Her Scottish Groom

Her Scottish Groom

by Ann Stephens

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781420122596
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 03/01/2011
Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 367,061
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Ann Stephens has been a passionate reader for as long as she can remember, but she didn’t attempt to write a book until she was in her forties. Her first novel, To Be Seduced, was published by Kensington in 2010, and her second, Her Scottish Groom, was published the following year. She is a member of the Heartland Writers Group, the Nebraska Writers’ Guild, the Nebraska Writers’ Workshop, and the Romance Writers of America. Visit her online at annstephensauthor.com.

Read an Excerpt

Her Scottish Groom


By Ann Stephens

ZEBRA BOOKS

Copyright © 2011 Ann Pullum
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4201-0868-2


Chapter One

May 1875

Tonight called for some act of rebellion, no matter how insignificant. Diantha Quinn crept across the thick Aubusson carpet, her way lit by the lamp she carried.

The soft wool tickled her bare feet as the dancing light illuminated a room she had come to loathe. Swags of burgundy velvet draped the solid mahogany four-poster bed and the ornately carved mirror over the vanity. Combined with the gilding splashed on furniture and knickknacks, they lent the room an air both sumptuous and oppressive.

She picked up her quilted wrapper, uttering a small noise of distaste. Although her mother adored the garment's vivid apple green color, the shade gave her own skin a sickly cast.

The alternative of stepping out of her bedroom wearing only her nightgown did occur to her. She managed a small smile at the thought of her family's collective horror should she do so. However, considerations of modesty and good breeding aside, drafts filled the halls of her family's New York City mansion even in May. She sighed and tied the corded sash around her waist. After sliding her feet into an equally garish pair of slippers, she approached her door and turned the handle.

When she cracked it open, the footman drowsing against the corridor wall opposite startled to attention. "Now, miss, you know your father's orders. You're to stay in your room till it's time for you to dress tomorrow." Despite the sympathy in his voice, he took a purposeful step toward her.

"Eoghan, I've spent the last week imprisoned in here. Please, I just want to go to the library and read." She hoped the use of his real name would soften the young servant's heart.

Eoghan, who had been rechristened Edward because Mrs. Quinn feared appearing too Irish, crossed his arms. "Like you said you were going to visit Mrs. Schuyler last month and nearly got all the way to the railway station before they caught you?"

Diantha shuddered at the reminder of her abortive escape attempt and its aftermath. The servant's voice softened.

"Miss, I feel bad for you, I truly do. But your father says he'll send me back to Ireland if I let you get away. You know I can't chance that."

"I know." The twenty-year-old footman, older than she by only a year, had confided that most of his earnings went home to his mother in County Tyrone. Her father ordered his household with the same ruthlessness that characterized his business dealings. It was not an idle threat.

"I promise I'll come back. You have my word." A grimace twisted her face. "Besides, as my parents pointed out last month, I have no other choice."

How odd to see pity in the eyes of a stripling whose yearly wages did not equal the cost of one of her hats. The boy sighed.

"You'd better, or I'll be hauled aboard the next packet to Belfast." He cleared his throat. "You know, miss, Lord Rossburn isn't a bad sort. For a Scot, anyway."

"The difficulty is that I'm going to be his wife, not his maid." She muttered the words to herself as she made her way down the corridor. A flash of bitterness coursed through her. "Servants can give notice if they're unhappy. I'll be tied to him till I die."

She stared moodily ahead of her. Lord Rossburn had been a complete stranger last summer. Tomorrow she would marry him in a ceremony orchestrated to bring her parents into the inner circle of New York society.

The whisper of her nightclothes echoed ahead of her along the hall to the marble stairway. Faces painted by European masters gazed unseeing out of ornate frames as the glow of her lamp passed. The flicker of light on the statues her father collected lent the impression of movement. As a girl, the illusion had terrified her, but tonight she kept her eyes fixed straight ahead.

Even the thirteenth-century French gargoyles guarding the top of the grand staircase failed to unnerve her now. Her older brothers had named them Buster and Willie. During her childhood, the boys had prevented her from wandering the halls after bedtime by assuring her that the stone carvings came to life and roamed through the mansion.

Her siblings anticipated the prospect of her marriage to a lord as enthusiastically as her parents did. They took no pains to hide their delight at her engagement, and often spoke of the cachet of claiming a British peer as a brother-in-law.

She had tried, cautiously, to correct them once. She recalled the occasion with painful clarity. The Quinns had dined en famille that evening, a rare occurrence.

"I don't believe he thinks of himself as British." As she and her fiancé had yet to converse privately during their courtship, she could not be sure of this, but she did notice he bristled slightly when referred to as an Englishman.

They sat in the pool of light shed by a single chandelier over their table. On either side of them, two other tables stretched the length of the immense room, their far ends lost in the shadows. Enormous antique tapestries lined the room, their age-dulled colors enhancing the gloomy atmosphere.

"Of course he does, the British have been united for a hundred and seventy years." James, the elder, helped himself to a generous slice of layer cake.

"Besides, he doesn't complain about it." Thomas took a last swallow of vintage Bordeaux and handed his glass to a waiting footman. "Not that he'll dare gripe if he wants to get his hands on any of our money. Right, Father?"

Harold Quinn tore his attention away from his plate long enough to glare at his younger son. "I'm not dead yet, boy. I earned my own fortune and I'll damned well decide who gets it when I'm dead and gone." His jowls quivered. "Not that I can see any business advantage whatever in marrying my daughter off to some overbred dandy."

In all fairness, Diantha did not think his lordship remotely dandified or effeminate, but chose not to venture her opinion.

"Mr. Quinn, we discussed the matter thoroughly when we agreed to Diantha's engagement. Kindly stop speaking in such a vulgar manner, all of you!" Still tall and slim after fifty years and three children, with only a few strands of silver in her dark blond hair, Amalthea Helford Quinn's fragile beauty belied a will every bit as unyielding as her husband's. Noticing the piece of cake in front of her daughter, she rang the small silver bell at her right hand.

"Edward, Miss Quinn does not care for dessert. Please take it away."

"Mama, I should very much like to have some this evening. Could I not eat just a small piece?" She gazed longingly at the chocolate-frosted confection Eoghan whisked out from under her fork.

"Do not contradict me, young lady. If I let you eat everything you wanted, you'd swell up like a hot air balloon." The words caused a wave of heat to mount slowly into Diantha's cheeks. No matter how hard she tried, she could never live down her mother's disappointment in having borne a daughter who did not match her own beauty.

"For heaven's sake, Mally, there's nothing wrong with the girl's figure." Her grandmother, the one person in the family unafraid of her daughter's temper, patted her lips with a damask napkin. "I certainly never treated you like that growing up." The old woman winked across the table at Diantha, signifying the arrival of a slice of cake in her room later that evening.

Diantha dared a small smile of thanks while her parents were distracted.

"I never had the opportunity to marry a peer of the realm. Although I have had a very satisfactory life with Mr. Quinn." Her mother inclined her head toward her spouse.

As the two regularly engaged in sharp disagreements, she and her brothers had glanced at each other and sought for another subject to discuss.

Diantha pattered down the steps into the darkened entrance hall. The scent of burning oil drifted from the lamp in her hand as she passed the ballroom, already decorated and set up with tables and chairs for three hundred. She did not bother to look inside. Mama had arranged the decorations without consulting her.

Since that conversation with her family, she had suffered through a series of humiliating meetings with her husband-to-be. Forbidden to utter more than the barest commonplaces, she had listened, eyes downcast, while her mother arranged every detail of the wedding and reception. Her parents had even planned their honeymoon trip aboard the flagship of her father's shipping line.

Worse, Mrs. Quinn, in an attempt to secure attention for the splendid match, had permitted several pieces of Diantha's trousseau to be examined by society writers from a popular journal. After exclaiming over the exquisite creations ordered from Worth of Paris, they published descriptions of several items.

Diantha had wanted to sink with shame when she read a detailed account of her embroidered underclothes. The article sparked one of the few times she protested to her parent.

"No one I know has ever had such intimate intrusion into their weddings!" She had shaken the paper in accusation.

Her mother rebuked her sharply. "Stop crying, you stupid girl! Society has closed its doors to this family for twenty-five years. Well, this will make them sit up and take notice."

"I hardly think they're going to be impressed because my corset-covers are embroidered with a flower-and-leaf pattern." The remark earned her a box on the ear, but in her agitation Diantha had not cared.

She had tried to escape the single time they left her unwatched, but failed. Wedding arrangements continued. To the gratification of her father, Astors, Belmonts, and numerous other names from select clubs accepted their invitations.

So tonight she engaged in the only act of defiance she could think of. Slipping into her father's darkened study, she retrieved a small key from its place under his inkstand and opened the inlaid wood liquor cabinet. Her brothers had taken Lord Rossburn out for a last spree this evening. Therefore she would have one of her own.

She supposed they were visiting the establishment of a Madam Sweet. From whispered conversations between James and Thomas, she gathered gentlemen obtained the services of loose women there. She occasionally wondered just what those services entailed, but knew better than to ask.

After examining each bottle, she picked up one and read the label aloud.

"COGNAC XO IMPERIAL." She poured the dark amber liquid into a cut-crystal snifter and sipped cautiously. It burned going down her throat, but not unpleasantly. In fact, the warmth in her stomach felt very nice indeed in the chilly room.

She filled the bulbous container nearly to the brim. Papa and her brothers often drank several glasses over the course of an evening.

Removing a book on architecture from her father's bookshelf, she settled into an overstuffed wing chair and opened it to a chapter on the Georgian era.

Then she started to weep softly.

James Quinn needed to go on a slimming regimen. Kieran Rossburn held the portly young man up while his younger brother fumbled to unlock the door. "Why not ring for a servant?" His irritation roused his burden from his stupor.

"Father considers drinking and debauchery a waste of good money. So every single time we go out for a bit of fun"—his future brother-in-law indicated the front door of the Fifth Avenue mansion with a sweeping gesture that nearly pulled Kieran off his feet—"the old goat locks the door on us at midnight. We have to let ourselves in as if we still lived over the shop."

"Damned unreasonable, if you ask me." Beside them, Thomas looked over his shoulder from where he struggled with the key. It fell to the top step with a cold ping. "Missed again. You don't think he changed the locks, do you?"

"Highly unlikely." His lordship's patience evaporated as the young man stooped to pick up the key and failed.

"Stand up and hold this." He shoved James into his brother's arms and retrieved the key from its resting place. Seconds later, he opened the door and guided the inebriated pair to a Louis Quinze settle. Groping his way in the dark to a switch, he turned up the gas-lit chandelier overhead.

"Say, you can't do that!" Thomas stood up in protest and promptly collapsed back onto the settle. "The gas isn't supposed to be lit after Father goes to bed." Ignoring him, Kieran tugged vigorously at a bellpull.

"I do not care in the least what your father does or does not permit. And after tomorrow, I shall be free to tell him so myself."

"That's what you think, old boy." James gave a snort of laughter, or perhaps contempt. "Harold Quinn never gives up a groat without a fight. If you want to live off his money, you dance to his tune."

Kieran regarded the younger man coldly. "My estate brings in an adequate amount for me to live off of, thank you. I would like to remind you that your sister comes as part of a business arrangement with him."

A bleary-eyed footman arrived a few minutes later, struggling into his livery jacket. Consigning Thomas to this unfortunate individual, his lordship hoisted James to his feet and ordered the servant to lead the way to their bedrooms.

As he staggered through what appeared to be miles of hallways, he gave thanks that the Quinn brothers slept in neighboring bedrooms. Bundling the portly young man onto his bed, Kieran gasped for breath and regarded him with a jaundiced eye. Then, without a word, he turned on his heel and left the room.

The evening had been one long alcoholic binge for the Quinns, interrupted only by a visit to Madam Sweet's brothel for what they termed "horizontal refreshments." Kieran, already disgusted with the family he was marrying into, partook sparingly of the alcoholic refreshment and bypassed the women completely. A habitué of elegant salons in London, Paris, and Rome, the tawdry entertainment provided at the house of ill-repute failed to impress him.

Not that he expected more from his fiancée's family. The stench of sweat and cheap perfume from the bordello left a sour tang in his mouth. Hopefully a drink from his future father-in-law's well-stocked liquor supply would overcome it. As he made his way toward the study, he fought back the bile that rose in his throat. His engagement had given him plenty of time to assess the family. Only the need to look after his tenants kept him from bolting this neo-Gothic monstrosity they called a house.

He had approached Harold Quinn the previous summer, when the American had rented a house for his wife and daughter in London. Not only did the man run the most successful passenger ships plying the Atlantic, he retained ownership of his grandfather's fishing fleet. Kieran had approached the magnate in the hope of interesting him in backing the fishermen sailing from Cariford, the one harbor on Rossburn lands. The old man had listened to his proposal in silence, then dismissed him with a promise of an answer within a week.

Striding down the dimly lit marble stairs, Kieran's jaw tightened at the memory. He had had no choice but to agree to Quinn's insolence. Ever since the potato blight had spread from Ireland to Scotland in his father's time, their tenants had struggled to make a living. His father had nearly beggared the family in his attempts to provide for their people. It had taken years for the two of them to increase income from the private demesne to the point where the lord's family could live comfortably off of it. Little extra remained to help the tenants.

Despite the social solecism of an aristocrat engaging in trade or industry, Kieran had determined to start some venture to provide employment for his tenants. His family had been in Scotland since before the Normans had invaded England in 1066, during the reign of Malcolm III, king of Scotland, and the sense of responsibility for their people ran deep in Rossburn blood.

Even so, he had refused to pay Quinn's price the first time the old man informed him what it was.

"You're mad." He had regarded the other man with revulsion.

Quinn's brows beetled. Evidently, the magnate did not hear many blunt assessments of his character.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Her Scottish Groom by Ann Stephens Copyright © 2011 by Ann Pullum. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Her Scottish Groom 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
bevstar More than 1 year ago
I wasn't impressed by this book. I thought it had great potential but it just never made it there. I enjoyed it only half the time and I only finished half the book. I tought I might come back to it when I put it down that first night but now that Im looking at it again, I really don't want to. The main female character had no real debth, very immature, and just down right childish. I hated that all the dialog was the main two characters arguing or fighting, afterwards whenever they would make up or when they actually had civilized conversation it was always just described as happening but you don't actually read those conversations. There was nothing that draws you in to the story or the characters. As of right now I'm not going to be picking up the book again, and normally when that happens I never do again. Who knows tho.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nothing much happened.
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*A most enjoyable read.. recommended
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very good, I didn't think I would like it, but enjoyed it very much!
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