Meet the Highland Knaves, an infamous clan of outcast Scots who live for justice, lust for freedom, and long for lovers bold enough to tame them...
A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
Torn from a pampered life of luxury and thrust into the midst of a Scottish revolution, Serena Marsh is shocked to meet the brutish man who has been assigned to protect her from the rebels trying to kill her—Malcolm Slayter, the most rugged, most dangerous, and most undeniably attractive man she's ever encountered...
THE KNAVE OF HEARTS
Malcolm has no loyalties, no country, and no sense of propriety. Hired by her father, Malcolm agrees to protect the lovely lass for a fee. But when Serena challenges Malcolm's authority—and engages him in a risky flirtation—all bets are off. When the battle heats up, it's anyone's guess as to who's seducing whom...and who'll surrender first.
About the Author
MICHELLE MARCOS is a native of Miami, Florida. Having worked as both an English teacher and an actress, she writes romance to celebrate perfect love.
MICHELLE MARCOS is the author of Secrets to Seducing a Scot and one previous trilogy with St. Martin's Press. A native of Miami, Florida, she's worked as both an English teacher and an actress, and she writes romance to celebrate perfect love.
Read an Excerpt
Secrets to Seducing a Scot
By Michelle Marcos
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 Michelle Marcos
All rights reserved.
KENSINGTON PALACE, ENGLAND
A royal ball is very much like any other ball. One sees many of the same guests, eats many of the same dishes, and has many of the same conversations. But juggle enough balls, and one is bound to fall.
And so it happened to a certain gentleman and his lady who found themselves discreetly escorted from the Princess's birthday fête. Perhaps too much wine led to too much whine, but this unwise man balked about the selection of spirits at the Duke of Kent's table, and he decided to boast to the Prince Regent about his own collection of expensive liquors.
A word of advice to those who attend at court: Never complain about the champagne. It is one thing to be considered a connoisseur of the finer pleasures, but it is quite another to be demanding of them.
Unhappily, this particular man (and his particular tastes) will never be invited back. You may be called fussy, you may be called arrogant. But the one thing you don't want to be called is gone.
Serena Marsh tilted the champagne flute into her mouth. The champagne wasn't as bad as all that. Come to think of it, neither was her article. The polite yet forceful expulsion of Lord and Lady Lamoreaux tonight gave her just the material she needed for this week's contribution to the "Rage Page." The column practically wrote itself.
She gazed out over the stonework balustrade. Below, people dressed in their royal finery swirled about the sunken garden like fluttering confetti. Over by the rosebushes, Princess Augusta chatted amiably with a flock of parliamentarians.
"Are you Serena Marsh?"
Serena turned around. Two ladies approached her, and she could tell they were related. One was in her early dotage, with a face like a gnarled tree trunk, and the other looked to be her daughter.
"Yes, I am."
The wrinkles in the older lady's face deepened as she beamed at Serena. "Oh, Miss Marsh, it's so good to finally meet you. I simply adore your column! I read it every Wednesday in the Town Crier."
"As do I," insisted the younger.
"You're too kind, Mrs. —"
"Lady Geraldine Hewitt. This is my daughter, the Lady Marie Enstrom. My friends and I have such fun with the clever things you say. Why, just yesterday we were having tea with the Camberwells, and your column was the sole and exclusive topic of conversation all afternoon. What was it you called that Dutch courtier, the one who loved to eat? Ah, yes, I remember ... 'a man for all seasonings.'"
Lady Hewitt cackled, making Serena smile.
"I'd never laughed so hard in my life. Was he really so gauche?"
Serena rolled her eyes prettily. "Unrepentantly so. Be glad you were not a witness to the awful wig he wore. I'm certain his hair wasn't that color even in his youth, which had to have been about three centuries ago. He can't possibly fool anybody. One's hair does not turn black with age."
The ladies laughed gaily.
"My favorite," remarked Lady Enstrom, "was that story you told of the French noblewoman who divorced her husband because of his profligate spending." Lady Enstrom turned to her mother. "She titled the article, 'Till Debt Us Do Part.'"
Their giggles could be heard well down into the garden, gladdening Serena's heart. If there was one thing she relished, it was having her words quoted back to her.
Lady Enstrom's eyes beamed at Serena. "I must remark, Mama, on the exquisite gown that Miss Marsh is wearing."
"Yes. Quite enchanting," confirmed Lady Hewitt.
The dress Serena had on was fashioned of blond silk embroidered with gold thread at the neckline, sleeves, and hem. A wave of starched lace fanned out behind her neck, and her golden hair was collected high upon her head. A string of pearls cascaded through the artfully placed curls.
"Thank you very much," she replied, a surprised blush rising to her cheeks. Modesty prohibited her from mentioning that she herself had designed it. "It was crafted by a very talented couturier from Orléans. The French seem to be better with a sewing needle than a bayonet."
Lady Hewitt smiled as she lay down her glass on the stone balustrade. "Tell me, who will you be writing about in your next column?"
Serena grinned. "My dear Lady Hewitt. You know I do not divulge any names in my column. And even if I were to write about someone attending this ball, I should not be so heartless as to break in upon his incognito."
"His?" Lady Enstrom replied with a curious gleam in her eye. "Oh, do tell us what you know."
Serena smiled benevolently. "I will only hint enough to say that if I were you, Lady Hewitt, I would pick up that drink again and make a great show of enjoying it."
The crinkles in Lady Enstrom's eyes deepened. "Oh, I can't wait. Miss Marsh, you simply must come to a party we're holding at the end of the month. I'm inviting masses of people. There will be lots for you to write about."
"I'd be delighted."
"Where is your honored father? I shall invite him personally."
Serena had lost track of Earlington Marsh when the Prince Regent pulled her aside to have a good rail over Lord Lamoreaux. She craned her neck over the garden below. "I don't see him. But I shall look for him presently, and I'll be sure to convey your invitation."
"Good! I can't wait to tell everyone you'll be coming!"
Serena grinned as she walked away from the effusive women. Her social diary was full almost every night for weeks. There was something to be said for being the writer of a renowned Society column. Although she enjoyed a certain respectability from being the daughter of an ambassador, the "Rage Page" had put her name on everyone's lips. There wasn't a rout or ball to which she was not invited, and her absence was a shame upon the hostess. Her column had an enormous following, as everyone who read her column wanted to be featured in it — even in a less-than-flattering light. The editor of her paper once remarked that Serena churned the cream of Society so much that one day she would end up with butter.
And her dance card was the envy of any duchess. The current of gentlemen that swirled around her always made her feel giddy with desirability. How she loved their attentions! She drank in their furtive looks, bathed in their endless flattery. She lost count of the number of marriage proposals she had received, knowing most of them to be born of unbridled lust to possess her. But she collected them anyway, like trophies that proved she mattered.
The exotic night-blooming jasmine offered up its heady scent as she strolled across the courtyard of Kensington Palace. Conversations drifted in and out of her hearing. Raised glasses shimmered in the glow of the full moon. The party was fizzing with festivity. This was London at its finest and grandest, and Serena hummed with pleasure.
A flash of red intruded upon her cheerful mood, and made her turn her attention toward the south garden. It was an army uniform.
Strange thing to see at a ball like this, a celebration of the birth of the infant Princess Victoria. Amid the cheerful pastel fabrics, a redcoat — especially that of a major general — brought an inexplicable sense of foreboding upon the jovial mood.
Her concerns were reinforced as the general walked up to her father and whispered something into his ear. A strange expression came over her father's face, and he followed the officer to a separate part of the garden.
Though he was only in his early fifties, Earlington Marsh looked a good deal older. His broad shoulders now drooped slightly, and his strong, intelligent eyes were weighted with experience and regrets. His sandy hair was salted with gray, which was echoed in the slight silver sheen just below the surface of his chin.
The two men disappeared through the ivy-covered archway, leaving Serena to stew in her curiosity. Anxious minutes passed as she debated the wisdom of intruding upon their meeting. But concern for her father drowned out the warning voice of propriety, and she took a step inside.
Her slippered feet made no sound on the soft earth. Instantly she spotted the red-coated general. He was locked in a whispered conversation with her father and a cluster of men. She strained to listen, and managed to catch just a few words. Rebels. Uprising. Treason.
One of the men caught sight of her and hushed the others. Suddenly every face turned to look at her, stopping her dead in her tracks.
"Serena?" said Earlington quietly. "What are you doing here?"
"Father. I-I was looking for you."
Earlington shouldered away from the somber-faced crowd. "These gentlemen and I were just having a word in private. You should return to the party. I'll be there in a few moments."
"Is anything wrong?"
"Nothing that should concern you, my dear," he said. "Let me escort you back to the gathering."
"Father," she began, a note of asperity in her voice. "I do hope you're not considering returning to work. You're not yet fully recovered!"
"Serena," he said. "You worry too much about me. It was only a mild seizure of the heart. I'm perfectly well now. Besides, we were just talking."
Serena shook her head, glancing at his dark green double-breasted tailcoat. He was wearing the same coat the night he collapsed at the Prime Minister's office. "It's too soon. I won't have it. If you won't have a care for your own health, then I will. I shall march right over there and tell them to leave you alone."
"Serena." There was that tone again, the one that she knew to be heavy with wisdom. "What have I told you about fear?"
She sighed. "There is a difference between fearing a real danger and fearing an imagined one."
"That's right. It is not meet that we should be afraid of what may happen. That would simply be an exercise in futility."
The general stepped forward. "Ambassador. The Privy Council is awaiting your answer, sir."
Serena looked up into her father's face. Though the circles under his eyes were darker and his skin had grown paler, the strength in his eyes had never diminished.
"Go back to the garden party. I'm certain there are some very handsome young men who are wondering where you've gotten to."
"If you send me back, I shall tell the Prince Regent on you," she threatened impotently.
His eyes smiled in return. "I'll rejoin you both presently."
Present. It was a word that grew more precious with each passing day. She wondered how much more of a present there would be with her father. Of one thing she was sure. It was a present she would not be able to keep.CHAPTER 2
He had him.
Silently, the hunter crept up on his unsuspecting prey. Malcolm squeezed the grip of his bow, all his senses leaping into heightened awareness. His heart hammered, his breathing quickened, his balls tightened. Though a chill night breeze wafted through the trees, he began to perspire. Time seemed to slow, an eternity fitting into a single heartbeat.
Sheltered within the womb of a small clearing, his prey was huddling over a meager fire. Malcolm watched as the man tossed a handful of twigs on the weak flames. The man shivered, tightening the McInnes plaid around his shoulders. Though darkness had finally fallen over the northern hills, Malcolm could see the pistol wedged into the waist of the man's kilt.
Slowly, he positioned the arrow across his bow. The distance was against him but the breeze now stilled. He shut one green eye, taking careful aim. This was the moment he had been working toward for nearly a fortnight, and the thrill of the capture began to flood his veins. He leaned forward, clearing the arrowhead out from behind a branch ... when a twig snapped underfoot.
McInnes perked, gun brandished in Malcolm's direction. The man's vantage point rendered him practically blind to where Malcolm was hiding. Even so, Malcolm knew there was nothing more dangerous than a frightened man with a loaded gun.
"Who's there?" McInnes called out. Panic, mingled with guilt, covered him like a sheen of sweat. "Show yourself!"
In the dappled moonlight, Malcolm watched McInnes advance cautiously toward him. Perhaps his prey was not so blind after all. Five courses of action with varying degrees of danger streamed through Malcolm's mind.
He untensed his bow, rendering himself defenseless. Slowly, he picked up a rock from the ground. Cocking back his arm, he threw it as hard as he could toward the clearing.
The next moments happened in a blur. McInnes spun around, a panicked response to the distracting sound. Malcolm drew back the string on his bow and let the arrow fly. McInnes fell to the ground, his scream tearing through the forest.
Malcolm bolted from his hiding place, bounding effortlessly over a fallen birch. McInnes was writhing on the ground, helplessly trying to pull the bloody arrow from the back of his thigh.
McInnes rolled onto his side, his shaky hand aiming the pistol at Malcolm. There was nowhere for Malcolm to turn, nowhere to hide — the only thing that counted was speed. He pounced full-body on the man in a desperate attempt to wrest the weapon from him.
Teeth bared, the men struggled with each other. Though Malcolm towered over McInnes, McInnes was strong and outweighed his hunter by a full two stone.
Risking his life, Malcolm released one hand from McInnes's gun and pushed the arrow deeper into the man's thigh. McInnes screamed, reaching for Malcolm's arm. Then Malcolm swung a beefy fist into McInnes's abdomen. Incapacitated, McInnes released the weapon, and his opponent wrenched it from his fist.
Panting for breath, McInnes cursed. "Go on with ye, ye mangy cur. Shoot an unarmed man like the coward ye are."
Malcolm shoved the pistol into the waist of his black kilt. "Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to have at a thieving murderer. But luck is on yer side tonight, McInnes. The law demands her claim on ye first."
"Law? Ye're daft. 'Twas none but the English I killed ... aye, them what was driving me off my own land."
"The Crown owns yer land now. Ye forfeited it when ye poisoned the stream that killed all of Lord Rutledge's cattle ... and his infant son."
"What's this talk of the Crown?" he asked incredulously as Malcolm bound his wrists behind him. "Ye're a bloody Scotsman! Have ye no pride, man? Why do ye not support the rebellion?"
Malcolm was silent, making quick work of tying knots around the man's wrists.
"What clan are ye?"
Still Malcolm did not speak. It was a question he could not answer without a degree of shame.
Malcolm spun the man around and, holding him fast by his shirtfront, removed the sgian dubh from the man's hose.
McInnes glanced at Malcolm's hand. "I have ye now! Ye're a good-for-nothing slaighteur! Rejected by the clans. Ye're treacherous against yer own people!" McInnes spat at his feet.
Malcolm almost struck him for the insult. But McInnes was right. The scar on the back of his hand pronounced it. He was an orphan among Scots, living without the protection or the honor of belonging to a clan. It made him worse than nothing. But he would have it no other way.
Malcolm's emerald eyes bore into the man's face. "I owe m'loyalty to no clan. Scotland, England ... it matters not who pays me to bring ye in. Personally, I'd do it just for the pleasure of seeing ye hanged."
"Slaighteur!" yelled McInnes as Malcolm jerked him forward by the arm. And though he was nearly bent over double as he dragged his wounded leg behind him, his voice carried above the treetops and reverberated in the forest. "Slaighteur!"
It was a name that Malcolm Slayter was forced to make his own.CHAPTER 3
"Scotland?" Serena repeated incredulously. "But there's nothing in Scotland except sheep and cows."
Earlington suppressed a chuckle as he poured the tea. "Serena ... Scotland is an important part of Great Britain, and has very much to do with what makes Britain so great in the first place."
She screwed up her shoulders. "I still don't understand why you must be sent there."
Earlington spoke with the even tones and measured words that were his hallmark. "War with France has depleted Britain's treasury. In order to keep the country running, Parliament has had to impose yet another tax upon the people. But the Scots have complained, declaring that the additional tax is putting too great a strain on an already overburdened populace. Parliament heard their grievances, but has remained unmoved. Now there is widespread unrest in Scotland. The Prince Regent has asked me to relieve Anglo-Scottish tensions by keeping the rumblings from turning into outright rebellion."
"But why must you go?" she asked, taking the cup of honeyed China tea. "What about your health? You shouldn't even be traveling such a great distance, let alone embarking on such a delicate and worrisome assignment. Why can't they send someone else?"
Excerpted from Secrets to Seducing a Scot by Michelle Marcos. Copyright © 2011 Michelle Marcos. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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