry away as quickly as Annabelle had escaped his cabin minutes ago. The thought amused him. The hefty Mrs. Faulkner couldn't scurry if her life depended on it.
"Mr. Masters!" The voice was indignant.
He cursed audibly and heard a shocked gasp in response. He clenched his teeth. He was used to being on his own or with men as rough as himself. He would have to temper his speech as well as his actions for the next few months. But for the moment, politeness be damned.
He almost snatched Annabelle, but she reached out and raked his arm with her claws. He grabbed one of her paws and started dragging her out. "Gotcha," he said with as much satisfaction as if he'd bagged a killer after months of hunting.
Annabelle suddenly feigned docility, though he didn't trust it, not one bit. She snuggled against him, purring contentedly. Ben swore vengeance silently, though he would never take it. Except on occasion, Annabelle wound him around her little claws almost as securely as Sarah Ann had twisted him around her small fingers. Something about babies did that to him, he was discovering.
Prior to meeting Sarah Ann, he'd never experienced wet baby kisses or rough kitten-tongue swipes across his cheek. There was something rather endearing about both, though he wouldn't have admitted it out loud. So he just simply glowered at Mrs. Faulkner after he slowly, awkwardly, emerged from under the lifeboat with his trophy clutched tightly against his chest.
Mrs. Faulkner's gaze went to his bare chest, then drifted upward to his half-shaven face. He knew soap still clung to parts of it. He hastily buttoned his shirt with one hand.
"My apologies for the state of undress," he said stiffly.
Six months ago, he wouldn't have cared how anyone saw him; after weeks, sometimes months on the trail of an outlaw, his clothes and beard would be in a sorry state, and it wouldn't have mattered. But Sarah Ann's future, her acceptance as a peeress, might well depend on him and his actions. He still couldn't quite believe the events of the past month, the news that was now sending him to Scotland.
Mrs. Faulkner looked at him oddly. "Your child's a dear little soul, but she doesn't favor you at all."
Ben loathed the woman's curiosity, even as he felt strangely satisfied by her words. Sarah Ann was lovely with her red curls and green eyes, a tiny replica of her mother.
"You don't think so?" he said, forcing disappointment into his voice. He wanted to be rid of Mrs. Franklin T. Faulkner and her thinly veiled questions. He suspected she had ulterior motives, principally her unmarried daughter. If she knew some of the things he'd done, she wouldn't be so eager to consider him son-in-law material.
He had been circumspect about sharing with other passengers information regarding Sarah Ann or himself, saying only that he was an attorney traveling with his daughter. He was, by nature, a cautious man. A lawman had to be.
Besides, there were still too many unanswered questions for him to reveal more. If Sarah Ann found a new home in Scotland—a family who would care for her—he would return to America. It would ... crack his heart, but a family of her own would be far better for her than a man who knew more about hunting outlaws than drying tears. And if all didn't work out to his satisfaction, well, then, the two of them would come back together and he would return to his original plan.
He had taken precautions, though. He had officially adopted the child. A great deal of money apparently was part of Sarah Ann's potential inheritance, and it was his experience that money corrupted. The greater the amount at stake, the greater the corruption.
"Poor motherless child." Mrs. Faulkner obviously wasn't going to give up. "You should marry again." Her eyes were avaricious on behalf of her daughter.
"Sarah Ann's mother died just a few months ago," he said abruptly, trying to end the conversation.
"Still, she needs a mother's hands."
"She needs Annabelle right now," he said. "Please excuse me."
A loud "humph" followed him as he headed for the stairs, then, "What a doting father."
Ben grinned. He decided he and Sarah Ann would take their meal in their cabin tonight rather than risk sitting at the captain's table again with Mrs. Faulkner and her marriageable daughter.
In the cabin, he found Sarah Ann standing in the middle of the small room, her wide eyes anxious, her lower lip trembling.
"You found her," she exclaimed happily, and Ben felt ten feet tall. A lot taller than when he'd brought in a man to hang.
As she took the kitten from him, she saw his bleeding hand and scolded Annabelle.
"Bad cat," she said, but there was no bite to her words. The cat licked her cheek with apparent satisfaction rather than remorse. Sarah Ann put Annabelle in her basket and shut the top, then touched Ben's bloody scratch.
"Doth it hurt?" she lisped with concern.
Ever since he had said he needed her, she'd taken the role of caretaker very seriously. Sometimes she even seemed like a tiny mother, very grown-up in some ways, yet very much a child in others.
He smiled. A cat scratch was nothing compared to the wounds he'd suffered. "No, Sugarplum," he said. "It doesn't hurt at all, but we'll have to be more careful to keep Annabelle inside the room."
Sarah Ann looked remorseful but pleaded to be allowed to "fix" his hand. She carefully washed it as he had done with her small cuts.
"Tell me 'bout my new fam bly," she demanded.
He'd already told her repeatedly, but she never tired of hearing it, which was just as well because he wasn't very good at fairy tales.
"Well," he said, drawing the word out, "there are two Ladies Calholm. There's Lisbeth Hamilton and there's Barbara Hamilton. They were married to your uncles, Hamish and Jamie."
"My papa's brothers," Sarah Ann coached him. She had never known her papa. He'd died at a poker table before her birth, leaving Mary May the pregnant widow of a known crooked gambler. Alone with a baby daughter to support, Mary May had turned saloon girl and confidante to outlaws, not the best of heritages.
But now there was another heritage, a brighter one, Ben hoped. For it seemed that her scapegrace father had been the third son of a Scottish marquess, and with all three sons dead and no other grandchildren, Sarah Ann was heiress to a title and a vast estate. The notion had seemed more fanciful than real to Ben, but Silas Martin, the U.S. attorney acting on behalf of the Hamiltons' Scottish solicitor, had convinced him that it was all true. Despite his own personal feelings and plans—and even a temptation to ignore the summons to Scotland—he couldn't deny Sarah Ann the knowledge of her heritage and the chance to know her real family. So, having been her guardian for only a few months, he'd closed his newly opened law practice in Denver, packed a few belongings, and here they were—on a ship bound for Scotland. "That's right," he said.
"They are your aunts."
"Who else is there?" Sarah Ann asked eagerly.
"There's your cousin Hugh," Ben continued. He tried to hide his anger. Silas Martin had said that Hugh Hamilton, who stood to inherit the title behind Sarah Ann, had tried to bribe him not to search too aggressively for Sarah Ann's father. Ben wondered just how far the would-be heir's ambition would drive him.
Already, an unusual number of deaths had occurred in the family, and Ben had never trusted coincidence. The Hamiltons seemed prone to tragedy, which looked like a recipe for disaster to Ben. He didn't believe in curses, but if he did, surely one had been visited upon the Hamilton family.
It was up to him to see that the curse—or whatever it was—didn't extend to Sarah Ann. And God help anyone who tried to interfere.
He let nothing of his concern show in his face, though, as he spun a tale of magic castles and Scottish lakes. And princesses.
"Am I a princess?"
"No, but I think you'll be a lady."
That always made her giggle. He had tried to explain about titles—about lords and ladies and marquesses. His own knowledge was incomplete, possibly wrong, but she loved hearing about them anyway.
"And I get to curtsy?"
"Yes, indeed," he said, "just as Cully taught you. She must have secretly known you were a real lady." He had been enchanted the first time Mary May had taken him to meet her daughter, and Sarah Ann had performed a perfect curtsy for him. She had won his heart then and there.
"Will they like me?" she asked with anxiety.
"Of course." He hoped to God it was true. But how could anyone not adore her, with those wide eyes and wistful smile and tumbling red curls? And her eagerness to like and be liked.
"And will they like Annabelle and Suzanna?" Suzanna was her doll, her inseparable companion. She clung to it as she did to the scarf she presently wore around her neck—the last presents her mother had given her. She wore the scarf even in her sleep, claiming it kept away the "bears," her name for nightmares. But it didn't always work. Too often, he woke to her whimperings and knew the night demons remained with her.
In answer to her question, he nodded and she threw her arms around his neck. "I love you, Papa," she said. "So does Annabelle."
His heart clutched at the overwhelming tenderness he felt. Tenderness that almost squeezed out the foreboding that chilled his bones.
Ben stood on deck, holding Sarah Ann so she could see over the crowd lining the railing of the ship. The wind was cold and damp; it always seemed to be that way in this corner of the world. The ship was approaching the Glasgow docks, and Sarah Ann wriggled with excitement.
The port—like those all over the world—was dirty and teeming with people. Dockworkers and finely dressed citizens waited on the pier as the ship maneuvered between other craft, some steam, some elegant sailing vessels.
Ben wondered if anyone would be there to meet them, then discarded the idea. It wasn't as if they were really welcome. Just the opposite if Martin's warning about Hugh Hamilton were true.
Still, Martin had sent advance word to the Hamiltons that he had located the daughter of the late Ian Hamilton and that the child and her guardian were booked on a ship to Glasgow. Ben wasn't sure whether he'd specified the name of the ship. And Ben had delayed an earlier departure to ensure the legality of his guardianship.
Sarah Ann wriggled again in his arms, and he hugged her to him. With each passing day, he was coming to feel more and more like a father, although many times a befuddled one. He was even growing used to her calling him Papa. At first, the term had been more than a little disconcerting—strange—but he'd known how she hungered for a parent all of her own, and now he relished the sound.
He loved her smile, so rare in the weeks after her mother's death but appearing ever more frequently, and that endearing grown-up pose. At times she seemed old beyond her years, a tiny wise person who continually surprised him. She could already read a bit and count to fifty, and she had infinite curiosity. He was always answering "why." Her questions made him look at things differently, made him rethink old assumptions and simple facts, made him devise reasons for the sky being blue. She was vastly expanding his imagination.
Now the great unknown facing them brought a torrent of endless questions from Sarah Ann.
"Where are we? When can we leave? When will I get a pony?" He had promised both a pony and new clothes when they reached Scotland, though she'd shown little interest in the latter.
The great unknown also brought out some of her fear. She snuggled even closer against him.
"Don't ever go away," she whispered for the hundredth time in as many days. The frequency of the demand always pained him because it indicated that she still didn't feel safe.
"You'll always be safe," he swore. "I promise you that."
The answer seemed to satisfy her. Then her gaze went to the horses lined up on the street beyond the dock. "Can we get a pony here?" she asked.
"When we get to Calholm."
"How long?" she wheedled.
He grinned. According to his information, it was twenty miles by coach to Calholm. Soon enough, Sugarplum," he said. "For now, we'll find a hotel and get some good hot baths, then we'll see about a coach tomorrow."
"Perhaps I can be of assistance. I know Glasgow well."
Ben turned and recognized Andrew Cameron. Cameron had seemed to single them out on shipboard, charming Sarah Ann with several magic tricks. His curiosity had not ingratiated him to Ben.
Andrew Cameron was a gambler and a Scottish lord of some kind. He was a charmer with an easy smile and a gentle way with Sarah Ann, though he was said to be deadly in a card game. Some other passengers had claimed he'd cheated, and the captain had ended the games a few days ago and told him he wasn't welcome on any of his ships.
Ben withheld judgment. Cameron was a puzzle. He was likable on the surface, but there was also a dark, brooding side to the man that put Ben on guard. Hell, he had his own dark, brooding moments, but still ... Cameron had asked too many questions, particularly when he'd heard Ben was heading toward Calholm.
So Ben merely nodded his thanks at Cameron's offer of help. "The name of a good hotel would be welcome."
"How long will you be staying?"
"Only until we can catch the coach to Edinburgh. I understand it goes near Calholm."
"It does," Cameron said. "It passes a small village called Duneagle, and you can rent a coach there to take you by Calholm."
He spoke of the estate with easy familiarity. Which prompted Ben to ask, "You've been to Calholm?"
"I know the family." Then, without elaboration, he changed the subject. "As for an inn tonight, you might try the Four Horses. It's small, but the food's very good and it's clean. And it's close to the Edinburgh stage." He grinned suddenly. "It's usually too respectable for me, but I think you'll find it suitable for you and the young lass."
Ben nodded again. "We'll try it, then. Thank you."
"'Tis a real pleasure to assist such a bonny lass," Cameron replied. He was tall with light brown hair and hazel eyes. His smile was infectious, and Sarah Ann favored him with a delighted smile of her own.
Cameron grinned. "Maybe we'll meet again. I'm going to Edinburgh myself, now that I'm banned from the Blankenship line." The words were carelessly tossed out, without rancor or concern. Ben wondered whether being "banned" was a frequent occurrence for him.
Sarah Ann was gazing at Cameron with open adoration, and he leaned down and plucked something from behind her ear, then turned it over in his hand. A coin. "You're the only lassie I know who keeps her money behind her ear," he teased.
Sarah Ann giggled as she took the offered pence.
"Papa's going to get me a pony," she told him.
Excerpted from The Marshal and the Heiress by Patricia Potter. Copyright © 1996 Patricia Potter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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