Rogue with a Brogue (Scandalous Highlanders Series #2)
  • Rogue with a Brogue (Scandalous Highlanders Series #2)
  • Rogue with a Brogue (Scandalous Highlanders Series #2)

Rogue with a Brogue (Scandalous Highlanders Series #2)

4.3 18
by Suzanne Enoch
     
 

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A ROGUE FOR EVERY LADY
London, 1817: Stuck in a Mayfair ballroom thanks to his lovestruck brother, highlander Arran MacLawry wants nothing but a bit of distraction from an arranged betrothal-and a clever auburn-haired lass in a vixen's mask promises just that...until he discovers that she's the granddaughter of the Campbell, chief of clan MacLawry's longtime

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Overview

A ROGUE FOR EVERY LADY
London, 1817: Stuck in a Mayfair ballroom thanks to his lovestruck brother, highlander Arran MacLawry wants nothing but a bit of distraction from an arranged betrothal-and a clever auburn-haired lass in a vixen's mask promises just that...until he discovers that she's the granddaughter of the Campbell, chief of clan MacLawry's longtime rival. Despite their families' grudging truce, falling for fiery Mary Campbell is a notion too outlandish even for this Highlander...
THE THRILL OF THE FORBIDDEN
Raised on tales of savage MacLawrys, Mary is stunned to realize the impressively strapping man in the fox's mask is one of them. Surely the enemy shouldn't have such a broad chest, and such a seductive brogue? Not that her curiosity matters-any dalliance between them is strictly forbidden, and she's promised to another. But with the crackling spark between them ready to ignite, love is worth every risk...in Rogue with a Brogue by Suzanne Enoch

"One of my very favorite authors." -Julia Quinn

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
06/02/2014
Enoch (The Devil Wears Kilts) strikes all the right notes in this charming 19th-century caper. Despite a tenuous truce, the old feud between the MacLawrys and the Campbells still simmers. Arran MacLawry, a rugged Highlander to the core, chafes at a Mayfair masked ball, where he has to behave himself while his brother and clan chieftain tries to build interclan alliances to cement the MacLawry fortunes. Wearing a fox mask, Arran encounters a ravishing green-eyed Lady Vixen and falls under her spell—only to learn she’s Mary Campbell. The chase is on, but which fox is the pursuer? After Mary lets Arran steal her to the wild North rather than submit to the dull suitors her parents prefer, Enoch effectively balances powerfully crescendoing romantic interludes with stages of a rattling coach ride. Fox and vixen must save each other at least once from disaster, keeping the action moving to a colorful, convincing climax. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"One of my very favorite authors." —Julia Quinn

"A nicely crafted romance that brings a spy novel sensibility to a damsel-in-distress fugitive trope, with entertaining and rewarding results." —Kirkus Reviews

 “A joyride of a novel…a sensual romantic caper sure to win applause.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Reading a book by Suzanne Enoch is like stepping into a time machine. She so adeptly transports readers….”—New York Journal of Books

 “A highly gifted author.”—Romantic Times

“With her carefully drawn characters and plot chock-full of political intrigue, greed, and scandal, Enoch has put a nifty Regency spin on the Beauty and the Beast story.” —Booklist

“Suzanne Enoch has a gift for piquing a reader's interest.”—Sun Journal

"Enoch combines wonderful characters who have marvelous chemistry with a clever plot and a fast pace." –RT Book Reviews on THE HANDBOOK TO HANDLING HIS LORDSHIP

Kirkus Reviews
2014-06-29
Sparks fly when Arran MacLawry and Mary Campbell meet at a London ball, and the fact that their families are sworn enemies only adds to their interest in each other. Trying to escape the annoying clutches of his sister’s best friend at a masked ball, Arran bumps into an unknown woman whom he asks to dance. The two definitely feel an attraction, but once the waltz is over, his sister informs him that the woman is none other than Mary Campbell, granddaughter of the leader of an enemy clan. At first convinced she was trying to make a fool of him, Arran confronts her, but she confounds him by turning his attack into a conversation and then finagling him into spending time in her company, which he enjoys more than he ever expected. Their awareness and interest grow, but both Arran and Mary have potential arranged marriages hanging over them, all the better to keep alliances strong and a negotiated peace in place among all the clans. When a misstep leads to the discovery of their relationship, Mary’s family tries to force her into marrying a brute, and Arran rescues her with plans to elope to Scotland. Hunted by Mary’s family and possibly his, they commit to a dangerous path and face betrayal but find shelter and aid in unexpected places. A charming, fun, sexy Highlander version of Romeo and Juliet—or rather an anti-version, since it promises a happily-ever-after. Scottish clan wars, a Regency sensibility and star-crossed lovers make for a sensual, captivating romance.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781250041616
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
07/29/2014
Series:
Scandalous Highlanders Series, #2
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
177,257
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Clan MacLawry had an old saying that through the years had become, “If ye want to see the face of the devil, look at a Campbell.”

There was another MacLawry saying about London and the weak-chinned Sasannach who lived there, Arran MacLawry recalled, but as he currently stood in the center of a Mayfair ballroom, he would keep it to himself. A gaggle of young lasses, all of whom had donned elegantly arching swan masks, strolled by in a flock. He grinned at them, disrupting the formation and sending them, honking in feminine tones, toward the refreshment table.

“Stop that, ye devil.”

Arran glanced over at his brother, seated a few feet away and in deep conversation—or so he’d thought—with an elegant owl mask. “I didnae do a thing but smile. Ye said to be friendly, Ranulf.”

Ranulf, the Marquis of Glengask, shook his head. Even with his face partly obscured by a black panther half-mask, there wasn’t likely a single guest at the Garreton soiree tonight who didn’t know precisely who he was. “I said to be polite. Nae brawls, nae insults, and nae sending the wee Sasannach lasses into a frenzy.”

“Then likely I should’ve worn a cow or a pigeon mask, instead of a fox.” Or perhaps he shouldn’t have attended at all tonight—but then who would keep a watch for Campbells and other unsavory sorts?

The owl beside his brother chuckled. “I don’t think the disguise would matter, Arran,” she said in her cultured English accent. “You’d still make all the young ladies sit up and take notice.”

“I suppose that to be a compliment, Charlotte,” he returned, inclining his head at his oldest brother’s Sasannach fiancée, Charlotte Hanover, “so I’ll say thank ye.” At that same moment he spied a splendid peacock mask above a deep violet gown and smiled, but the expression froze as the green and gold swan beside the peacock came into view. Damnation. The two young birds joined arms and turned in his direction, but he didn’t think they’d spotted him yet. “Yer bonny sister wouldnae be a swan tonight, would she?” he asked Charlotte, slowly straightening from his lean against the wall.

“Yes,” Charlotte returned. “Poor thing. I don’t think she realized so many others would be wearing swan masks tonight, as well.”

“Well, if ye see her and Winnie, tell the lasses I said hello,” he said, turning for the door to the main ballroom. “I spy Uncle Myles, and I ken he wanted a word with me.”

“Liar,” Ranulf said. “And dunnae go far. The Stewarts are expected tonight, and I want ye to make Deirdre Stewart’s acquaintance.”

Arran stopped dead, though he did duck a bit to stay behind the clutter of masks between him and the green-gold swan. “Deirdre Stewart? The hell ye say.”

His older brother didn’t look like he was jesting, however. “I’ve heard she’s pleasant enough, and she’s but two-and-twenty. And she’s the Stewart’s niece.”

So that was the other reason his brother had told him to stay in London, even after the brawls and his obvious … impatience with the rather English way Ranulf had been conducting himself. “That’s my duty now, is it?” he asked, unable to keep the growl from his voice.

“We’ve nae met Lord Allen’s daughter, so I suppose we’ll find oot.” The marquis glanced beyond Arran’s shoulder. “Yer pretty bird is close by.”

Jane Hanover was more like a vulture, circling and waiting for him to succumb to her relentless charm, but Arran wasn’t about to stand there and argue while she closed in. He didn’t need to wear a fox mask to sense trouble, and Charlotte’s eighteen-year-old sister was nothing but. His own sister Rowena’s dearest friend or not, she was a debutante, a Sasannach, and a romantic. Arran shuddered, glancing over his shoulder. Devil take him before he let himself be caught up with that.

And then, evidently, there was clan Stewart. There’d been no open warfare between the two clans, and now that he thought about it, over the past week his brother had mentioned them more often than he had the Campbells. And though this was the first time Ranulf had spoken about him and Deirdre in the same sentence, Arran had had more than a hunch it was coming. Politically an alliance would likely fare better if Ranulf himself offered for Deirdre, but as the chief of clan MacLawry had gone and fallen in love with a Sasannach, Arran supposed that left to him to be the sacrificial MacLawry. And so he could only hope the lass more resembled her mother than she did her frog-faced father, and he could be grateful that no other lass in particular had caught his eye before now.

Off to his left the music for the evening’s first waltz began, shaking him back to his present peril. Damnation. Jane Hanover would track him down, inform him that she had no partner for the dance, and he would have to be polite because they were about to become in-laws. Before the music finished he would find himself betrothed—and that would throw a bucket of sour milk into Ranulf’s plans, not to mention his own.

A peacock and swan hurried through the doorway behind him. And by God he wasn’t yet fool enough to end up leg-shackled to a fresh-faced debutante who found him “ruggedly handsome.” Saint Bridget, he didn’t even know what that meant. Sidestepping between two groups of guests, he turned again—and walked straight into a red and gold vixen half-mask.

“Sir Fox,” she said, a surprised smile curving her mouth below the mask.

“There he is, Jane!” he heard his sister, Winnie, exclaim.

“Lady Vixen,” he returned, matching her smile with one of his own. “I dunnae suppose ye’d care to dance this waltz with one of yer own kind?”

Shadowed green eyes gazed at him for a half-dozen heartbeats, while his doom moved in behind him. One of his dooms. How many of them was a man of seven-and-twenty supposed to shoulder? “I’d be delighted, Sir Fox,” the vixen said, saving him with not even a moment to spare.

He held out his hand, and gold-gloved fingers gripped his. Moving as swiftly as he could without dragging her—or giving the appearance that he’d fled someone else—he escorted her out to the dance floor, slid his hand around her trim waist, and stepped with a vixen into the waltz.

His partner was petite, he noted belatedly, the top of her head just brushing his chin. And she had a welcoming smile. Other than that, she might have been Queen Caroline, for all he knew. Or cared. She wasn’t Jane Hanover, and at the moment that was all that mattered.

“Are we to waltz in silence, then?” she asked, London aristocrat in her voice. “Two foxes among herds of swans and bears and lions?”

Arran grinned. “When I looked at the dessert table I was surprised nae to see baskets of corn for all the birds.”

She nodded, her face lifted to meet his gaze. “Poor dears. Evidently Lady Jersey wore a particularly lovely swan mask to this same soiree last year, and it prompted something of a frenzy.”

As she glanced about the crowded ballroom, he took her in again. Petite, slender, light green eyes, and hair … He wasn’t certain what color to call it. A long and curling mass straying from a knot, it looked like what would result if a painter ran a brown-tipped brush through gold and red in succession—a deep, rich mix of colors that together didn’t have a name.

He blinked. While he’d been known to wax poetic, he generally didn’t do so over a Sasannach lass’s hair. “Why is it that Lady Vixen didnae already have a partner fer a waltz?” he asked.

“I only just arrived,” she returned in her silky voice. “Why was Sir Fox fleeing a peacock?”

So she’d noticed that. “I wasnae fleeing the peacock. That bird’s my sister. It’s the swan who terrifies me.”

The green gaze held his, and he found himself wishing he could see more of her face. As a Highlander and a MacLawry, his ability to assess someone’s expression swiftly and accurately had saved his life on several occasions. An abrupt thought occurred to him. Ranulf had said the Stewarts were attending this evening. What if this vixen was Lady Deirdre? Was she taking his measure as much as he wished to take hers?

“All swans,” she countered, “or just that one? Do they not have swans in the Highlands?”

Of course she knew where he was from; even if all of Mayfair hadn’t been buzzing about the MacLawrys brawling their way through drawing rooms over the past few weeks, his brogue would have made it fairly obvious. Unlike his sister, Rowena, he made no attempt to disguise or stifle his accent. Being a MacLawry was a matter of pride, as far as he was concerned. “Aye, they do have swans there, though nae many. It’s easier to avoid them in the Highlands, where a lad knows the lay of the land and there’s more space to maneuver.”

“I had no idea swans were so deadly.”

“Aye. They’ll catch hold of ye when ye’re nae looking, and they mate fer life.”

She laughed. “Unlike foxes?”

Did foxes mate for life? He couldn’t even recall at the moment. After a fortnight spent hunting for more human dangers, both male and female, a discussion of wildlife—even an allegorical one—seemed … refreshing. “This fox is nae looking for a thing but a partner for the waltz,” he returned, smiling back at her. There. If this was Lady Deirdre, she now knew he wasn’t pursuing some other lass. “And the vixen?”

“I was looking for a friend of mine. An interlude with a fellow fox is an unexpected … distraction. And if you say something flattering, I won’t even be insulted that you only asked me to dance in order to avoid a bird.”

Was that a cut? Or a jest? The fact that he couldn’t be certain of which it was intrigued him. Sassanach lasses in his experience and with very few exceptions knew all about the weather and could discuss it for hours, but he couldn’t give them credit for much else. “Someaught flattering,” he mused aloud, trying to decide how much effort to go to. He meant to approach a marriage agreement from a position of strength, after all. True, perhaps he didn’t dread the notion as much as he had five minutes earlier, but he wasn’t ready to surrender. Not by a long space. A MacLawry didn’t beg for an alliance. “Ye dance gracefully,” he settled on.

She laughed again, though it didn’t sound as inviting, this time. “Well. Believe it or not, you aren’t the first Scotsman to say so. You measure quite equally with the lot of them.”

Arran was fairly certain he’d just been insulted. He hid a scowl, not that she’d be able to see it behind the fox mask. If she was Deirdre, perhaps he needed to be more … charming, or some such. Though she might have introduced herself before she began pecking at him. “I’ve known ye fer two minutes, lass,” he commented, pulling her a breath closer. “I weighed saying ye had a lovely pelt and gracefully pointed ears, but I didnae ken ye’d appreciate that.”

“And why wouldn’t a vixen like to hear that a fox admires her pelt?”

“Because ye’re nae a vixen, any more than I’m a fox. Ye chose nae to wear a swan mask, which at least sets ye apart from a dozen other lasses here tonight, but I’m wearing a fox mask because my sister handed it to me. I reckon I’d rather be a wolf, truth be told.” Yes, the family generally called him the clever one, and Rowena had seemed pleased enough at the choice that he’d gone along with it, but it was a well-painted piece of papier-mâché—and nothing more.

“I wanted to be a vixen,” she said after a moment. “My father wanted me to be a swan.”

Now this was interesting. “And yet here ye are, nae a swan.” She also was a young woman, perhaps three or four years older than Rowena—the age he knew Deirdre Stewart to be—with an attractive mouth, lips that seemed naturally to want to smile, and shadowed green eyes that he imagined crinkled at the corners. If Arran hadn’t had both hands occupied with the waltz, he would have been fighting the urge to remove her mask, so he could see the whole of her face, to know if the parts were equal to the sum.

Her lips curved again. “And that is a compliment, Sir Fox.” She tilted her head, the gold lights in her hair catching the chandelier light. “Or do you wish me to call you Sir Wolf?”

“I’d answer to Arran,” he returned, grinning back at her. She didn’t react to his name, but then she likely already knew who he was. London Society didn’t boast many lads fresh from the Highlands.

“Tell me why the swan—the one pretending not to gaze at you from over by the refreshment table—terrifies you, Arran,” the vixen said.

He shrugged. “She’s my sister’s closest friend, and my oldest brother is betrothed to her sister.”

“Ah,” the vixen returned, her lush gold and red gown swirling against his legs. “The moment she discovered her future brother-in-law had an unmarried brother, she began dreaming about a double wedding.”

“Aye. Someaught like that. I’ve nae wish to break her heart, but I’ll nae end up marrying her to avoid seeing her pout, either.”

“You must be quite the dancer, if your waltz causes ladies to become spontaneously engaged. Someone should have warned me.”

“Tease if ye like, lass, but I’m nae here to get tangled into a debutante’s fairy tale.” God and Saint Bridget knew there were more than enough bonnie lasses awaiting his pleasure in the Highlands, and none of them with silly Sasannach sensibilities about romance and danger. When Ranulf, the chief of clan MacLawry, married his English bride, the family would have more than enough gentle southern blood brought into the mix. And evidently he was to be aimed at a Stewart, anyway.

“If you’re not here to marry, then what brings you to London? The mild weather?”

Arran snorted. “If it’s nae someaught that can knock ye to yer knees, it’s nae weather. I’m only here to keep an eye on my brother and sister. And to be polite.”

He sent a glance over where the big black panther waltzed with his owl. With Ranulf distracted by a pair of pretty hazel eyes and Rowena enamored of everything English, one of the MacLawrys needed to keep a wary eye open for Campbells. That was why he’d left their youngest brother, Bear, behind to see to Glengask while he rode down to London. Because William Campbell declaring that clan Campbell would recognize a truce with the MacLawrys was just words. Very fragile ones. Arran had seen enough bloody deeds to recognize the difference.

“‘To be polite’?” she repeated. “An … interesting goal. Are you generally not polite, then?”

It likely wasn’t a coincidence that she’d several times now decided to comment on the most barbed portion of his various statements. She was needling him—and on purpose. He liked it. “I’m a very polite lad,” he said aloud, “except to those who dunnae deserve a kind word.”

Amused green eyes looked up to meet his gaze again. “And where do I fall in this hierarchy?” she asked.

Whoever this lass was, she was no timid flower. “Ye’ve some Highlands blood in yer veins, do ye nae, lass?”

She lowered her head for a heartbeat. “I do, at that. But what makes you say so?”

With a crescendo the waltz ended. Arran stood there for a moment, briefly wishing he hadn’t named himself the designated watchdog of his family. Then he would have been free to continue this conversation somewhere more intimate. “Save me a quadrille or someaught, and I’ll tell ye,” he offered instead.

She belatedly untangled herself from his arms. “I would, but there are enough men here that that wouldn’t be … seemly. Another time, perhaps?”

“Aye. Another time. But at least tell me yer name, lass.”

A slow smile curved her attractive mouth once more, and this time the muscles across his abdomen tightened in response. For God’s sake, he hoped she would say Deirdre Stewart. Then he could put this odd heightened awareness to instinct. Taking a step closer again, she put a hand on his shoulder and lifted up on her toes. “I think, Sir Fox,” she murmured, her warm lips brushing his ear, “that you should call me … Lady Vixen.”

With that she moved back, then turned and walked away. She sent him a single glance over her shoulder before she vanished into the sea of sparkling masks. Hm. Whatever the devil that had been about, he felt in need of a cold swim in the nearest loch. His nether MacLawry felt nearly at half-staff, just from having his ear nibbled on. In public. Striding to one side of the room, he captured a glass of vodka from a footman and downed it.

“Who was that, Arran?” his sister asked, appearing beside him to grip his left arm.

He shook himself. If Winnie was here, then Jane Hanover would be directly on her heels. “An old friend,” he improvised, inclining his head as the swan hurried up behind the peacock. At least he’d avoided waltzing with her. “Did anyone write his name on yer wee card fer this quadrille, Lady Jane? And do ye have a country dance left fer yer own brother, Winnie?”

Jane flushed beneath her ornate mask and yellow hair. “Well, I—yes, but—Actually, I … was hoping you—”

If he didn’t stop her floundering, she was likely to injure herself. “Hand over yer card, then, and I’ll scribble doon my name,” he offered, trying to decide to whom he would say he’d promised the damned second waltz when she asked about it—and she would ask.

With an audible sigh the younger Hanover sister handed him her card and pencil. She’d been claimed for nearly every other dance, he noted, including the second waltz. Thank Lucifer. No wonder she’d been in such determined pursuit of him earlier. Evidently he owed Lady Vixen more of a debt than he’d even realized.

Stifling a sigh of his own, he wrote down his name and returned the card to her, then did the same with his own sister. Rowena still wore the excited smile she’d donned almost from the moment she’d handed him his fox mask yesterday. She had to know that he wasn’t interested in her young friend. Why, then, did she seem to be encouraging Jane’s pursuit of him? He was going to have to have a chat with her—and soon. The last thing he needed was two of his siblings throwing women at him, especially when he felt obligated to favor Ranulf’s selection.

“I still don’t understand how she could be an old friend,” Jane said, her voice a touch shrill. “Winnie said the MacLawrys don’t like the Campbells.”

Arran jolted back to attention. What was this? “What are ye talking aboot, lass?” he demanded.

Jane took a half step backward. “The … your friend in the vixen mask. You said you were friends. You said it. Not me.”

“I—”

Winnie nudged him in the ribs with her sharp elbow. “Bràthair.”

He ignored that. There was a time for him to be polite, and then there was the Campbells. “Do ye know who she is, Jane?”

“Everyone knows that’s Mary Campbell. Her grandfather is the Duke of Alkirk.”

Rowena gasped, but Arran clenched his jaw against the roar that wanted to erupt from his chest. The charming, intriguing Lady Vixen wasn’t Deirdre Stewart. She was a Campbell. And not just any Campbell, either. She was the granddaughter of William Campbell, the chief of clan Campbell. The Campbell.

No wonder she hadn’t given her name.

But she had danced with him, and jested with him. From her point of view, the petite thing likely thought she was making fun of him. She’d certainly made a fool of him.

“What’s afoot?” Ranulf’s deep voice came, as he and Charlotte Hanover walked up behind them. “The Stewarts have just arrived. Who was the vixen, Arran?”

Arran took a breath. “If ye cannae be bothered to be concerned over the Campbells,” he returned, unwilling to be called a fool by his brother, “ye leave it to me to keep an eye on ’em. The vixen was the Campbell’s granddaughter.”

He’d rarely seen Ranulf surprised, but that did it. The oldest MacLawry sibling shoved his panther half-mask up over his forehead. The face beneath was perhaps more agreeable, but at least as fierce. Dark blue eyes narrowed, and he lifted his hand as if he meant to seize Arran by the lapel. “I told ye to behave,” he said evenly, his voice low and hard.

Arran held his brother and clan chief’s gaze until Ranulf lowered his hand again. Neither of them was known for backing down, but this felt more like a mutual decision not to make a scene—another scene—in the middle of a Mayfair ballroom. “Ye told me to be polite,” he countered, “and so I was.”

“I dunnae recall giving my permission for any of my kin to dance with a Campbell,” Ranulf retorted.

And this from a man set on something at least as scandalous as dancing with a Campbell—taking an English bride into the Highlands. Yes, Charlotte Hanover had more spleen and wit than most Sasannach, but before this wee holiday in London, Ranulf would have burned his own bed before he’d share it with an English lass.

“Ye’re the one who went and made a truce with the Campbells,” Arran pointed out, reflecting that a few short weeks ago he would have been choosing his words much more carefully. Evidently he owed Charlotte some thanks for improving his brother’s temperament, now that he considered it.

“So we could stop killing each other, Arran. Nae so ye could waltz with one of ’em.”

“And do ye know a better way to test the Campbell wind? Because I dunnae believe this peace’ll last the week, myself.”

Of course his argument only worked as long as Jane and Winnie didn’t blurt out that he’d had no idea who the vixen was. Shaking his head, he held out his hand to young Jane as the music for their quadrille began. Evidently he preferred being accused of doing something wrong to doing something foolish.

At the same time, he truly didn’t think the truce would last. None ever had before now. And so he’d made a point of learning which of the Campbell men were about, their appearance, and their disposition. He knew their allies, and he generally knew when any of them was within twenty feet of his brother or sister. But then the trouble had come from somewhere he didn’t expect.

And vixen, fox, wolf, or Campbell, tomorrow he meant to go hunting. Mary Campbell was not allowed to think she’d made a fool of a MacLawry. Especially not when he was in London to look after his family. Especially not when for a moment he’d thought her smile and her wit attractive. That was when he’d thought her someone else.

“Where’s this Deirdre Stewart ye want me leg-shackled to, then?” he asked brusquely. “Let’s get on with it before blood begins spilling again.”

“What?” Rowena asked, wincing as Jane made an abrupt sound like a wounded cat.

“I didnae say ye had to marry her,” Ranulf countered, covering half his frown as he lowered his panther mask again. “Nae until I’ve a word or two with Viscount Allen, anyway. Go dance yer quadrille, and stay clear of Campbells while I go speak with the Stewarts.”

At least Ranulf hadn’t said he should bare his legs or show his teeth so Lord Allen and his daughter could view him to best advantage. If the two clans required a marriage to seal an alliance he would give them one. But at the same time he wondered if waltzing with Mary Campbell and then tracking her down tomorrow would be the last independent act permitted him. That didn’t sit particularly well. As a man accustomed to action, he felt far more comfortable with the idea of giving Lady Mary a piece of his mind than with having tea with his little finger held out for Lady Deirdre’s benefit. But the clan came first. It always did.

*   *   *

“Your aunt Felicia even commented that you put all the other young ladies to shame last night, Mary,” Joanna Campbell, Lady Fendarrow, said with a smile, as she strolled into the breakfast room. “Even with her own Dorcas attending. Thank heavens I convinced your father that a swan mask would never suit you.”

Smiling back, Mary tilted her cheek up for a kiss as her father joined them. She didn’t recall that particular conversation, and likely neither did Walter Campbell, the Marquis of Fendarrow, but if her mother wanted credit for such a small thing, she, at least, was quite willing to let her have it. “It was a grand evening,” she agreed.

Her mother paused at the sideboard. “That’s all you have to say?”

Mary busied herself with pouring her father a cup of tea. “What else should I say?”

“Well, for instance, who was that tall, broad-shouldered gentleman with whom you waltzed?”

Drat. “Do you mean Harry Dawson? You know him, Mother.” She sipped at her own cup.

Her father sat at the head of the table and leaned forward to pull his tea closer. “She means the man in the fox mask. Arran MacLawry.”

The tea she swallowed went into her lungs. Mary began coughing, choking, trying to draw in a dry breath until Gerns the butler came forward to pound her between the shoulder blades. Her mother stood frozen, a slice of toast held delicately in a pair of tongs, while her father coolly sipped at his own tea.

“Thank you, Gerns,” she rasped, motioning the butler away again.

“Of course, my lady,” he intoned, returning to his station at her father’s shoulder.

“MacLawry?” the marquis prompted.

“He … surprised me,” she finally managed, still sputtering.

“Hm.”

Mary scowled at her father. “He did surprise me. I was crossing the room to see Elizabeth, and he ran into me. When he asked me to waltz, I couldn’t refuse him without … insulting him.”

“You could easily have said you already had a partner,” her mother countered, slight color returning to her generally pale cheeks. “I daresay your father or any of your cousins would have been pleased to dance with you if you’d so much as wiggled a finger at them. And what about that handsome Roderick MacAllister? You know your father expressly wanted you to dance with Lord Delaveer.”

“I did dance with Roderick. I dance with him quite frequently.”

“A country dance. That barely signifies.”

“And I certainly have no qualms about insulting a MacLawry,” her father put in. “Particularly in favor of a MacAllister.”

“I do, Walter. The MacLawrys are dangerous beasts. Didn’t you see that brawl they caused at the Evanstone ball? They nearly killed Lord Berling. Your own cousin.”

“My second cousin,” Lord Fendarrow amended. “And a fool. But yes, you are correct, my dear. You didn’t need to insult him, but you shouldn’t have danced with him, either, Mary.”

Mary nodded. “There is a truce, though, is there not? Arnold and Charles and all my other cousins aren’t going to murder Arran MacLawry for dancing with me, are they? Because I don’t think he had the slightest idea who I was.”

And she’d rather enjoyed that, actually. To him she’d been Lady Vixen, and they’d simply chatted. Yes, she’d needled him a bit, but then he was a MacLawry. He hadn’t become flustered or annoyed or defensive at her barbs, though. Rather, he’d shown more wit and humor than she’d expected—after all, she’d grown up on tales of the goat-faced, hairy-knuckled MacLawrys.

She wished she could have seen more of his face, because his mouth with that cynically amused quirk of his lips, the way the lean fox visage seemed to fit his features—he didn’t seem remotely goat-faced. In fact, he intrigued her, just a little.

“To be perfectly clear,” her father said, shaking her out of thoughts of black, wind-blown hair and a lean, strong jaw, “you aren’t to dance with Arran MacLawry or Ranulf MacLawry, or Munro MacLawry if he should venture down from Glengask. Nor are you to befriend Rowena MacLawry. Or the Mackles or Lenoxes or MacTiers or any other of their clan or allies.”

“I—”

“I know you’re aware of your place, Mary,” he continued over her interruption. “I know you’ve been told a hundred times that as my daughter, as your grandfather’s granddaughter, you have a value to both allies and enemies. It wasn’t as … vital when the MacLawrys kept to the Highlands, but they’re here in London now. And simply because my father decided we should at least pretend some diplomacy with the Marquis of Glengask doesn’t mean you need to do so.”

“I understand, Father,” Mary said hurriedly, hoping to avoid being bombarded by the entire speech. Because she hadn’t heard it a hundred times; she’d heard it a thousand times. “Truly.”

“Good. Because the present circumstances have provided us with an opportunity we don’t mean to let pass by.”

“An opportunity that hinges on you,” her mother put in, finally taking a seat. “Even though I was married by one-and-twenty, it seems your … stubbornness and your grandfather’s indulgence have now actually benefited us.”

“Indeed,” the marquis resumed. “Your previous reluctance to marry hasn’t helped ease any clan tensions. But your grandfather agrees that this truce can be used to our advantage.”

So far it didn’t seem to be much of an advantage for her, except for one waltz with a man she would otherwise have been forbidden to look at through a spyglass. Then she realized just which opportunity they must be referring to. “You’re setting me after Roderick MacAllister,” she stated, her heart bumping into her throat.

“This truce won’t last,” her father returned matter-of-factly. “The Campbell’s favorite granddaughter marrying the MacAllister’s son will give us the numbers to challenge the MacLawrys, and the MacAllisters wouldn’t make that bargain, sweet as it is, without this cease-fire. We must strike now.” He leaned forward, putting a hand over her teacup before she could lift it for another sip. “And that is why you are not to risk upending this truce by waltzing with Arran MacLawry.”

Ice trailed down her spine. Yes, she could have avoided a dance with a MacLawry—if she’d wished to do so. When she’d realized he had no idea who she was, she’d felt … excited, as if she were doing something forbidden and dangerous. As opposed to something … disquieting. Roderick MacAllister was pleasant enough, and she supposed at the back of her thoughts she’d known he was one of her beaux, along with every male cousin in the Campbell clan. But that didn’t erase the fact that there had been something stirring about waltzing with a rogue.

Her father released the cup of tea and sat back again. “We likely should have had this conversation three years ago when you had your debut.”

“We did,” the marchioness countered, a fine line appearing between her brows. “But who would ever have expected the MacLawrys to come down from the Highlands? Not I, certainly.”

“Not to argue,” Mary said slowly, “but if we are attempting to keep this truce with Lord Glengask and his clan, should we not be more … friendly toward them? Perhaps with a dance or two we can avoid any future bloodshed. Surely that would be worth the risk.”

“Didn’t you hear your father? If Charles Calder or Arnold Haws sees you partnered with a MacLawry, you’ll be causing a fight. If you’re seen favoring that rogue over Lord Delaveer, you will be jeopardizing the most significant alliance of the past hundred years.”

There had already been a fight—several of them, actually—between the Campbells and the MacLawrys this Season. In fact, she had no idea how Lord Glengask and her second cousin George Gerdens-Daily had managed to converse long enough to decide they should attempt to avoid killing each other. But they had, and now no one seemed to know quite what to do. Or rather, her family had decided to use the few moments of peace to nearly double their strength in anticipation of when the truce fell apart. And she was the linchpin.

She pushed to her feet. “So I am not to dance with a MacLawry, and not to be rude to a MacAllister. I believe I can manage that.” Mary came around the table to pat her father on the shoulder. “I’m off to find a new hat, then, and I will be going to luncheon with Elizabeth and Kathleen.”

“Oh, give my best wishes to Kathleen for her mother, dear,” the marchioness said. “I do hope she’ll be recovered enough to attend the Dailys’ recital on Thursday.”

“I’ll tell her.” Mary kissed her mother’s cheek, then made her way out to the foyer to collect her maid, Crawford, and the blue bonnet that matched her walking dress.

“Are you certain you don’t want to take the coach, my lady?” Gerns asked, as the butler helped her with her matching blue shawl.

“We’re only walking to Bond Street,” she returned with a smile, deciding she could use a few moments to clear her head. Because if her parents couldn’t stop talking about one silly waltz with Arran MacLawry, her friends would wish to discuss nothing else.

Of course she knew that logically she shouldn’t have danced with that lean, dark-haired fox half-mask. But for heaven’s sake, to say that she wasn’t allowed to waltz with a gentleman she’d never even met before simply because some man she hadn’t yet agreed to marry might be angry? Ridiculous.

Of course marrying her would be a political coup, a way into clan Campbell’s higher echelons. She’d known that for what seemed like forever. Just the same way she knew that her male cousins and the potential Campbell allies paid her special attention because of her bloodline and not because she was particularly charming or lovely. But Arran MacLawry had danced with her for the simple reason that they’d worn matching masks. It was utterly … mad that everyone had begun roaring and stomping because of a coincidence of costume.

Perhaps next her father would decide she couldn’t waltz with anyone dressed in blue. Or black. Or would it be her husband who dictated that? For heaven’s sake. She hoped she would at least have the chance to chat with Roderick before her family dragged her to a church. All she knew about him at the moment was that he danced tolerably and had a weakness for stinky cheeses. There was a vast difference between amiable chatting and attempting to discover whether a man would make a husband.

“Lady Mary, are we late?” Crawford panted from beside her, her skirts clutched in one hand.

Mary immediately slowed her pace. “I’m so sorry, Crawford. My mind was elsewhere.”

“Was yer mind on a masquerade ball, by any chance?” a deep, rolling brogue asked from off to her left.

Starting, she whipped around. “Arran.”

He leaned against a tree trunk, calm and still as if he’d been there for hours. A predator waiting for his prey. Black hair lifted off his temple in the light breeze. With the fox mask on, his parts—jaw, mouth, shadowed blue eyes—had hinted at a handsome face. Without the mask, adding in high cheekbones, a straight nose, and slightly arched eyebrows, he was a dream—a dark Highlands prince who likely ate wildcats for breakfast.

“Aye. Arran MacLawry,” he affirmed, finally straightening. “And how do ye do this fine morning, Mary Campbell?”

Copyright © 2014 by Suzanne Enoch

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