"Cready plays to her strengths in this dashing, breathtaking, and extremely sexy time-travel romp."—Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review
Serabeth's scoundrel of a fiancé is dead, and her only solution is to present her indignant and handsome 21st century captive as a pretend husband...if she can keep her mind on the business at hand.
What do you get when you imbibe centuries-old whiskey—besides a hangover the size of the Highlands? If you're twenty-first century ad exec Gerard Innes, you get swept back to 18th-century Edinburgh and into the bed of a gorgeous, fiery redhead. Gerard has only a foggy idea what he and the lady have been up to...but what he does remember draws him into the most dangerous and exhilarating campaign of his life.
Serafina Seonag Fallon's rascal of a fiancé has left her with nothing, and she's determined to turn the tables. If she can come up with a ringer, she can claim the cargo he stole from her. But the dashing man she summons from the future demands more than a night, and Serafina finds it easier to command the seas under her feet than the crashing waves he unleashes in her heart.
Sirens of the Scottish Borderlands Series:
Just in Time for a Highlander (Book 1)
First Time with a Highlander (Book 2)
Every Time with a Highlander (Book 3)
"Cready displays her wonderfully inventive, intelligent, witty style in another charmer as a 21st century businessman is sent back in time. Blending modern-day lingo with a Scot's burr and a take-charge heroine with an alpha male is guaranteed to set off the kind of sexy fireworks Cready's fans expect." —RT Book Reviews
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The Hollow Crown Inn, Edinburgh, 1706
"What if one could piece together a perfect man the way Abby's dressmaker has pieced together the perfect gown?" mused Serafina Fallon, gazing appreciatively on the neatly pinned amethyst silk with soon-to-be-beaded sleeves her friend Abby Kerr modeled before the mirror. Serafina remembered a time when she had not regarded the possibilities of the masculine sex with quite so much cynicism. If her former fiancé, Edward, had been a gown, he would have been a cheap printed cotton, finished to look like Oriental satin-very much like the gowns Serafina's reduced circumstances forced her wear-but betraying its inferiority within the first few wearings.
Undine appraised the half-completed dress with her knowing fortune-teller's gaze and took a generous sip of the Kerr whiskey. "If we could, my friends, what sort of man would we piece together?"
Abby, who wore a veneer of solemnity in public to earn the respect of the clansmen she led, could not subdue her natural vivacity in private. "Start with strong arms," she said, quirking her brow.
Undine smiled. "And a mind nurtured by experience and curiosity."
"Add a sense of humor that makes his eyes twinkle," Abby said, "and a pair of calves that do the same for mine."
Undine laughed and filled Serafina's glass.
"You two are scandalous," Serafina said, trying without success to stifle her own smile. In truth, she was quite glad to have been invited to share in the wonderful friendship these two women had. She had grown up on a ship, with no sisters or brothers, and as an adult had only a few friends, most of who had cut her from their circle when she'd begun her ill-fated liaison. But even at the best of times, her friends had never drunk whiskey and discussed the relative merits of male attributes. This was eye-opening.
"Ooh, and fields of copper hair!" Abby cried. "'Tis rather like wrapping your arms around a flesh-and-blood bonfire."
Clan Kerr's steward, Duncan MacHarg, the dashing and devoted man who had recently won Abby's heart, had hair the color of newly minted pennies, and the women dissolved into peals of laughter.
The owner of the bonfire in question opened the door. A silence so complete crashed down on the room, Serafina could hear the words of the song the brewer sang as he stacked kegs on his wagon in the busy Edinburgh street a block away.
Duncan narrowed his eyes. He was as canny as he was handsome, so it did not take much observation of the bitten lips, downcast gazes, and pink faces to deduce the general nature of the conversation he'd interrupted.
Patches of bright rose climbed up his neck-the curse of being a redhead, a state for which Serafina had much sympathy, being possessed of similarly colored hair herself.
"Mmphf." He backed out, re-closing the door with a disapproving click.
The women broke out in renewed giggles.
Abby said, "There is at least one benefit to falling in love with one's steward. One never minds the long hours spent reviewing the balance sheet."
Serafina gazed in admiration at the gleaming fabric that fell from Abby's waist, held together with pins and tacking thread. "Is that to be your wedding dress?" she asked.
Abby's face lost a bit of its joviality. "The clansmen have just begun to accept me as their chieftess. 'Twould be unwise to introduce such a change now, I think."
Serafina knew Abby put the needs of her people above all else, but she also thought it must hurt Duncan's pride to have to keep the relationship secret.
Undine met Serafina's eye. "What about you? You've contributed nothing to our ideal man. What would you desire?"
"Och," she said, flushing, "dinna ask me. I've proven to be quite unwise in my choices."
Abby laid her hand on Serafina's shoulder. "Making mistakes is the only way to learn, ye ken? Look at me. I'm the wisest woman in Scotland."
"Come now," Abby said. "Where would we begin in a man for Serafina? A Scotsman, of course-no proper Scotswoman could want anything else."
Undine, an Englishwoman, rolled her eyes.
"A Scotsman would be good," Serafina said, nodding. Edward had been English, and long before she'd begun to feel like she'd betrayed herself by falling in love with him, she'd felt a bit like she'd betrayed her country.
Serafina thought of Edward's lean waist, golden hair, and finely cut features. When she'd met him, she'd thought him a perfect Adonis. Had she only remembered then that the Adonis of mythology had two sides to him-the attentive lover for whom the goddesses pined and the narcissistic man whose happiness depended upon capturing the attention of every woman he met.
"Shoulders," Serafina said boldly, naming the feature of Edward's that had most disappointed her.
"Shoulders, is it?" Abby said. "How do you like them?"
"Large and labyrinthine. All hollows and girders-as if a warm coat of flesh had been laid over the most carefully sculpted bones. Shoulders upon which I could rest my head as easily as be tossed, whole body, like a keg of gunpowder. And with the scent of surf on them."
Abby ducked her chin in approval. "I'm glad we didn't ask about eyes."
Undine swirled the whiskey in her glass. "And his chest?"
"Two planes of burnished gold."
"Generous when it needs to be," Serafina said, "demanding when it doesn't."
Abby looked at Undine. "I don't have the courage to ask any more."
Undine said, "Wisps of smoke are rising from my drink. I think you may be in need of my special marigold tisane, Serafina. I usually recommend it for women whose husbands have lost the spark of virility, but in this case..."
"Does it restore their marital happiness?"
"Certainly the wife's. Once the tisane has been steeped in alcohol-I recommend Abby's fine Kerr whiskey-it brings on what one might call a prolonged fever dream."
Abby said, "This is the reason why we never let Undine pour the whiskey."
Undine put down her glass and leaned forward, frivolity gone. "Serafina, I'm sorry my business in the borderlands and again here in Edinburgh has kept me from addressing your issue. I know we've reached the point where we can delay no further."
Serafina's eyes widened. She had told no one of the possibility of the ship's arrival. She had only heard about it herself yesterday, when their traveling party had arrived in Edinburgh after a two-day ride from Kerr Castle.
"You seek a man," Undine said. "I can tell that from your face. But what sort of man do you seek?"
"'Tis not the man of shoulders and burnished gold," Serafina said, firmly pushing such whimsy aside. "The only man I seek now is the one who will help ensure my small inheritance is returned to me."
"And what sort of a man is that?"
"To begin with, a man both brave and true."
Undine stretched her feet toward the fire and sighed. "A rare creature, don't you think?"
"Will Duncan do?" Abby said.
Serafina flushed. "Oh, Abby, I need him for a night-"
"Duncan will not do."
"-and he must resemble Edward."
Her friends' eyes narrowed.
"Why?" Undine asked carefully.
Serafina bit her lip. "I'd rather not say. 'Tis only to protect you," she added quickly, seeing their faces.
"Keeping part of your mission from me is a risk," Undine said. "I can help, but my help is apt to be less than perfect."
"'Tis a risk I accept."
Undine dug in her pocket and withdrew two twists of the distinctive orange paper in which she dispensed her herbs. "I have crafted a concoction I believe will bring you what you seek-a man brave and true, aye, but also capable of deceit, susceptible to a woman's charms, and willing to hold his tongue."
Abby's eyes widened. "Is that true?" she said to Serafina.
Serafina shifted, shocked at the accuracy of Undine's description. "Well...aye."
"I have to leave now for an appointment in Argyle Square," Undine said, putting the herbs on the table, "but when I return, we'll figure out the best way to help you."
"But dinner is on the way," Abby said. "And you didn't eat this morning."
Undine held up an allaying hand. "I will eat, I promise. Serafina, while I'm away, pray consider whether secrecy is the best route and whether the man I described is truly the sort of man with whom you wish to consort."
The heavy silence that followed was broken by Abby, who announced her intention of tracking down the seamstress. Serafina followed her friends from the room, feeling as if she must have betrayed them.
From down the hall, Duncan caught her eye and gestured for her to remain behind. Abby and Undine descended the stairs into the inn's public rooms, and Serafina approached him.
"I did as you wished," he said in a low voice. "And the dockmaster confirmed the ship is arriving, though it's sooner than you were expecting."
"Tonight!" Had Undine left? She needed her help right away. "Thank you, Duncan. I...well, you can imagine the likelihood of a woman's inquiries being answered."
"I should never think of allowing a woman to walk the docks of Leith, no matter how strong the likelihood was." He bowed chivalrously. "What do you intend to do with the information, if I may ask?"
"The cargo the ship contains belongs to me-well, some of it in any case."
"That's not what the dockmaster said. Nor is it an answer to my question."
Her cheeks warmed. Why had she thought he would limit his inquiries to the single question she had asked him to answer? "The cargo's not in my name," she admitted. "But 'tis mine, nonetheless. My father was a sea merchant and before that a sea captain. As his only child, I inherited his business when he died. As you know, I fell in love and behaved foolishly. And part of my foolishness was allowing my fiancé to gain control over the business. He bankrupted it, or nearly so, the blackguard. That cargo is all that remains, and I intend to have it."
Her words had been more passionate than she'd intended, and Duncan led her farther away from the staircase. He was an imposing man, over six feet tall, and not one to suffer fools with patience.
"I'm not without sympathy," he whispered. "But stealing, however moral, is incontrovertibly illegal, and Abby will have me flogged if she thinks I contributed in some way to you ending up in prison. Frankly, though, I'm far more concerned about Edward and whoever his partners might be. Investors are an uncompromising bunch, as are the men who work for them, especially in Edinburgh. If you cheat them out of what they consider to be theirs, they'll nae go easy on ye because you're a woman. The docks are nae place for mischief."
She stood straighter. "I'm not that much of a fool. I'll have the help of a man who can-"
"What man?" His eyes narrowed into slits.
"He's a friend of the family," she said, lying, "and well versed in the ways of the sea trade." She had no wish to implicate Abby and Undine in her scheme. If they wished to tell Duncan about the help they were giving her, they could.
"A friend of the family?"
"Aye," she said, attempting not to wilt under the heat of the gaze. "You know I'm from Edinburgh. I have a considerable number of friends here."
"I have nae doubt. Well, I'd like to meet him. Will you be bringing him here?"
"I-I...can do that."
"Duncan, my money is nearly gone. Abby is kind, but I dinna wish to be dependent upon her to live. I dinna have your skills or Undine's powers or Abby's position. That cargo is my last hope."
"You will never be penniless. Abby needs a secretary, but if you somehow felt work was beneath you-"
"I'm penniless, Duncan, and pragmatic. No work is beneath me. But if there's a chance I can get back the money that was mine, I insist on the right to try."
He chewed the side of his cheek but seemed to recognize he faced an immovable force. "You will bring the man to me though, aye? Abby and I are dining with the bankers this evening, but we should be back before eleven."
"I will." She hated to lie, but she had barely enough time to carry out her plan as it was, let alone give Duncan the right to approve the players. She hoped she could still catch Undine's carriage. She waited a beat longer, then turned.
"One more thing," he said.
She turned back, hiding her impatience.
He looked down his long nose at her. "Use your head, aye?"
* * *
Using her head was not as easy as she might have wished. Undine and the carriage were gone. The ostler in the inn's stables knew nothing concerning her destination. Without Undine's spell, Serafina would have to hire someone on her own. She much preferred a man who had been summoned out of the Edinburgh crowds specifically to meet her needs. She had no idea how Undine's magic worked, but work it did. Duncan was sterling proof of that.
The cobbles of the Royal Mile stretched southward toward Leith and the sea, and she could smell the briny scent even if she couldn't see the water. Employing someone to pretend to be Edward offered risk enough without the added uncertainty of using a person of questionable skills and trustworthiness, but what choice did she have?
She sighed. If I'm going to hire someone, she thought, I'd better hurry. With a fortifying shake, she pelted into the inn, up the stairs, and into the sitting room the traveling party shared. She'd need to change her clothes and gather what little money she had-
A flash of orange caught her eye.
The herbs lay on the table, abandoned. Serafina's foot tapped involuntarily. What had Undine said? Mix it with alcohol? But these were Undine's herbs, not hers. It was one thing to steal cargo, quite another to take advantage of a friend's kindness.
She wandered to a chair and sat down, gazing at the twists of paper. Undine had said quite clearly the herbs were for her. She'd mixed them for her. Serafina shifted. The onion-shaped Kerr whiskey decanter sat uncorked on the table.
With a sigh, she reached for the papers and slowly undid the ends. She would have to add this to her ever-growing list of sins.