A single lady of birth, beauty, and large fortune should not have this much trouble making a match. Yet after two failed betrothals, Lady Juliana Bernard is in a bind. She must find a husband at once or lose guardianship of her beloved niece. Her childhood friend, the Duke of Blackmore, is her last, best hope. But once she tracks him down in Scotland, she receives startling news: the duke is already engaged.
There is one other option. The duke’s scandalous brother, Logan, Laird of Clan Kinross, is to blame for the mix-up. The least he can do is marry her to make amends. Wooing does not go well at first. But just as Juliana begins to welcome the boisterous but tenderhearted Scot into her life (and her bed), secrets come between them once more. And it will take a determined husband indeed to ensure that a marriage begun in haste leads not to heartache . . . but to love.
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Gretna Green, Scotland Late June, 1818
By the time Lady Juliana Bernard realized something was amiss, her boots and the hem of her riding habit were already splattered with vomit.
Miss Findlay, who'd been looking a trifle green over the past few miles, slapped a hand over her mouth. "Oh, my lady! I'm so dreadfully —"
The word was lost in a faint gurgle, and poor Findlay once again cast up her accounts all over the floor of the carriage. Juliana jerked her feet back to save her boots from another dousing, but it was already too late.
"Oh, dear. I'm excessively mortified." Miss Findlay sagged back against the squabs, her forehead sheened with sweat. "Oh, and I've ruined your boots, and your favorite blue habit!" she wailed, looking as if she were about to burst into tears.
"Now, Findlay, you mustn't think on it. I have other riding habits. There's no real harm done." Juliana reached for her companion's hand and patted it soothingly. "Indeed, I blame myself. I thought you looked a bit off color. I should have realized you were ill."
"No, no. I'll be perfectly well in a moment," Miss Findlay protested weakly, but her face had gone from green to white, and she was obliged to swallow several times before she dared open her mouth again. "A brief rest, and I'll be as fit as ever."
Juliana didn't argue, but as soon as Miss Findlay's eyes drifted closed, she leaned out the window and told her manservant, Stokes to stop at the next inn. Miss Findlay had borne up well over the six days of travel between London and Gretna Green, but it was clear the poor thing was exhausted. As anxious as Juliana was to settle her business, she wasn't quite so wicked as to drag her poor companion another twenty-five miles to Dumfries.
Wicked enough, though.
Miss Crampton, her old governess — a woman of stern propriety and rigid ethical principles — had warned Juliana time and again that every lie was like another bar in a sinner's prison. Once a lie was told, one never escaped it. It might take years, even decades, but your lies would haunt you in the end.
Juliana shuddered. Miss Crampton had been a terrifying woman to be sure, but she hadn't been wrong. Juliana had told dozens of lies over the past few weeks — to her father, to her friends, and even to her six-year-old niece, Grace — and now she was being punished for it.
None of this was Findlay's fault. It was hers. Her toes were now resting in a puddle of vomit because she deserved it.
She dredged up a handkerchief, pressed it to her nose, and fell back against the squabs with a sigh. She must be mad to be chasing Fitzwilliam all the way to Scotland. When he'd left five months earlier he'd promised to write, and so he had — for the first month or so.
Since then he hadn't replied to any of the dozens of letters she'd sent him.
Not even the most urgent ones.
But Fitzwilliam was her dearest friend, and they'd been promised to each since birth. If a lady in desperate straits couldn't rely on her betrothed, whom could she rely on?
If she could only find him, all would be well.
But if I can't ... if I can't ...
The trouble was, she wasn't quite sure where he was. That is, she knew he was somewhere in the vicinity of the Sassy Lassie Inn in Inverness, because he'd told her to send his letters there. He'd answered the first few, so she knew he'd received them. Surely Castle Kinross wasn't so very far away from the inn? Surely, someone in Inverness would be able to direct her to the castle?
But if they couldn't, or wouldn't ...
An image of Grace's face the day Juliana had left her in Buckinghamshire rose in her mind. Grace's dark eyes — so like Juliana's brother Jonathan's — had filled with tears. Since her niece was born, they'd never spent a single day apart. Juliana had done her best to explain to Grace why she had to go, but at six years old Grace understood only that her beloved Aunt Juliana was leaving her behind. She'd clung to Juliana's skirts, wailing, until her nurse had been obliged to drag her away.
Juliana squeezed her eyes closed and tried to hold off the familiar wave of grief and panic, but it was no use. Her chest tightened, her stomach heaved, and she might well have cast up her own accounts right then and there if Stokes hadn't signaled the post boys to stop the coach.
She stuck her head out the window to survey the inn, and her stomach gave another threatening lurch. The King's Head Inn was an indifferent looking place. Not dirty, precisely, but not clean, either, and cramped looking, with only a tiny inn yard and small stables. Juliana opened her mouth to instruct Stokes to go on, but Miss Findlay roused herself, and opened her eyes.
"Are we stopping, my lady?"
Juliana took one look at Findlay's pallid, clammy face and decided the King's Head Inn would have to do. "Yes, for a night. It's another half day to Dumfries. We're better off staying here and continuing our journey tomorrow."
Miss Findlay looked so relieved, Juliana's stomach knotted with guilt. She never should have involved poor Findlay in her mad scheme. "Stokes," she called. "Secure rooms for tonight, if you would, and order a light supper and bath for Miss Findlay. There." She gave Findlay a reassuring smile. "You'll feel much better after you've rested a night."
Stokes grumbled as he dismounted. He was a surly one, but he'd known Juliana since her birth, and was more like one of the family than a servant. Stokes wasn't at all pleased about their highland adventure, but of all the servants at Graystone Court, he was the least likely to reveal the truth about it to her father. Lord Graystone hadn't the faintest idea she was in Scotland. He thought she was in Buckinghamshire with Grace, and Juliana was determined to keep it that way. Stokes might grumble and scold a bit, but he'd keep her secret.
The proprietor of the inn was pleased to accommodate her ladyship's party. Within half an hour Miss Findlay was safely ensconced in an upper bedchamber, awaiting her bath and supper. Juliana saw her settled and bid her to go to sleep, then hurried back down the stairs in search of the inn's proprietor.
Surly servants, dusty roads, vomit, and ruined boots were unpleasant enough, but finding Fitzwilliam was a much stickier problem, and it became stickier the closer they got to Inverness. They were still several hundred miles away, but surely someone at the King's Head had heard of Castle Kinross? The innkeeper was the most likely person to help her, but when she stepped into the dining room she found only a handful of dusty travelers taking refreshment there. She hesitated for a few moments, hoping a servant might appear to direct her to her host, but she waited in vain.
"Where in the world is everybody?" she muttered crossly as she made her way down the hallway toward the entryway. Several carriages had arrived while she was upstairs with Findlay, and the ostlers were dodging about, trying to accommodate them all. She ventured out, hoping to find Stokes, but he wasn't in the yard.
Juliana stepped away from the bustle of guests and servants coming in and out the door, and leaned back against the side of the inn with a sigh. It was a warm day. She closed her eyes, let the sun caress her face, and tried to calm her mind. She'd spent so much of the past few months scurrying from one place to the next it felt strange to be still and let her thoughts go quiet.
She took a few deep breaths until her frayed nerves calmed a little, then began once again to ponder a way out of her dilemma. That is, the dilemma of having come hundreds of miles in search of a man who might not wish to be found.
Not even by her, his dearest friend.
Why hadn't he answered her letters? Oh, what a fool she'd been to go haring off to Scotland after Fitzwilliam! Even if she did find him, he might refuse to return to England with her. If he'd wanted to come home, he would have done so by now.
Tears gathered under her eyelids, but she fisted her hands and held them back, furious with herself. What good would tears do her now? She was at a shabby inn in Gretna Green, ankle-deep in vomit. It was too late to change her mind now, and even if she could, she wouldn't. In the end, her decision to come to Scotland had been a simple one. She needed Fitzwilliam's help, and as surely as she was his dearest friend, he was also hers.
She knew Fitzwilliam, from the exact shade of his blue eyes right down to the size of his boots. She knew every corner of his heart. She couldn't explain why he hadn't answered all her letters, but she knew he'd never turn his back on her.
She only had to find him.
Juliana opened her eyes and blinked against the sun. The commotion in the yard had died down, but Stokes still hadn't turned up. Perhaps she'd just go on to the stables then, and fetch him herself. That way she could be sure he'd secured a post chaise and horses for early tomorrow morning.
She straightened from the wall and had taken two steps toward the stables when a man walking across the inn yard caught her attention. She had no reason to think he was coming toward her, yet she stilled, her breath held, unable to look away.
He was some distance still — far enough so she couldn't properly see his face, but he was tall and broad, with a headful of long, rather unruly dark hair. Perhaps he was handsome, but Juliana had spent too much time among the ton for a handsome face to unsettle her. London was rife with Corinthians, bucks and dandies, gentlemen of fashion and taste, of intelligence, grace, and uncommon beauty. She'd long since considered herself immune to even the most striking of male specimens.
But there was something about this man —
He looked up then, and Juliana froze, her heart stuttering in her chest. The angular jaw, the strong cheekbones, the square chin — there was only one man in the world with such an arresting face.
Had she said his name aloud? Had she shouted it, or whispered it?
He was coming toward her, and every part of her tensed to run to him. Every muscle, every nerve screamed at her to throw herself into his arms, but something held her back. Some instinct she couldn't explain kept her feet rooted to the ground.
He didn't call her name, or run to her. Why did he hold back? He'd be shocked to find her here, and perhaps angry with her for coming so far. She'd written and told him to expect her, but perhaps he hadn't received her letter yet, or ...
Alarm darted down Juliana's spine. He didn't hold himself like a man who was angry, or one who was in shock. He wasn't stiff, but loose-limbed and graceful — the sort of man accustomed to physical activity, and comfortable in his body.
He didn't walk like Fitzwilliam.
He drew closer, and closer still. By the time he stopped in front of her, Juliana was so agitated she was sure he could hear her heart thundering in her chest.
He said something to her — something about assisting her — but she could only stare wordlessly up at him, a gasp frozen in her throat.
He wasn't Fitzwilliam.
He had Fitzwilliam's brow, his nose, his sculpted cheekbones, but this man was too rough, his features too aggressive, his manner too stern to be mistaken for Fitzwilliam, who was all smooth, polished charm.
He was speaking to her still, but Juliana didn't try to make sense of his words. She was staring at his hard lips.
His mouth is all wrong.
It was too wide, with a hint of ferocity in the lower lip. His voice was deeper, too, and though not unkind it was raw somehow, as if he were accustomed to barking commands, and had done so a few times too often.
Dear God, who was this man? She might have been looking at Fitzwilliam's mirror image, but through a cracked glass that distorted the reflection.
He was still talking, saying something about running away, and a missing bridegroom, and Gretna Green ...
Gretna Green. The vowels lengthened in his mouth, and his tongue wrapped around the r's in a distinct Scottish burr. That lilt in his deep, smoky voice made her shiver, as if musical notes were darting down her spine.
He was Scottish. A Scotsman who looked just like Fitzwilliam.
What was happening? She'd never laid eyes on this man before. Fitzwilliam hadn't ever breathed a word about having family in Scotland, but it was beyond comprehension two men could be mirror images of each other without being related.
Indeed, they looked so much alike, it was impossible not to think they were ...
She shook her head, trying to clear it. "I don't ... it doesn't make sense," she muttered, dazed.
"He told you he loved you to get you to come with him to Gretna Green, didn't he, lass? But now he's gone and left you, hasn't he?"
Questions were tumbling through Juliana's mind, knocking everything about and leaving wreckage in their wake, but for some reason, this caught her attention. It penetrated the haze of shock, and a suspicion began to take hold.
Missing bridegroom ... left her ... Gretna Green ...
Oh, no. This Scottish version of Fitzwilliam thought she was a runaway bride!
Well, how absurd. That is, she was aware she wasn't looking her best at the moment. Her hair was a nest of tangles, her riding habit was creased and dusty, and even the fresh air couldn't disguise the unpleasant aroma hanging over her like a noxious cloud. Even so, it was ungentlemanly in him to make such an assumption, no matter if she was at Gretna Green.
Juliana drew herself up and fixed him with the most dignified look a lady with vomit on her boots could manage. "Left me? No! I'm not a —" she began, but then clapped her mouth shut before she could do something stupendously foolish.
Like tell him the truth.
Perhaps I am a runaway bride, after all.
Fitzwilliam had a brother. By the looks of it, a twin brother. A twin brother who must know where he was, and who even now was likely on his way to Inverness, and from there, to Castle Kinross.
She could ask him to take her along with him. That would be the simplest approach, but instinct held her back. Fitzwilliam's brother or not, Juliana didn't know or trust this man, and she hadn't the least intention of putting herself under his protection. She'd come too far to risk making a mistake now.
Still, this giant Scot was a precious gift, and he'd just fallen right into her lap. She intended to seize it — him — before he could slip through her fingers. She cast a frantic gaze around the inn yard, praying like she'd never prayed before that she'd find ... yes! Thank goodness. There was Stokes, just coming out of the stables. "There's my husband now."
She bit her lip as Stokes inched his way across the inn yard. Oh, dear. He didn't look much like an eager bridegroom. He was hobbling along as if his gout were bothering him again, and even from this distance it was plain to see he was old enough to be her father.
"Him?" The man's tone was incredulous, but at this point Juliana didn't care if he found her pretend marriage scandalous. She only cared he leave so she and Stokes could follow him straight to Castle Kinross.
"Yes, indeed. He's, ah ... that is, we're husband and wife."
A pair of dark brows too elegant for that rugged face drew together over his eyes. He gave her a long, measuring look. "Beg your pardon then, madam."
He bowed, and turned away with the sort of shrug generally reserved for stubborn children and barking dogs. Ah, good. He'd clearly washed his hands of her, just as she'd hoped he would.
Juliana kept an eye on him as he mounted a towering gray stallion. As soon as he rode out of the inn yard, she ran to meet Stokes. "Quickly, Stokes! Go back to the stables and secure two horses for us."
Stokes gaped at her as if she'd lost her wits. "I thought we were staying the night!"
"No, there's no time. I'll explain it all once we're on our way. Go on, hurry, while I run upstairs and have a word with Miss Findlay."
Stokes hurried off toward the stables while Juliana ran upstairs. She returned a few moments later to find him in the inn yard, waiting for the ostler to bring them fresh horses.
When he saw her, he shook his head. "You don't expect Miss Findlay to mount and ride today, I hope."
"No, she can't. I'm afraid she'll have to stay behind." Juliana didn't like to leave her companion alone at the King's Head Inn. Findlay was upset, and it wasn't proper for Juliana to travel without her. Then again, worrying about propriety at this point was rather like buffing a pair of riding boots stained with vomit — a wasted effort.
Poor Findlay was in no shape to chase a vigorous Scotsman from Gretna Green to Inverness. Juliana had no choice but to leave her behind with funds to hire a private coach to take her back to London.
As for her and Stokes ...
For most people it was a four-day ride from Gretna Green to Inverness, but Fitzwilliam's brother looked as if he could do it in three. There was no way they'd be able to keep up with him in the coach. No, they had no choice but to do it on horseback, and take care he didn't notice they were following him.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "To Wed a Wild Scot"
Copyright © 2019 Anna Bradley.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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