Where Roses Grow Wild

Overview

She was ruled by her head...

Only one thing stood between Edward, Lord Rawlings, and a life of rakish debauchery: a spinster. Even worse, a liberal, educated, vicar's daughter-guardian to ten-year-old Jeremy, the true heir to the title Edward did not want. If Jeremy would not assume dukedom, Edward must, a fate of dire responsibility and utter boredom.

But this time, her heart was taking the reins

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Overview

She was ruled by her head...

Only one thing stood between Edward, Lord Rawlings, and a life of rakish debauchery: a spinster. Even worse, a liberal, educated, vicar's daughter-guardian to ten-year-old Jeremy, the true heir to the title Edward did not want. If Jeremy would not assume dukedom, Edward must, a fate of dire responsibility and utter boredom.

But this time, her heart was taking the reins

Since there had never been a female his lordship couldn't charm, Edward was sure he would win over the old girl. But Pegeen MacDougal was neither old, nor a girl-she was all woman, with a prickly tongue, infernal green eyes and a buried sensuality that drove him mad. Unfortunately, she loathed him and his class for their fripperies and complete disregard for the less fortunate. But for the sake of the boy, she agreed to accompany him back to his estate.

The rise was quickly apparent. For Pegeen knew she could resist Edward's money, his power, his position...his entire world. It was his kiss, however, that promised to be her undoing...

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Passion, wit, warmth-thoroughly charming." —Stella Cameron, author of Wait For Me
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312964894
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/1998
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Patricia Cabot is a writer, administrator, and freelance artist. She lives in New York with her husband and one-eyed cat Henrietta. This is her first novel.

Biography

Meg Cabot knows that one of the best cures for feeling gawky and conspicuous is reading about someone who sticks out even more than you do. Her books for young adults invariably feature girls who have extraordinary powers that carry extraordinary burdens. Cabot's Princess Diaries series offers up the secret thoughts of Mia Thermopolis, who discovers at age 14 that she is actually the princess of a small European country. This revelation adds significantly to her extant concerns about crushes, friendships, school, and other matters falling under adolescent scrutiny.

Cabot, a native of Indiana weaned on Judy Blume and Barbara Cartland, was already a successful romance novelist (as Patricia Cabot) before she began writing for young adults; her alter-alter ego, Jenny Carroll, began a new series shortly after The Princess Diaries debuted. The Carroll books are divided between the Mediator series, starring a girl who can communicate with restless ghosts; and the 1-800-WHERE-R-YOU books, in which a girl struck by lightning acquires the ability to locate missing people.

Cabot writes her books in a conspiratorial, first-person style that resonates with her readers. She has obviously kept a grip on the vernacular and the key issues of adolescence; but what makes her books so irresistible is the mixing of the mundane with the fantastic. After all, who wouldn't like to wake up and be a princess all of a sudden, or a seer? Cabot takes such offhand notions and roots them firmly in the details of average, middle-class American life. She has also tiptoed into mystery and paranormal suspense with other YA novels and series installments.

Cabot continues to write adult novels under various permutations of her given name (Meggin Patricia Cabot): from 19th-century historical romances to contemporary chick lit. And, as with her books for teens, these romances have earned praise for their lighthearted humor and well drawn characters.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Cabot:

"I am left handed."

"I hate tomatoes of any kind."

"I really wanted to be veterinarian, but I got a 410 on my math SATs."

"Writing used to be my hobby, but now that it's my job, I have no hobby -- except watching TV and laying around the pool reading US Weekly. I have tried many hobbies, such as knitting, Pilates, ballet, yoga, and guitar, but none of them have taken. So I guess I'm stuck with no hobby.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Meggin Patricia Cabot (full name); Patricia Cabot, Jenny Caroll
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A. in fine arts, Indiana University, 1991
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Where Roses Grow Wild

Chapter One

England, 1860

 

Lord Edward Rawlings, second and only surviving son of the late duke of Rawlings, was unhappy.

It wasn't just that Yorkshire wasn't the most pleasant place to spend the winter, though there were entire weeks when it seemed as if the sun never shone. It wasn't just that Lady Arabella Ashbury, whose husband owned the estate neighboring Rawlings Manor, was currently too self-absorbed to turn her prodigious attentions to him.

No, Edward was unhappy for reasons he couldn't have put into words had he wanted to, and he didn't want to, because the only person at hand was the viscountess of Ashbury. While the viscountess was well-known throughout England for many of her fine attributes, including her fair coloring and slim, elegant ankles, a sympathetic ear was not one of them.

"I'll have Mrs. Praehurst order enough foie gras for fifty people," Lady Ashbury said, scratching away at the list of assorted last minute items she wanted Edward to bring to the attention of his housekeeper before their friendsfrom London arrived in Yorkshire for a weekend hunt. "I've found that in the country, not everyone cares for foie gras. The Herbert girls wouldn't know a foie gras from a hole in the ground."

Edward, stretched out on a chaise longue in front of the fire in the Gold Drawing Room, let out a yawn. He tried not to, but it escaped, just the same. Fortunately, Lady Ashbury, not used to men yawning in her presence, wasn't paying attention.

"I don't see why you have to invite the Herbert girls at all," Lady Ashbury went on. Her tone wasn't petulant, but it wasn't playful either. "Their father may be your estate agent, but I can't say that I feel he's done you any good, Edward."

Edward leaned forward on the chaise longue to pour himself another snifter of brandy from the decanter he'd placed within arm's reach on the side table. He was quite drunk already, and intended to get even drunker before the afternoon slipped into evening. One of the viscountess of Ashbury's finest attributes was that this sort of behavior did not bother her. Or at least if it did, she never mentioned it.

"After all, Edward," Lady Ashbury continued, "if it weren't for Sir Arthur Herbert's so-called tireless efforts on the behalf of the Rawlings estate, you'd be duke now, and not that brat of your brother's."

Edward leaned back, sipped his brandy, and stared heavenward. The Gold Drawing Room's ceiling was painted a muted yellow to match the heavy velvet drapery over the windows. He cleared his throat noisily and said in his deepest voice, the one that frightened the Rawlings Manor stable boys, "Everyone seems to forget that John's son is the legal heir to the title and to the estate."

Lady Ashbury affected not to notice his warning tone. "But no one even knew the whereabouts of the boy until Sir Arthur started his vile nosing about—"

"At my request, remember, Arabella?"

"Oh, Edward, don't patronize me." Lady Ashbury threw down her pen and rose from the ivory-topped secretary, the skirt of her pale blue satin gown rustling noisily. She strode towards the chaise longue, her pale skin and white-blonde ringlets making quite a pretty picture against the tawny drapery in the background. That, of course, was the reason why the viscountess always demanded that they be seated there, rather than in the more comfortable, but less complexion-flattering, Blue Morning Room.

Arabella declared, "It would have been the easiest thing in the world for you to simply tell the duke that John's son was dead too, like his mother and father, and then assume the title yourself."

Edward raised a mocking eyebrow in her direction. "The easiest thing in the world, Arabella? To lie to my father on his deathbed? He spent the past ten years cursing John for marrying a Scottish vicar's daughter, wouldn't allow their orphaned brat to be brought to Rawlings even though he was, in fact, the proper heir to the title. And then, when the duke relented at the eleventh hour ... Faith, Arabella! It would have been damned dishonorable of me not to at least attempt to grant the old man's dying wish."

"Oh, hang honor," Lady Ashbury exclaimed. "You've never even met the boy!"

"No," Edward agreed. He'd finished his fourth brandy and poured himself a fifth. "But I will when Herbert returns with him tomorrow." Smiling to himself, Edward mused, "What you can't seem to get through that lovely head of yours, Arabella, is that I don't want to be a duke. Unlike yourself, and, I'm certain, your mamma, who made it her life's ambition to snag you a husband with a title, I would be perfectly content to be merely a mister."

Lady Ashbury let out an exasperated snort. "And how, pray, could you afford the kind of horseflesh you keep in your stables on the salary of a mere mister, Lord Edward? Or the house on Park Lane in London? Not to mention thisdrafty monstrosity you call a manor. The only mister I know who can afford all that you have is Mr. Alistair Cartwright, and as you well know, his wealth is every bit as inherited as yours. No, Edward, you are a duke's son, and, accordingly, you have the tastes of a duke's son. Your only misfortune was that you were not born before your miserable brother John."

Edward glanced over at her, one eyebrow raised sardonically. "Damn, Arabella. Do you honestly think I'd enjoy being duke? Brooding over estate business all day long? Forever being hounded after by men like Herbert, who'd want to take up all my time with account-keeping? Having to muck about with the tenant farmers, seeing that their roofs are freshly thatched each year, their children educated, their wives happy?" He heaved his wide shoulders in a shudder of distaste. "That kind of life made an old man out of my father, killed him before his time. I won't allow it to happen to me. Let my dear departed brother's brat have the damned title. Herbert will see that Rawlings doesn't burn to the ground in the meantime, and, in ten years, when the boy's left Oxford, he can return here and assume his rightful place in the hallowed halls."

"And what do you intend to do with yourself, Edward?" Arabella inquired, her asperity ill-disguised. "You can only hunt from November to March, and London's beastly in the summer. What you need, my darling, is an occupation."

"What do you think I am, an American?" Edward laughed, not very nicely, and drained his glass. "I adore it when you condescend to advise me, Arabella. It always puts me in mind of the difference in our ages. Tell me, does it bother your husband that you're always sprinting off across the moors to visit a man half his age and a decade younger than yourself?"

"Must you drink so much?" snapped the viscountess of Ashbury, and Edward, with a resigned sigh, mentallysubtracted one of her attributes. "It's quite revolting to see someone so comparatively young getting so bloated and paunchy."

Edward looked past his white, expertly tied cravat at his powerfully built chest and lean, waistcoated torso. "Paunchy?" he echoed in disbelief. "Where?"

"You've got bags under your eyes." Arabella stepped forward and snatched the brandy snifter from his hand. "And it's plain to see that you're starting to get jowls, just like your father."

Edward cursed and leapt up from the couch, the brandy making him a little unsteady on his feet. Standing several inches over six feet tall, Edward was always an imposing figure, but in the Gold Drawing Room of Rawlings Manor, he seemed doubly so. His large frame dwarfed the delicate gilt and green velvet furniture, and his feet, in well-shined black riding boots, trod heavily upon the carefully combed Persian carpets.

Striding to a beveled mirror that hung on one wall, Edward examined his reflection for paunchiness.

"Faith, Arabella," he said, looking from his own reflection to that of the viscountess. "I don't know what you're talking about. What jowls?"

He was certain that it wasn't vanity that kept him from seeing any signs of dissipation. Surely if they were there he'd notice. Edward wasn't that interested in how he looked, though he knew from having been told by so many women that the way he looked was pleasing. Of course, he was quite conscious that despite the fine cut of his clothing, he looked out of place in any drawing room, gold or not. He had the dark, saturnine complexion of a pirate or brigand, and longish jet-black hair that had a tendency to curl raffishly against his coat collar. In sharp contrast to the Lady Ashbury, who was as fair as a lamb, only Edward's eyes were light-colored, a grey that seemed to echo themists that were forever pouring off the moor on the edge of which Rawlings Manor was situated.

"I didn't exactly mean that you had jowls now," the viscountess of Ashbury said, suddenly quite busy with something over at the ivory-topped desk. "What I meant was, if you're not careful—"

"That's not what you said."

Edward wasn't sure what dismayed him more; the fact that she'd startled him into rising from the couch or the fact that now that he was up, he might as well as go upstairs. He could be unhappy more easily in the comfort of his library, or even the billiard room, where he could smoke and drink at his leisure without any harping females to warn him about paunches.

But before he had a chance to formulate an excuse that would mollify the easily offendable viscountess, with whom he'd already shared a few pleasant hours of titillation in a third-floor guest room earlier in the day, Evers stepped into the room and cleared his throat noisily.

"Sir Arthur Herbert to see you, my lord." The butler, who had served Edward's father for fifty years and would undoubtedly serve the new duke of Rawlings for another twenty, did not raise an eyebrow at his employer's obvious intoxication so early in the afternoon.

"Herbert?" Edward echoed, in disbelief. "What's he doing back so soon? I wasn't expecting him 'til tomorrow at the earliest. Is the brat—er, His Grace, the duke, with Sir Arthur, Evers?"

Evers' gaze never left a spot somewhere above the green marble mantel. "Sir Arthur is alone, my lord, and, I might add, in a state of considerable agitation."

"Damn!" Edward reached up to rub his chin, which, even though it was only just past midday, was already rough with dark stubble. If Herbert was alone, it could only mean that the report they'd had from Aberdeen had been a false one, like all the others. And Herbert had sworn thesource was reliable! Now Edward was going to have to expend more effort—and money—in the search for the heir to the Rawlings dukedom. How was it that a ten-year-old boy could virtually disappear off the face of the earth?

"Damn," Edward said irritably. "Show him in then, Evers. Show him in."

The viscountess heaved an exaggerated sigh the minute the butler was out of earshot.

"Oh, Edward, really. Must you entertain that loathsome man in here? Couldn't you have had him wait for you in your library? It's not as if I particularly enjoy listening to you two drivel on about that wretched child—"

"Yes, wretched!" Sir Arthur, portly and gregarious as ever, hurried into the room, hardly waiting until Evers had fully opened the doors before bustling past the butler and his stiffly raised eyebrows. "Oh, a most wretched child indeed, Lady Ashbury! Truer words were never spoken!"

Sir Arthur was so distraught that he had not even allowed the footman to remove his cloak and hat, and now snow spilled from the middle-aged man's sloping shoulders. Evers hovered close by, his face a pained mask as wet spots grew on the carpet beneath the solicitor's galoshes.

"Good God, man," Edward blurted, startled by his estate agent's unkempt appearance. "Have you just come from Scotland, sir, or from hell?"

"The latter, my lord, the latter, I assure you."

Before Evers could stop him, Sir Arthur sank into the very green velvet chaise longue that Edward had only just abandoned. Snow fell to the deep cushions and began to melt immediately in the warmth cast by the generous fire. "Never, in all these months of searching for your father's heir, have I encountered anything quite so disagreeable, Lord Edward."

The viscountess, having watched the proceedings with faintly curled lips and delicately arched brows, glanced atthe butler. "Evers, I believe Sir Arthur is in need of a brandy."

"No, no," Sir Arthur cried, holding up a fat hand. "No, thank you, my lady. I never touch spirits before noon. Lady Herbert would not approve, not at all."

"But, Sir Arthur," Arabella's smile was decidedly mocking, "it's past one, after all."

"Ah. In that case—" But Evers was already at the solicitor's elbow with a full snifter. "Oh, thank you, Evers, my good man. Ah, quite hits the spot, that ... And there's no reason Virginia need ever know, now is there?"

Edward, who almost always felt like smashing something breakable whenever he was in the presence of his late father's most trusted advisor, asked through gritted teeth, "Am I to take it from your complete lack of composure that we have been duped yet again?"

Sir Arthur looked up from his brandy, his plump, bland face almost comically surprised. "What? Duped? Oh, no, my lord. Not at all. No, this is the lad. Oh, yes, we've got the right lad at last." He heaved a shuddering sigh that was as dramatic as it was noisy. "More's the pity."

As Sir Arthur reached out a trembling hand to pour himself another brandy from the decanter on the gilt end table, both Evers and Edward stepped forward to stop him, the butler out of an outraged sense of duty, Edward out of sheer frustration. Edward wasn't so drunk that he couldn't outmaneuver a fifty-year-old father of five and a seventy-year-old butler. Falling to one knee alongside the couch, his fingers closed around the neck of the brandy decanter. He was so tall that only kneeling could he look the seated Sir Arthur in the eye, and he did so now, unaware that his own grey eyes were glittering dangerously with suppressed anger.

"What ..." Edward said, enunciating carefully, "happened ... in ... Scotland?"

Sir Arthur stopped looking mournfully down into thebottom of his snifter, his gaze arrested by Edward's menacing glare. "Well, I, er," stammered the solicitor. "Well, you see, my lord, it's him. The duke, my lord. Young Jeremy of Rawlings—"

"You found him?" Edward's relief was palpable. "Thank God." But his relief soon turned to impatience. "But if you found him, why in the hell didn't you bring him back with you to Rawlings?"

"Wouldn't come," Sir Arthur shrugged simply.

Edward wasn't certain that he'd heard the solicitor correctly. "I'm sorry, Sir Arthur. Could you repeat that?"

"He wouldn't come," Sir Arthur said again. "Was quite adamant about it too, my lord. Wouldn't budge from the spot without—"

"Wouldn't come?" Edward bellowed. He sprang to his feet, his fingers balled into fists at his sides. He noticed that Arabella was staring at him with some alarm, but he couldn't control his sudden compulsion to pace the room like a caged animal.

"Wouldn't come? The boy was told he is the heir to a fortune, the owner of an estate that is the jewel of Yorkshire, that he is, in fact, a duke, and he wouldn't come?

"Is the child an idiot?" Edward roared, startling Evers, who'd been endeavoring to clear away the now empty brandy decanter. It would have been just like John to produce an idiot heir, Edward thought furiously to himself.

"Oh, no, my lord," Sir Arthur winced. "Quite the contrary. Healthy as a pony, ten years old, full of the devil. Hammered the back of my head with an egg the moment I descended from my carriage."

Edward fought for patience. "Then why wouldn't he come with you?"

"Well, it wasn't so much the boy, my lord, as his aunt."

"Aunt?" Arabella looked up from a close examination of her cuticles. "The boy has an aunt?"

"Yes, my lady. He's an orphan, don't you know, what with Lord John's untimely demise ten years ago. I believe his mother, Lord John's unfortunate wife, passed on shortly after that. The duke has been raised by his mother's sister and his maternal grandfather, who also passed away about a year ago now, I think. Dreadful thing, I understand. Dropped dead in the pulpit. A vicar, you know."

Edward was beginning to feel as if he was the only person in the room, with the possible exception of Evers, who still had some grasp on reality. "What about this aunt?" he demanded, attempting to steer the conversation back to the point at hand. "The aunt won't let the boy come?"

"Not precisely, my lord. The boy won't come without his aunt. Quite devoted to her he is. Really quite touching, in this day and age, to see a boy so close to his—"

"Hell and damnation, Herbert," Edward thundered. "Why didn't you tell the bloody aunt that she could come along with the boy?"

Sir Arthur looked startled. "I did, my lord. Indeed, I did. I extended an invitation to her to come and live at Rawlings Manor for as long as she liked. For the rest of her life, if she cared to." The solicitor broke off and suddenly began removing his outer wraps. "Is it warm in here, Mr. Evers? I think that fire is too high."

"Well?" Edward had quit pacing and now stood leaning an elbow against the mantel. He did not find the fire too hot at all. "Well, what did the blasted woman say to that?"

"Oh, she quite resolutely refused my invitation, my lord. Wouldn't even hear of it. And of course, the boy wouldn't stir without her." Herbert shrugged. "And so here I am."

"Refused your invitation?" Edward really did feel like thrusting his fist through something. Evers had just that moment set up a firescreen between Herbert and the hearth,so he took out his wrath on that, smashing the delicate, hand-painted screen to the floor with a powerful blow.

Arabella let out a little startled shriek and Herbert looked stunned. Only Evers calmly retrieved the screen, righted it, and cast his employer a disapproving glance.

"Is the aunt an idiot?" Edward demanded.

"Oh, no, my lord, quite the contrary." Sir Arthur had begun to sweat profusely, either from the heat of the fire or from nervousness at Edward's behavior. Perhaps he thought one of those great fists would be hurtling in his direction next. In any case he elaborated quickly, his broad face shiny with perspiration, "No, my lord, not an idiot. A Liberal."

If the portly solicitor had spat upon the parquet, Edward could not have been more astonished. "A what?" he breathed.

"A Liberal."

Sir Arthur smiled thankfully at Evers, who had stepped forward to remove his cloak and hat from the wet bundle in which the estate agent had piled them on the chaise longue. "Quite the anti-royalist, my lord. Won't have a thing to do with the titled gentry. Says they're responsible for the lack of reform that would aid the common man. Says it's the Conservatives who are keeping the masses in abject poverty, so that one percent of the population can enjoy ninety-nine percent of the wealth. Says landowners like yourself are nothing but ne'er-do-wells without a thought in their heads save hunting and whore-mongering—" Breaking off in embarrassment, Sir Arthur glanced at the viscountess. "Begging your pardon, Lady Ashbury."

Arabella raised a single eyebrow and said nothing.

Edward listened to the solicitor in a state of disbelief. This couldn't be happening. It simply couldn't be happening. The heir to the duke of Rawlings had been found but the boy wouldn't come because his lunatic aunt was a Liberal? How was this possible?

"I don't understand," Edward said, fighting for calm. He was afraid of losing his temper again. There was nothing left for him to smash but Sir Arthur's fat, smiling face, and since he really did like the old windbag, Edward didn't want to hurt him. Much. "You say this woman turned, down an invitation to live in one of the greatest houses in England because of her political sentiments?"

"Quite so, quite so," Sir Arthur chuckled. "And of course, the boy wouldn't come without her."

"And this ..." Edward swallowed hard. "This woman. Hadn't she a husband who could be appealed to rationally?"

"Oh, no, my lord. Miss MacDougal is unmarried."

"Miss MacDougal?"

"Yes, my lord. Pegeen MacDougal. Has lived in a cottage near the vicarage since her father died—she and the boy. I believe they are sustained by a small allowance left by her mother. God knows the vicar left them nothing—"

"A spinster," Edward hissed through clenched teeth. "Thwarted by a spinster aunt with Liberal leanings. Hell and damnation, man!" Edward was ready to tear his own hair out, but instead he bellowed at his estate agent loudly enough to startle even the unruffable Evers.

"You couldn't convince a maiden aunt surviving on a pittance that the best thing for her beloved nephew was to let him come live in splendor in a Yorkshire manor house?" Edward demanded incredulously. "Are you daft, man? What could have been simpler? Do you know nothing of women? Couldn't you bribe her? Charm her? Win her over with flattery? Is there nothing in this world that the bloody woman wants that we could provide her with in exchange for the boy?"

Sir Arthur had leaned back as far as the chaise longue would allow, but still he couldn't escape the menacing glare that burned through him hotter than any fire. Inserting aplump finger beneath his cravat, he pulled on it ineffectually, gulping.

"But my lord, I told you! She wouldn't have anything to do with me! Turned me out of the house, she did. Even threw a pot at me!" Sir Arthur was almost whimpering. "And the boy, my lord! Not a proper boy at all, but a hellion. Slipped a horrible weasel in my pocket and put a burr beneath the harness of one of the carriage horses. I thought I'd never get back to Lady Herbert in one piece!"

Abruptly, Edward turned away from the solicitor, his broad shoulders slumping. Well, it was quite obvious what needed to be done now. His mistake had been to send an agent to perform a task that could have been done more properly by him. Hadn't his father always said that it was invariably simpler to do a chore oneself than to explain to a hireling how it ought to be done properly? This was a classic example. What did Sir Arthur know about women, for all his five daughters? He had courted and wed the first woman who'd have him, and while Virginia Herbert was a fine creature, she certainly hadn't posed anything like a challenge to the bumbling knight.

No, there was only one thing for it. Edward himself would have to make the trip to Aberdeen and fetch the boy, as well as the blasted aunt.

A Liberal! God spare him from overeducated women! What had that vicar been thinking, letting his daughter read the newspaper? She shouldn't even know the difference between Liberals and Conservatives. It wasn't any wonder the woman was a spinster, and she was doomed to remain so, if what she'd spouted off to Herbert was any example of her conversational technique.

Evers, in the doorway, cleared his throat. "Excuse me, my lord, but will that be all?"

Edward, who'd been standing before the fire with his hands clasped behind his back, turned suddenly.

"No, that will not be all, Evers. Inform my valet thatwe shall be leaving for Scotland posthaste. I shall need enough shirts packed for a stay of no less than three days. Have Roberts bring around the brougham. I shall depart as soon as I am packed."

Over by the secretary Arabella laid down her pen. "Edward, are you mad? You cannot be thinking of going to see that dreadful woman yourself."

"I most certainly intend to," Edward declared. "Why? Do you think I lack the necessary powers of persuasion? Is a Liberal Scottish spinster beyond my capabilities?"

Lady Ashbury laughed. Her laughter, Edward had once noted, was a cold, tinkling sound, like a dinner bell without resonance and rather demanding. "Oh, no, my lord. We all know how persuasive you can be, when you set your mind to it." Her glance flicked over him, and Edward did not fail to notice the appreciative widening of those fine eyes when they settled on the subtle swell at the front of his breeches. "But you must be desperate, darling, if you'd go all the way to Scotland in weather like this. Whatever is the rush? We know where the beastly boy is and he's obviously not going anywhere."

"I want this thing settled," Edward said quietly, turning back to the fire. "My father's been dead nearly a year and Rawlings has languished without a duke all that time. That's quite long enough, I think."

Arabella laughed again. "Oh, la, since when do you care about Rawlings? Really, Sir Arthur, you're a bad influence on him. Next thing you know, he'll be wanting to tour the sheep meadows!"

Sir Arthur looked aghast at Edward's proposed trip to Scotland. "I beg you, my lord, let it alone! Give it some time. Perhaps in a month or two, when they've had a chance to get used to the idea, they'll come around. You know, Miss MacDougal was most firmly convinced of your father's total indifference to the boy, and she was shockedto discover that the duke had not cut him from the will—"

"I do not have the patience to wait a month, Sir Arthur," Edward replied. "I shall leave today, and I wager I'll have the two of them—the boy and the maiden aunt—safely ensconced here at Rawlings within a fortnight."

"If you plan on doing any wagering, you'd best wake your old schoolmate Mr. Cartwright," Arabella remarked dryly. "He's sleeping off last night's billiard game in the library. Will you be taking him with you, Edward? You know how much he'd enjoy engaging wits with a Scottish spinster."

Edward growled, "I'll not be needing Alistair's dubious services this trip. You can keep him here, Arabella, to entertain you while I'm gone. See that he doesn't break anything too valuable, and that if he does, he replaces it."

"My lord, I really must beg that you reconsider." So flustered was he by his employer's plans, Sir Arthur actually heaved himself up from the chaise longue and went to stand beside Edward. "I fear that you do not ken how volatile this woman's temper is. She quite resolutely despises all gentry and adamantly refuses—"

Edward laughed and laid a heavy hand upon the knight's shoulder. "Herbert, old man, let me tell you something about women. They're all the same." The glance that he flicked at the viscountess was mocking. "They all want something. What we've got to discover is what this Miss MacDougal wants, and give it to her in exchange for her nephew. It's quite simple, really."

Sir Arthur did not look satisfied. "The problem, my lord, is that I believe what Miss MacDougal wants is—"

"Well, Herbert?"

"Your head, Lord Edward. On a stick."

Copyright © 1998 by Patricia Cabot.

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