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Some Enchanted Evening
fulfill her duty as a representative of the royal family. Nothing more.
-- The Dowager Queen of Beaumontagne
The valley was his, the village was his, yet the woman rode into the town square of Freya Crags as if she owned it.
Robert MacKenzie, earl of Hepburn, frowned at the stranger who cantered over the stone bridge and into the bustling crowd. It was market day, and booths of brown canvas were set up along the perimeter of the town square. The place rang with the sound of a hundred voices calling out their wares, but the stranger dominated the crowd, towering above them on a fractious two-yearold colt. The chestnut stepped high, as if proud to carry her, and the quality of the horse alone would have turned heads.
The lady in the saddle attracted even more attention -- first fleeting looks, then open stares.
Robert glanced around at the small circle of old men gathered in the sunshine in front of the alehouse. Their wrinkled mouths sagged open as they gawked, the table and checkerboard before them forgotten. Around them the sounds of shoppers and merchants haggling turned into a buzz of speculation as every eye turned to view the stranger.
Her riding costume swathed her from neck to toe with black wool, preserving the illusion of propriety yet outlining every curve of her trim figure. Her black hat was tall, with a broad brim, and black veiling floated behind. The red trim on her sleeves matched the red scarf at her neck, and those small bits of vivid color shocked and pleasured the eye. Her bosom was generous, her waist narrow, her black boots shiny, and her face ...
Good God, her face.
Robert couldn't look away. If she'd been born in the Renaissance, painters would have flocked to her door, begging that she pose for them. They would have painted her as an angel, for her wavy, golden hair glowed with a light of its own, giving her a nimbus like a halo. Copper glints in the curls seemed to possess a power to warm the hands, and Robert's fingers itched to sink into the waves and discover the heat and the texture. Her softly rounded cheeks and large amber eyes under darkened brows made a man think of heaven, yet the stubborn set of her chin saved her face from a cloying sweetness. Her nose was slight, her chin too broad to be truly attractive, but her lips were wide, lush, and red. Too red. She rouged them, he was sure of it. She looked like an Englishwoman of good quality -- except, of course, no woman of good quality ever rouged her lips, and certainly never traveled alone.
She smiled, giving him a glimpse of straight white teeth -- and that mouth he planned to explore.
Robert straightened away from the wall of the alehouse.
Where in blazes had that thought come from?
Hamish MacQueen was boisterous and amusing, his one arm gone in a long-ago accident in His Majesty's Royal Navy. "Who do ye suppose she is?"
A good question, and Robert intended to get an answer.
"I dunna know, but I'd like t' part her beard," said Gilbert Wilson, his sly wit taking a wicked turn.
"I'd like t' give her a live sausage fer supper." Tomas MacTavish slapped his skinny knee and cackled.
Henry MacCulloch joined in the pastime. "I'd like t' play dog in the doublet wi' her."
All the old men cackled, remembering the days when they would have had a chance to woo a beautiful visitor. Now they were content to sit in the sun in front of the alehouse, comment on the doings of the town, and play checkers -- or they had been, until she rode into town.
Robert's gaze narrowed on the female. He was smart enough, and in his travels had seen enough, to recognize trouble when he saw it. On the surface he appeared to be mildly interested in the doings in the square, but his every sense was alert for a trick. Indeed, he anticipated a trick. After all, the world was not so secure a place as anyone in this small village imagined. The world was full of liars and cheats, murderers, and worse. It was men like him, like Robert, who kept this place safe, and through his vigilance he would continue to do so.
"Ye damned auld fools." The alewife, Hughina Gray, stood with her apron wrapped around her hands and glanced between Robert and the stranger. "Canna ye see she's na guid?"
"I'd wager she's verra guid," said Tomas's brother Benneit, and the old men laughed until they wheezed.
"Ye shouldn't talk so in front o' the laird," Hughina reproved with a sideways peep at Robert. Hughina was Robert's age, attractive, and a widow, and she'd made it clear she had room in her bed for him.
He hadn't accepted the invitation. When the laird slept with the women of his lands, trouble was sure to follow, so when the urge was on him, he traveled over the hills into Trevor and visited with Lady Edmundson. She enjoyed his body and his driving sexuality without caring a crumb whether he loved her, and that made a very satisfactory arrangement for them both.
Lately he hadn't suffered from the urge.
His hand crinkled the much-read letter in his pocket. He'd been too busy making plans, desperate plans, vengeful plans, and now those schemes had been set to naught because one woman failed to fulfill her promise. Damn her. Damn her to hell.
But for the moment he was distracted as the exotic stranger circled the booths, giving everyone a chance to see her, and Robert watched his people watch her. Their expressions were suspicious or inquisitive, but she beamed them a friendly smile as if she had not a speck of intelligence ...Continues...
Excerpted from Some Enchanted Evening by Dodd, Christina Excerpted by permission.
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