Some Like It Wild
The Scottish Highlands
I need a man," Pamela Darby proclaimed with the same matter—of—fact conviction she would have used to announce "I need a scrap of lace to mend my hem" or "I need a fresh turnip for tonight's stew."
From the coach seat opposite her, her half—sister Sophie glanced up from studying her worn copy of La Belle Assemblée. The periodical was two seasons out of date, but that didn't stop Sophie from sighing over its colorful fashion plates or poring over its recommendations for the rouge most likely to grace a young lady's cheek with a flattering hue.
"What I need—what we need," Pamela amended, "is not just any man, but some strapping Scots lad with more brawn than brains." She deepened her voice, faking a burr that would have done Bonnie Prince Charlie proud. "A lad easily led by two canny lasses with more wits than he."
"And I'm guessing those lasses would be us?" Sophie ventured, cocking a knowing eyebrow. She winced and wiggled on the battered cushions as the coach shuddered and began to grind its way down another rocky trail that insulted their intelligence by calling itself a road. "Just how do you propose we find this handsome dullard? Should we ask the coachman to stop at the next village and post a broadsheet?"
Trusting that her sister would play along with her silly scheme, if only to pass the long hours on the road, Pamela bit her bottom lip. "Hmmm . . . that's not a bad idea. I hadn't considered a broadsheet. How about one that reads, 'WANTED: Thick—Witted, Thick—Necked Scotsman toMasquerade as Duke's Long Lost Heir.' Perhaps we could nail one up in the market square of each village we pass through."
"Just like that one we saw in the last village, warning us that there's a dangerous highwayman with a price on his head terrorizing these very roads—robbing travelers and ravishing innocent women?"
Sophie's mocking words brought Pamela's flight of fancy crashing down on the jagged rocks of reality. She remembered that broadsheet only too well. A crude sketch had accompanied it, depicting a masked man with a rugged jaw, a pistol in his hand and a ruthless light in his eyes. She had been drawn to it against her will, her fingertips lightly tracing the incongruous dimple set deep in his right cheek. She could not help wondering what would drive a man to defy both the law and God's commandments by stealing what he wanted instead of paying for it. When Sophie had approached, Pamela had quickly turned away from the broadsheet, afraid her sister might find an echo of her own growing desperation in the highwayman's steely gaze.
The memory of that gaze sent a faint shudder down her spine. She was painfully aware that two women traveling alone through these wild and rugged climes could easily become the target of more than just mild suspicion and disapproving glances. But they hadn't the means to employ maidservants to give them an air of respectability or outriders to protect the carriage they'd hired after disembarking from the public coach in Edinburgh. They would simply have to depend upon the elderly coachman and his ancient musket to defend both their lives and their virtue.
She forced an airy smile. "From what I've heard about these Highland savages, they're more inclined to ravish their sheep than their women." She ran a hand over her reticule, deriving her own comfort from what she'd tucked away in the little silk purse.
Twirling one of her curls around her forefinger, Sophie sighed. "I still can't believe we've come all this way for naught. You heard that old crone in Strathspey. According to her, the duke's heir died nearly thirty years ago, when he was still a babe. Neither he nor his mother survived their first Highland winter."
"I can certainly understand why," Pamela muttered, tucking her hands deeper into her fur muff. She had been even more dismayed than Sophie to discover that the trail they'd been faithfully following for the past month had gone cold. Colder even than this godforsaken country where the wind whipped right through you—even when the sun was shining. Colder than the icy drops of rain that began to pelt you the second you decided it was safe to put away your parasol. Colder than the dampness that sank deep into your bones, making you feel as if you'd never truly be warm again.
"Why don't we just forget all about the reward and go home?" Sophie suggested.
"A sound plan indeed . . . if we still had a home."
As a mist of sadness dimmed the sparkle in Sophie's light blue eyes, Pamela immediately regretted her sharp tone. Until six months ago, the Crown Theatre off of Drury Lane had been the only real home either one of them had ever known. They'd both been born backstage and pronounced 'very fine productions indeed' by their actress mother. But now the theater was gone, reduced to rubble and ash by the same tragic fire that had killed their mother and would have killed them as well had they not been sleeping in their nearby lodgings at the time. Pamela's throat tightened around a bitter and familiar ache. Her only comfort lay in knowing that their mother had never wanted to outlive her legendary beauty—or its devastating effect on her admirers.
A beauty that survived in the pale shimmer of her half—sister's curls. Curls trimmed in a fashionable bob that perfectly framed Sophie's heart—shaped face with its Cupid's bow of a mouth and enchantingly retroussé nose. It was whispered among the opera dancers that Sophie's father had been a wealthy French comte who had found their mother both charmant and ravissant. That he had lost his heart, only to return to France and lose his head before he could offer for their mother's hand. Some Like It Wild
. Copyright (c) by Teresa Medeiros . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.