Bestselling author Jane Bonander enchants readers the world over with her heartfelt historical romances set in Scotland and perfect for the readership of Monica McCarty and Julie Garwood.
Duncan MacNeil voyages over the sea to make his fortune in America. Shortly before his departure, he has a single tryst near the village fair with lovely Isobel Dunbar. Their romp leads to a pregnancy, and while he is across the ocean, Isobel gives birth to a spirited boy she names Ian. To protect her reputation and to prevent Duncan’s wealthy family from taking Ian away from her, Isobel concocts a story that her neighbors believeshe claims Ian’s father married her and then died in a shipwreck, leaving her a poor widow. The truth, she hopes, will never be discovered, and her son will never meet his father.
When Duncan returns, weary of the New World and ready to take charge of his family’s business, his first plan is to buy a run-down former brothel and convert it to a cannery. Only this is where Isobel now calls home. He can’t understand why she refuses to sell, and he certainly cannot understand why she harbors such resentment towards him. Then he realizes who this beautiful woman once was to him. Can Duncan grow from an irresponsible boy into a man who takes responsibility for his past carelessness? And can Isobel ever trust this stranger, when keeping Ian’s parentage a secret is the only way she knows to keep her beloved son close?
About the Author
Bestselling author Jane Bonander has published over a dozen full length novels and four anthologies, all dealing with the perils and passions of romantic historical fiction. She currently lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband.
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The Scoundrel's Pleasure
The MacNeil Legacy - Book Two
By Jane Bonander
Diversion Publishing Corp.Copyright © 2017 Jane Bonander
All rights reserved.
Island of Hedabarr — June 1872
The pungent odor of brine, fish, and kelp wafted up on the damp breeze. Seagulls screeched as they swooped above the brackish water in search of food. The sound was a welcome one, unless they were merely mocking his return. Duncan MacNeil took the smell of the wharf deep into his lungs, holding it there a moment before exhaling. He had missed it.
Fishing boats of many shapes and colors bobbed at their moorings, having already been taken to sea by fishermen in search of salmon, the silver king of the river. Early morning, when the winds were soft and the seas were welcoming, was the best time to fish offshore; Duncan remembered that well. Of all the activities he had experienced on the island, fishing the rivers was one he recalled with pleasure. Some old Scot had once told him that the water's surface was a hypnotic thing, always moving, always changing with the shifting light from the sky. Throughout the journey across the Atlantic, Duncan had become mesmerized by the play of light upon the roiling waters.
He rested his forearms on the ship's railing as it made its way into the port of Sheiling. He pulled in another deep breath, enjoying the brisk, damp air. So different from the air he'd breathed the past ten years. Texas air. Hot. Dry. Bayou air. Hot. Wet.
The sky over Hedabarr was the color of pewter. The fog had lifted; clouds rolled in after a brief interval of weak sunshine. And now he could see the outline of the red sandstone castle far in the distance, and old, nostalgic memories swamped him. Rosalyn's rose garden and the day he and his brothers had trampled it to within an inch of its life. He curbed a smile. How angry she had been! He saw now what his brother had seen in her from the beginning. Beauty, yes, but fire. Placid women excited no man. Of course, he didn't understand that for many years.
He moved suddenly, twisting his shoulder, and it began to ache. The shot from the bluecoat's gun left a permanent scar and it hurt every time he moved the wrong way. The war had left many wounds on Duncan. The worst, perhaps, was the one left by his imprisonment in the bayous of Louisiana. There had been a physical scar, but the one that ached the most was the one left on his heart.
Now he returned to a very different life than those years he'd spent as a ranch owner, the ranch Chet Blackburn's generous gift to Duncan, willed to him before he set off to fight for Texas's right to govern itself. He knew more about cattle and horses than he knew about himself, perhaps because the animals had no mental baggage to drag around. He still knew nothing about being Lord MacNeil. And he had no idea what he was going to do, now that he was here. And had he not missed his family in Scotland, he might never have left America, but stayed to try and find out what happened to the young woman who had helped him escape captivity. But he did miss his family: the people who had always loved him no matter what a jackass he was. He thought about how they must have changed, for certainly he had. Was Fletcher still the man in charge? Had Gavin read every book in the library, then gone on to the mainland where he could find and absorb more? And Kerry. Beauty that she had been when he'd left, he wondered at her beauty now. He had no doubt she would be stunning. A heartbreak waiting to happen to some hapless fellow.
The mates were yelling orders at one another as they lowered the gangplank. Rubbing his aching shoulder, he turned from the sea toward the docks as he heard his name shouted from the pier. His brother Fletcher waved at him; beside him stood the beautiful Rosalyn. He straightened, took one last look at the ocean behind him, and eagerly went ashore.
* * *
Isobel Dunbar had just dropped off some potatoes and turnips to be sold at the market by the docks. Their garden was booming this year; for some reason the rabbits and deer hadn't discovered the feast until late in the season and she had been able to squirrel away many of the root vegetables in the cellar dug in the back of the house long before she came to Hedabarr.
She stopped to watch the latest sailing vessel arrive, listened to the crew shouting orders, and wondered whence this boat had come. It was a grand vessel, larger than most that came into Sheiling's harbor. She tightened the green cashmere shawl around her head and shoulders, covering her ears against the wind. It was a gift from Hamish the Boat, who fished the icy waters of the North Sea and only came ashore once every few months. She smiled as she brushed back a ginger colored curl that had come loose from her attempt at a practical chignon. Dear, dear Hamish. Perhaps she should give in and accept his marriage proposal. She certainly could do worse, and even though she didn't love him, she knew he cared for her, and his love for her son, Ian, was abundantly clear to anyone who watched the two of them together.
A commotion on the docks drew her gaze as sailing patrons and crew alighted from the broad wooden plank. One such passenger drew her attention, although she wasn't sure why, not immediately. Then she saw the Duke of Sheiling roar a boisterous "Helloo!" and drag the other man into a tight bear hug. Her stomach did a somersault and her cheeks were suddenly flushed and hot. Although it had been ten years, she would know the man being embraced anywhere. She had known she always would, should he ever return. And her feelings were not all that pleasant, truth be told.
She took the shortcut home, through a cluster of Scots pines where tiny crossbills were feeding on the seeds. Another rush of memory gusted through her, one more unpleasant that merely seeing Duncan MacNeil returning home. Lord MacNeil, she thought with derision. She scanned the pines, knowing exactly where the brush that hid the cave was where he had so skillfully taken her virginity. Never mind that she had given it freely. As she hurried homeward, her mind was filled with visions, memories and feelings she had thought were long dead. Hastily, she pushed open the door to her home, not caring that it banged against the inside wall. Delilah, her business partner and friend, jumped at the noise, which had apparently roused her from a nap.
She frowned at Isobel. "What's the matter?"
Isobel hadn't been running, but her lungs heaved. She dropped her empty cane basket to the floor and unwound her shawl, tossing it onto the coat tree next to the door. Her warm cape followed. She then turned circles in the room, her skirt swishing across the worn, wooden floor that had of late become slanted toward the back door. "He's back."
"Who'd that be? And mind yourself; ye'll be getting dizzy doing that."
Isobel glanced around the room, foolishly expecting to see him hiding there, perhaps behind the wood box next to the fireplace, or the tall, thick curtains that hung from the front window, waiting to see her reaction. Well, that was stupid; he had probably forgotten her the minute he'd ravished her. She sucked in a breath. "Imagine who it is among all the people on this earth I never want to see again."
Delilah's appeared to wrack her brain for something to link Isobel's angst to. Suddenly her expression changed. "Ocht, no."
"Oh, yes," Isobel answered, continuing to march back and forth in front of the fireplace. "He was one of the passengers debarking at the docks."
"How'd you know for sure it was him?"
"The duke embraced him." She neglected to tell her friend that she had instinctively known it was Duncan MacNeil, returned from wherever it was he'd gone to. Back to America, probably, though she had never known for sure. All she knew those many years ago was that he had deflowered her then left her as he's probably done to a dozen or more lassies on the island. She did wonder how many had been left with his seed firmly planted in their wombs, but oddly, she hadn't seen other signs of it on the island.
Delilah fretted, wringing her hands and pursing her lips. "Well, it doesn't mean naught, Izzy. He isn't a threat to ye as long as Ian is on the mainland —"
"Oh, dear," Isobel interrupted. "I got a letter yesterday from the school saying they were shutting down and sending the students home early because of some mysterious outbreak."
"Even so, why should the big man come 'round here? 'Tisn't a brothel anymore; he'll discover that. And I can't see him caring a whit about our little makeshift school. Nae," Delilah finished, "he shouldna' be a problem."
The burning of the schoolroom attached to the kirk and the disappearance of the schoolmaster had given Isobel a chance to hold things together until everything could be resolved. Reverend Fleming was grateful that she'd stepped in, and although many of the children were waiting for things to get back to normal, a few came to Isobel's little dame school in the interim. There were perhaps no more than a half dozen attending at a time. "Maybe I'm just borrowing trouble." She gave Delilah a self-effacing smile. "I have a habit of doing that, don't I?"
Delilah nodded, then looked over Isobel's head and scowled. "Henry! I asked ye to clean up that corner by the fireplace; it doesna' look any different now than it did before."
Isobel's handyman was a wiry black man whose parents had emigrated from Jamaica before Henry Blossom was born. And Delilah never let him forget that her ancestors had come across the Atlantic from Africa as tradesmen even before the Vikings. Whether it was true or not, no one knew, but it made for interesting conversation. Although, Isobel had learned in school that hundreds of years ago there was an African king in Scotland named King Kenneth Dubh.
Compared to Delilah's "huff and puff or I'll blow your house in" attitude, Henry was as laid back as an exhausted fox hound. He raised a huge hand to fend off her peppering of words. "I'll get to it after I fix the leak in the roof," he announced, and languidly made his way through the kitchen and out the back door. The door never banged shut when Henry left a room; not so with Delilah. The slamming of a door was to Delilah like an exclamation mark.
Most likely, he would gather some materials that he would need, and then eye a cozy spot under a tree, the work forgotten as he napped. But she hadn't the heart to let him go; where would he end up? Along with everything else — the condition of the building, the leaky roof and the warped floor — she had to worry about Henry. He was sweet and old and arthritic. Someone had to care for him.
Now Duncan MacNeil was back, and every secret she'd been harboring for the past ten years was being threatened. Isobel was happy she had never let herself get too close to the duke's wife, even though she had been kind and generous with supplies for the children after the school's accident. And in the beginning, she had often lingered, as if wanting to stay and help, but Isobel always told her she had plenty of that, and surely the Duchess of Sheiling had more important matters to attend to. There was always the chance that Ian might be home and accidently be seen by Her Grace, and she might wonder ... Isobel was a bit sad she wouldn't ever know her better, for she seemed like a lovely woman, one Isobel could easily have something in common with — outside of that.
But sweet as the duchess was, Isobel couldn't help remembering the one and only time she had been anywhere near that castle. It had not been pleasant.CHAPTER 2
Island of Hedabarr — October 1862
Isobel stepped out of the bathtub and took the towel her aunt offered her. Paula eyed her up and down, her face pinched into a frown and her hands on her hips. "Ye be pregnant."
Isobel's heart leaped into her throat as she shook her head, her aunt's words falling on her like icy water. "Nae, I ... I'm not." How could she be? She had valiantly blocked out that one night of her life, hoping it would be erased from ever happening.
Paula pulled in a sigh. "Isobel Crawford, I wasn't some fool born yesterday. I be knowin' a pregnant belly when I see one, and I'm lookin' at one right this minute. And your chest be twice the size of normal." At Isobel's gasp, Paula replied, "Don't get starchy on me, sweet girl. Now is not the time."
Isobel brought the towel in front of her, over her breasts and stomach, as if she could protect them from her aunt's tirade. Her teeth began to chatter, either from the cold or from fear. "But how can that have happened?"
Paula studied her, her expression cynical. "How, indeed. Unless ye're going to have only the second virgin birth in the history of the world, someone got ye pregnant."
Isobel flushed and turned away. The embarrassment came flooding over her. She swallowed several times to keep her dinner down. "But ... but I still bled, Aunt Paula. Truly, I did."
Paula drew in another deep breath, releasing it quickly. "I guess there aren't any hard and fast rules about that, my dear." She frowned again. "Ye haven't been sick?"
Isobel shook her head. If anything, she'd been ravenous. "I feel fine." She bit her quivering lip and looked eagerly at her aunt. "Maybe it's not real."
Paula still stood before her, arms now crossed across her ample chest, an angry V between her eyes. "Who be the father?"
Isobel had the sudden urge to sob, to wail and scream and cry. "I'm serious as sauce, Isobel, who be the father?"
"It was only one time," she whispered.
"One time with who?"
Isobel shook her head, the dreadful reality hitting her, filling her chest with panic. "I can't tell ye."
Aunt Paula swore. "By god, girl, ye will tell me or I'll take a switch to your backside, pregnant or not. Understand?"
Isobel bit down on her lower lip again. It didn't help. She dissolved into tears and collapsed into the chair by the fireplace, drawing her knees up to her chin and burying her face.
Paula was at her side immediately, a dressing gown over her arm to clothe her niece. "Ocht, my dear, this is terrible," she insisted, wrapping Isobel in the soft, flannel gown. "Was it rape? Lord, child, why didn't ye tell me? Something could have been —"
"Nae," Isobel said. "He ... he didn't ... do that. I ... I thought he loved me." She burst into tears again.
Paula drew her into her arms and rocked her. "He told ye that, did he? My poor, innocent lass. I guess I've kept ye too ignorant in the ways of the world. This is my fault as well as yours." She sat up and brought Isobel's face between her palms. "Please, dear. Tell me."
For all of her aunt's sputtering, Isobel knew her to be a kind soul. And she'd kept her dark secret for five long months. She wanted to let it out, get rid of it. So she told her aunt everything.
"That scoundrel of a half breed. I know exactly who ye mean. Both Delilah and I have had to turn him away from here time after time. Maybe if I'd let him in, this wouldn't have happened. Well," she said resolutely, "we're going to make a little visit to that castle, Isobel. They might own the blasted island, but that doesn't give them the right to use young lassies and then leave them as if they were nothing."
Now, ten years later, Isobel could still remember the rebuff they encountered on the steps of that grand, red structure. How would she have proved that the shining young sire of the manor wooed her and lured her and coaxed her into believing he'd instantly fallen in love with her? Aunt Paula had been so upset she'd threatened to sue them. She was told that she hadn't been the first person to try to extort money from the duke; scams had abounded when he first arrived to take control of the castle.
Isobel recalled the doddering old servant they'd dealt with. He was bent and skinny and had only a rim of white hair just above his ears. He did tell them to come back after the family returned from holiday, but Isobel was sure they wouldn't, and he wasn't very convincing anyway. They returned to the brothel with nothing, not even Isobel's fragile self-esteem. And four months later, Isobel had her beautiful son; she was glad no one at the castle knew of his existence, because then they couldn't come and try to take him away from her.
There had been that ordeal about conjuring up a reason for her condition. If nothing else, Paula had been a very creative woman. The story was that while in school on the mainland, Isobel had met a dashing young soldier named Robert "Rabbie" Dunbar. Robert or Rabbie after Scotland's favorite son, Robert Burns, and Dunbar after an obscure Scottish poet from the sixteenth century, one that Isobel had studied in school. The two married hastily when Isobel discovered she was pregnant, lying about her age, for she was not yet sixteen at the time. And shortly after that, the story went, poor Isobel learned that her new young husband was killed in a freak accident while practicing with his mount.
Excerpted from The Scoundrel's Pleasure by Jane Bonander. Copyright © 2017 Jane Bonander. Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have to admit at first I was shocked at the book- I was not a fan of the frolic and leave idea BUT It totally grew on me!! I love the MacNeil family. They are so warm and welcoming. The book also had some twists in it that I did not expect....it left me with questions about other characters which means I MUST READ MORE! Jane is a new author to me and she has a new committed reader! I absolutely say check it out-It is not your debutante-duke fall in love story-but has complex characters with complex backgrounds!
One encounter with Duncan MacNeil changed 15 year old Isobel Dunbar’s life forever. Eleven years later Duncan returns from the United States to settle down on the Isle of Hedabarr. Finding out he has sired a son he proposes to Isobel and they marry. Sounds fairly straightforward BUT there are twists and turns, supporting characters and side stories that add color and complexity to this historical romance. This is not the most believable historical romance I have read but it flew by quickly and I would like to find out how some of the characters turn out in future books of the series. Thank you to NetGalley and Diversion Books for the copy. This is my honest review. 3.5 Stars