There’s no matchmaking an unruly heart
When a prominent Scottish family faces a major scandal weeks before their daughter’s wedding, they turn in desperation to the enigmatic fixer for the aristocracy, Nichol Bain. Remarkably skilled at making high-profile problems go away, Nichol understands the issue immediately. The family’s raven-haired ward, Maura Darby, has caught the wandering eye—and rather untoward advances—of the groom.
Nichol assuredly escorts Maura toward his proposed solution: an aging bachelor for her to marry. But rebellious Maura has no interest in marrying a stranger, especially when her handsome traveling companion has captivated her so completely. Thankfully, Nichol loves a challenge, but traveling with the bold and brash Maura has him viewing her as far more than somebody’s problem. Which raises a much bigger issue—how can he possibly elude disaster when the heart of the problem is his own?
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Calum Garbett was not allowed to know happiness. No matter how close he came to it, his wife and daughter would swoop in at the last moment to destroy any chance of it.
The scene playing out in the drawing room was the crowning blow. He could feel all his hard work slipping through his fingers. To think of all the money and time he'd spent bringing Carron Iron Works to life. It had been a Herculean feat to forge a relationship with Thomas Cadell, an Englishman with a successful iron works of his own, who could teach the Scots the latest techniques. Techniques that would save time and money, that would enable Calum to employ more Scottish men.
He'd positioned himself to become one of the premier industries in Scotland. If that were not true, would the Duke of Montrose be sitting beside him now, willing to invest his own money and influence into the endeavor?
Yes, Calum had bargained his daughter's hand in marriage as part of the deal, but then again, he'd done her a great service, as her prospects for marriage had not been dazzling. Frankly, his daughter leaned a little to the homely side of things, and when young, randy men of marrying age were presented with the prospect of a potential mate who made them wince when imagining the marriage bed, they tended to shy away altogether.
Well, he'd found someone for his daughter, Sorcha, and now, she would ruin everything with her mother standing firmly beside her, all because the young rooster she was set to marry was enamored with the far fairer, and much more elusive, Maura Darby. Calum's ward.
Calum had taken Maura under his wing twelve years ago when her father, his oldest friend, had died. The lass was quite alone in this world, and Darby had appealed to Calum's generosity and sense of decency. Calum had been happy to do it, particularly as the lass had come with a nice bit of money, and her presence would not affect him in any way.
But he'd severely underestimated how slighted his daughter, Sorcha, would feel about it. Or, perhaps more importantly, his wife. She was quite set against the lass from the moment she arrived.
The resentment only grew over the years. As the girls became women, no matter what Calum's wife did to improve his daughter's looks, poor Sorcha was destined to live her life with a bulbous nose and slightly crooked eyes, while Maura blossomed into a woman with appealing ink-black hair and eyes the same blue as a winter sky. The more alluring Maura became, the more his wife tried to push her aside. As it happened, Sorcha had been the first to receive an offer of marriage — with the help of Mrs. Garbett, who had resorted to all but locking poor Maura away.
The lass had borne it well enough, with little complaint. She'd become accustomed, he supposed, to wearing hand-me-downs, having her things taken and given to Sorcha — a kitten when she was thirteen, a muff a few years later, a fichu that was given to her by a friend on her twentieth birthday. And those were the things Calum knew about.
But what had happened in the last fortnight under this roof had turned Sorcha into an entirely unreasonable wee shrew. This, Calum decided, was a bloody disaster.
As he understood it, a chambermaid witnessed a kiss between Maura and his daughter's fiancé, Mr. Adam Cadell, and knowing this to be an unpardonable affront to her mistress, had run to the housekeeper, who in turn had run to Calum's wife, who had then screeched down the stairs and into the study where Calum and Adam's father, Thomas Cadell, were finalizing their agreement in the presence of the Duke of Montrose.
Mrs. Garbett was followed closely by a wailing Sorcha, whose sobbing had the unfortunate affect of making her nose look even larger. She was followed by the young man's mother, Mrs. Cadell, who vehemently denied her son had done anything wrong. Last, and certainly least, a sheepish Mr. Adam Cadell, who insisted that the older woman, Maura, who had just turned four and twenty to his twenty years, had thrown herself at him and he had not known what to do.
Bloody randy rooster would have them all believe he was a poor wee lad who had been accosted.
A tribunal of three confused men — Calum, Thomas Cadell and the duke — was quickly assembled in the drawing room. Calum insisted the maid be brought forth to give her account. Maura, the accused, was also ushered in, and stood defiantly against the wall, her arms crossed over her body, her fair blue eyes flashing with defiance at the lot of them.
"I seen Miss Darby with her back to the wall, and Mr. Cadell kissing her," the maid said with her eyes firmly affixed to the floor.
"I am certain it was the other way around," Adam said hopefully.
Calum looked at Maura. "Miss Darby?"
"It was precisely as Hannah saw it, sir, aye."
It didn't sound to Calum as if she'd thrown herself at Adam, not with her back to the wall, but she'd confessed to the kiss, and he didn't know precisely what to do. "Well, now," he said uncertainly. "You must promise you'll no' do that again."
"Mr. Garbett!" his wife shrieked with great hysteria. "Will you no' defend your daughter's honor, then?"
Dear God, did she propose that Calum call out the young man? Duel to death in their drive? To think of the scandal, not to mention the mess that would need to be tidied up.
"Pappa!" Sorcha's shriek was identical to her mother's. "I will no' marry him! I hate him! I hate Maura! Why ever did you bring her here?"
Calum felt the weight of this unmitigated disaster bearing down on his chest. Plus, his head itched beneath his peruke, and he longed for a stick or something to shove up in there and scratch so he could bloody well think. If there was no marriage, there would be no deal. His iron works, destined to be the economic jewel of all of Scotland, would circle the drain. He slowly gained his feet. "Let us not act in haste, darling."
"Haste?" Sorcha cried. "It is the second time she has kissed my fiancé!"
Oh right. The first time, Maura had said the lad had caught her outside, in the garden where no one could see them, and had kissed her. The lad, unsurprisingly, had flatly denied it. The two families had sided with him.
"I didna kiss him," Maura said, her voice surprisingly calm given all the female hysteria floating about them like an ether. "He caught me in the hall unawares and kissed me, sir." She looked at the young fool. "Please tell the truth, Mr. Cadell."
"How dare you!" Mrs. Cadell cried. "Know your place!" But then she swung around and hit the back of her son's head with the flat of her hand so hard that he was knocked forward a pair of steps.
"She is a temptress, on my word!" Adam said frantically, looking around him, no doubt hoping to find a sympathetic face. He would find none.
"I donna want her here, aye, Pappa? I donna want her anywhere near me!" Sorcha insisted.
Calum exchanged a look with Thomas, who looked just as befuddled as Calum felt. Calum truly didn't know what he was supposed to do with Maura. It wasn't as if he could tuck her away in a trunk and put her in the attic.
"Mr. Garbett!" his wife said. "You must send her away!"
"Aye, all right, all right, I understand that feelings have been hurt," he snapped, and tried to think. His cousin? He'd not seen David Rumpkin in many years. He lived in what had been his father's manor near Aberuthen. He was an old charlatan, had never made an honest living, but Calum suspected he would take Maura in for a fee until this debacle blew over.
He glanced at Maura, who steadily returned his gaze, almost as if she was silently daring him to believe that wretched lad and send her away. Her icy stare sent a small shiver down his spine. "I'll send her to my cousin for the time being, aye?" he said, his gaze on Maura. "In Aberuthen. A tidy manor house near a loch. Do you no' like the sound of it, then, Maura?"
She did not flinch. She did not say a word. But the injustice radiated off her, heating them all.
"Send her away with all the privileges we have extended to her these many years, then?" his wife said angrily. "She has destroyed my daughter's happiness, and for that, she should be made to repay the kindness we've shown her."
"Indeed," Mrs. Cadell sniffed. "She should be made to pay the consequence of using her wiles on an innocent young man."
Innocent, his arse. "What would you like, madam?" Calum asked his wife. "A pound of her flesh? For she doesna have a farthing to her name." Technically, she did, but he was not prepared to part with the stipend.
"She has a necklace," his wife said.
Maura gasped. "No," she said.
"No?" Calum's wife repeated, her eyes darkening with rage. "When I think of the gowns and the shoes and meals that have been bestowed on you!"
"The gowns and shoes belonged to Sorcha first, did they no'?" Calum tried, but no one was listening to him.
"That necklace has been in my family for years, aye?" Maura pleaded. "It's all that I have of them."
"Thank goodness for it, then, for you may repay your considerable debt."
"Mrs. Garbett," Calum said firmly.
"What, Mr. Garbett?" she snapped.
It was no use. His wife was livid, Sorcha was still tearful and Mrs. Cadell was trying to persuade her husband they should return to England. All of this in full view of the Duke of Montrose, who remained completely stoic and silent.
What he must think of them. A lot of bumpkins, that was what. Calum was so mortified by this display that he would do anything to have this over and done rather than prolong it another moment, and looking at his wife, he knew that if she didn't have her revenge, there would be no end to it. He said to the maid, "Fetch the necklace, aye?"
"No," Maura cried frantically. "You canna have it!"
But Hannah had already scurried from the room to fetch it.
Calum flinched when he looked again at Maura Darby. The pain this caused her was obvious; for the first time since the trouble with Adam Cadell had begun, unshed tears of helplessness filled her blue eyes.
"It pains me to say it, lass, but you must gather your things. 'Tis best you go away until the wedding is done, aye?"
"There willna be a wedding," Sorcha tearfully announced, and pushed past Adam as she flounced from the room, her red nose leading the way.
Maura slowly straightened from the wall. She gave Calum a look he was certain would terrify any man as she took her leave.
"Thank the saints," Mrs. Cadell said when she'd gone. "You shouldn't have that sort of woman in your house, Mr. Garbett, if you'll not mind me saying. She's a temptress."
The coward Adam nodded.
Calum desperately wanted to defend Maura, but the stakes were too high. When the wedding was done, he'd send for her. He'd put it all to rights with her then, and she would understand.
Maura was dispatched that very afternoon.
Unfortunately, the rift between the Cadells and the Garbetts was not so easily dispatched, because Sorcha and her mother refused to listen to reason or apology.
Two days later, Thomas Cadell and Calum Garbett met with the Duke of Montrose again to advise him as to the status of their joint venture. They were both flummoxed as to what to do. "My wife will have my head if I agree to it," Thomas said.
"My wife will have my balls if I do," Calum added glumly.
The Duke of Montrose, who had remained uncomfortably silent through the detailed explanation of their ordeal finally spoke. "There might be a way to salvage it yet, aye?" he said. "I know a man who is very adept at solving problems."
Calum and Thomas eagerly looked up. "A man? What man?" Calum asked.
"Nichol Bain," the duke said. "He is a man of incomparable skill in matters such as this." He picked up a quill, dipped it in ink and jotted down his name and location. He slid that across to Calum. "You may no' care for his methods, but you will be pleased with the results. Send for him straightaway if you want your iron works, sir."
Calum sent a messenger to Nichol Bain at Norwood Park in England that very night.CHAPTER 2
Mr. Nichol Bain was hoping for a bit more of a challenge in his latest engagement. A problem that would require ingenuity and considerate discretion to resolve. A situation with far-ranging consequences, such as the problem he'd solved for the Duke of Montrose a few years ago, when the duke had been rumored to have murdered his wife at a time he was to be named to the House of Lords. Now that was a problem with twists and turns and a bit of meat on the bone.
He'd even settle for the sort of problem he'd solved for the mild-mannered Dunnan Cockburn, the sole heir of a Scottish linen dynasty who had somehow fallen into a gambling ring and had gotten himself on the wrong side of London moneylenders. Dunnan's estate was entailed, which meant it was not his to sell as he would like, but held for future generations. It had taken a monumental feat of cunning to find a solicitor who could navigate the complicated history of the entail and carve out a wee bit of Dunnan's land to sell to pay his last debt, which had been an astronomical sum of three thousand pounds.
And then he'd needed a great deal of finesse to strike a deal with the naïve Dunnan and some rather unsavory characters in London.
But the problem Mr. Garbett and Mr. Cadell presented him was none of those things. He'd been summoned from England to the Garbett mansion near Stirling to resolve a young lover's quarrel. The problem should have been sorted out by the adults in the room, in Nichol's opinion. Unfortunately, rational people sometimes acted from passionate feelings rather than reasoned thought. Mr. Garbett and Mr. Cadell didn't need his help — they needed to step away from the turmoil and their wives, and think.
So, Nichol had taken advantage of their weakness and negotiated a very hefty fee to solve this child's play for the two iron barons. He considered the work a diversion, a bit of a lark. An exercise that would keep the machinery of his mind well oiled before he moved on to his next engagement that involved a wealthy Welsh merchant and a missing ship.
Nichol first met with Miss Sorcha Garbett, who, in his estimation, was as immature as she was plain. He asked her if she would be so kind to explain how her engagement had ended. Hopefully without tears.
Miss Garbett was quite eager to tell him and railed for a half hour about the unfair treatment of her person by one Miss Maura Darby, who had, for all intents and purposes, been banned from the Garbett house, and who, if Miss Garbett was to be believed, had been persecuting her for years. In the entire half hour, Miss Garbett mentioned her fiancé only in passing. She presented him as a rather unsophisticated gentleman who did not understand the wily ways of a woman. But Miss Darby was another matter entirely.
"Your father's ward sounds like a dangerous enchantress," he remarked, more for his own amusement.
"She's no' so enchanting," Miss Garbett sniffed. "She's no' as clever as she thinks, and neither is she a true beauty."
Miss Darby's looks had not been mentioned at all. "I see," Nichol said, and oh, did he see. "Might I inquire, Miss Garbett — do you love Mr. Cadell?"
She put a handkerchief to her considerable nose and shrugged delicately.
Bain clasped his hands behind his back and pretended to examine a porcelain figurine. "Does the notion of being mistress of a grand house appeal to you, then?"
She slanted her eyes in his direction.
"I have seen the Cadell house in England, and I can say without reservation that it is grander than Kensington Palace."
She dropped the handkerchief, and her eyes went wide. "Grander than a palace?"
She bit her lip and glanced at her lap. "But he loves Maura."
"No," Nichol said. This was where he did his best work. He squatted down next to the lass, took her hand in his and said carefully, earnestly, "He does no' love Miss Darby."
"How can you be certain?" she asked tearfully.
"Because I'm a man, aye? I know how a man thinks in moments of raw desire." He watched the twin puffs of red bloom in her cheeks. "He was no' thinking of the rest of his life, you may trust me. When he thinks of you, he thinks of compatibility and the many happy years before him spent in complete conjugal felicity."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Seduced by a Scot"
Copyright © 2018 Julia London.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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