Reckless Desire – Tarah Scott

Only the Marriage Maker can pull flowers from the ashes… Few men are legends in their own time, great fame more often coming years, even centuries later, and by the pens of scribes who rely on long-told tales rather than fact. Even so, now and again, largerthan-life heroes appear, the sheer force of their personalities raising them above all others. These are the fabled ones, flesh and blood men whose lights blaze so bright they eclipse all who’ve gone before them, as well as those who follow. In the early years of the thirteen century, when medieval Scotland was entrenched in the treachery and chaos of the Wars of Independence, one such man emerged from the tall shadow of the great William Wallace. This man went on to lead Scotland in a fierce fight for freedom that culminated with his 1306 crowning as King of Scots and then, in 1314, with his stunning victory against Edward II of England at the Battle of Bannockburn. This man was Robert the Bruce, Scotland’s greatest hero king. Even after his triumph at Bannockburn, he railed against England for another fourteen years, finally securing full Scottish independence in 1328, one year before his death. Extraordinarily beloved by his men, Robert Bruce was also known for his good looks and charm. Yes, he loved the ladies, and they flocked to him. Such adoration from beautiful women is hard for any man to ignore, especially a warrior king always on the move, long away from hearth and home. The Bruce was married twice and is known to have especially loved his second wife. Yet, medieval wars were brutal, and it proved too great a temptation to decline the feminine comfort offered him at every turn. In short, he succumbed. The hero king who came to be known as the Flower of Scotland for his chivalry, sired many bastards and, great-hearted as he was, he ensured that each one lacked for nothing. But time rolls on, and after but a few centuries, glory-seekers claimed descent from Scotland’s most revered king.

Fortunes turned, and some of his true descendants fell from favor. Eventually, no one remembered that their blood carried the richness of such a great and heroic man. Of course, no one forgot Robert Bruce. His fame burns as brightly as ever. Some historians are obsessed with him, delving deep into history to uncover every nuance of his life and deeds, including the amorous tales. When one such historian discovers four young women whose lineages trace directly to the Bruce, this man is deeply troubled. The Flowers of Scotland, as he views these Bruce descendants, should not suffer lives of hardship and obscurity as these women do. Something must be done, and he knows just the man to help them; Sir Stirling James, The Marriage Maker. Sir James is a regular at the Inverness pub run by the hobby historian, an establishment named The Melrose for the final resting place of Robert the Bruce’s heart; Melrose Abbey. Sir James, a true patriot, and history buff himself, agrees that the four young women deserve triumphs of their own.

He knows just the four men worthy of them—men who, like the Bruce, possess charm, rank and standing. These heroes can sweep the lassies off their feet and into a world of happiness and love they never dreamed possible. Chapter One Bryson Maxwell, the future 4 th Earl of Newhall, had grown up being told that he would one day fall madly in love. Falling in love—or more accurately, falling in love at first sight—was a requirement of Newhall men. Bryson slowed on one of Inverness’s lovelier park’s graveled paths. Affection rippled through him with the memory of sitting on his grandfather’s knee while his grandfather described the instant his father laid eyes upon Bryson’s great grandmother and knew that she would be his bride. The old man sighed. “It was the same with my own Sophia. She had eyes as green as emeralds. How they flashed when she was angry.

” His expression clouded, and Bryson just knew that his grandfather had returned to a time before Bryson was born, when the woman he loved still lived. Bryson hadn’t known either woman, but he imagined they indulged their husbands’ tales with the same patience Bryson’s mother did his father when he recounted how he had seen her across a crowded ballroom one fateful night thirty-two years ago and had begged for her hand in marriage two days later. The story was enough to induce a man to avoid ballrooms. Almost. Ballrooms weren’t his problem today. Bryson fixed his gaze on the woman strolling beside Lady Chastity, twenty feet ahead. From his vantage, he only glimpsed her profile, and the red hair peeking out from beneath her bonnet. That he’d fallen in love with her without fully seeing her face stung his pride. What sort of man decided to marry a woman whose face he had never seen? A fool, that’s what sort of man. He didn’t usually stroll in the park.

On beautiful early summer days like today, he preferred to ride about his father’s estate, where his horse could trot for an hour before reaching their farthest field. Two days ago, however, Sir Stirling James requested that Bryson join him in town to discuss business. A note sent to Bryson’s townhouse this morning invited Bryson to meet Stirling in the park. Apparently, Sir Stirling favored morning walks, and a man didn’t turn down an invitation from the future Duke of Roxburgh. The women halted, and the red-headed angel bent to sniff a rose on a bush that crowded the path. Bryson stopped. His heart pounded, whether in dread or euphoria, he wasn’t certain. His only chance at escape was to…well, escape. Forget business. Forget Sir Stirling.

Board the first ship to France— Nae. America. He would need the two-month voyage to forget the desire that tightened his bollocks to near discomfort. Bryson spun, took one step, then stopped short. Sir Stirling, fifteen feet away, rapidly approached. “Forgive me, Stirling,” Bryson said. “I cannot stay.” Stirling stopped in front of him and frowned. “What is amiss?” For the first time in his life, Bryson’s stockpile of harmless fabrications fled his mind. One learned to bend the truth—or, at least, avoid it—when ladies were in the vicinity.

Now, however, all he could focus on was Stirling’s eyes, which shifted past him to… God help him, Stirling had to be looking at Lady Chastity and the woman. Stirling’s face lit up. Of course. Everyone knew the man was besotted with his wife. In the next instant, Lady Chastity stepped up beside Bryson with the red-haired lass at her side. Lass, nae. Nymph. He got a good look at that damned hair, and desire caused his cock to twitch. He’d never seen hair dance as if alive with fairies. She was tall for a woman.

The top of her head reached the bridge of his nose. Her bloody pelisse dipped low enough to offer a teasing view of creamy flesh. Too easily, he envisioned the lithe legs hidden by her pale gold dress. “Stirling.” Lady Chastity smiled at her husband, then turned to Bryson. “Lord Newhall, how nice to see you.” “My lady.” Bryson bowed, forcing his eyes to remain on her. “May I introduce Miss Ramsay. Kenna, this is Viscount Newhall.

” Miss Ramsay extended a gloved hand. “Sir,” she said in a low, throaty voice that sent his heart galloping. Bryson grasped her gloved fingers. His chest tightened when he noted the slight tremble in her hand. Was she as affected by him as he was by her? He bowed and brushed his mouth against her fingers. How he wished she didn’t wear those blasted gloves. He caught a hint of lilac and his cock twitched again. God help him. He was about to embarrass himself as he hadn’t done since the age of seventeen. He straightened and released her.

Now to make his getaway. “I understand congratulations are in order,” Lady Chastity said. Bryson frowned. “I beg your pardon?” She smiled. “Your brother is to be married.” “Ah, yes. Thank you.” He sounded like an idiot. He was an idiot. Last week, when his younger brother announced his engagement to Lydia Crawford, the sister of his childhood friend—and the lass Matt had sworn to marry when he was ten—Bryson had concluded that chances favored his avoidance of whatever curse afflicted Newhall men that caused them to fall in love with such abandon.

He was the fifth Newhall man and one out of five was decent odds. It seems he’d been wrong. Lady Chastity turned toward Sir Stirling. “Shall we walk, or do you gentlemen have business to discuss?” Stirling’s eyes softened. “I believe we can spare a few minutes for you ladies.” Lady Chastity shook her head and looked at Miss Ramsay. “Isn’t that just like a man? They believe they do us a favor by allowing us to bask in their company for a few stolen moments.” Sir Stirling grasped her hand and brought it to his lips. His eyes locked with hers. “We are the fortunate ones.

” Lady Chastity’s cheeks pinked, and Bryson thought of his father who, after more than thirty years of marriage, still had the ability to make his wife blush. Might Bryson be able to make Miss Ramsay blush thirty years from now? His thoughts froze. God help him, it was too late. No power in heaven or hell could get him to board that ship to America. He was going to marry Miss Kenna Ramsay. *** Kenna wished mightily that she hadn’t allowed Lady Chastity to talk her into a walk in Summit Gardens. But the allure of sun and trees had been more than she could resist. Inverness’s park couldn’t replace the woods of Skye, but it was still beautiful—despite the grand people who intruded —like the three women who approached. Sir Stirling and Lady Chastity started away and Lord Newhall winged an arm toward her. Kenna slipped her hand into the crook of his arm before realizing what she’d done.

The muscle beneath her fingers tightened as they started forward. She’d glimpsed the tiny smile on Lady Chastity’s lips before she and Sir Stirling started walking. Of course, she was pleased the gentleman was being gallant. She was so kind—too kind. That kindness is what had gotten Kenna into this predicament. They neared the ladies. Kenna groaned. Lord Newhall looked down at her. “Are you in pain, Miss Ramsay?” Kenna snapped her head up and met his gaze. He stared down at her, brow furrowed in concern.

Had she groaned out loud? Aye, she had. Just one more indication that she didn’t belong here. She had to write another letter to her aunt, begging her to allow her to return home. Agreeing to leave Skye had been a mistake. What did it matter that she was one of many descendants of Robert the Bruce? Society couldn’t possibly care that she was a Flower of Scotland. “Miss Ramsay?” Lord Newhall said. From the corner of her eye, she saw the women stop on the path in front of Sir Stirling and Lady Chastity. “I am fine,” Kenna whispered. “Lady Chastity, how nice to see you,” the short, fair-haired girl said. “Sir Stirling.

” She curtsied, and the others followed suit. “Ladies.” Sir Stirling, ever the gentleman, bowed. As one, they rose, and shifted toward Lord Newhall. For him, they dipped so low, their cleavage —one ample, two so modest they could scarcely count as cleavage—were in plain view. The fairhaired woman looked up at him through her lashes. Women vying for a man’s attention, Kenna understood quite well. Even in the hills of Skye, women competed for the attention of the most desirable bachelors. Of course, a handsome man like Lord Newhall, whose attire, manners and deportment proclaimed him wealthy, received extra attention. He angled his head in acknowledgement and, to Kenna’s surprise, not only didn’t free himself of her hand, but covered her hand with his free one and squeezed.

All three pairs of female eyes locked onto the action—and narrowed. Thank you very much, you lout, Kenna mentally seethed. Now— The girls rose, and Sir Stirling said, “Do you ladies know our guest, Miss Ramsay?” “We have heard of her, but have not had the pleasure of an introduction,” the blonde said. “Permit me to make introductions,” Sir Stirling said. Kenna murmured greetings, unable to curtsy to the noblewomen, as Lord Newhall kept a tight hold on her hand. “That is a lovely gown, Miss Ramsay,” Lady Fiona, the taller brunette, said. “You are brave to wear such a low bodice.” Kenna blinked. Had the woman just insulted her? “Do you really think the bodice is too low?” Lady Chastity’s brow furrowed. “Oh dear, perhaps I miscalculated when I purchased the dress for you, Kenna.

” Lady Fiona’s eyes widened. “Not at all,” she hurriedly denied. “It is especially lovely on her. The color is very flattering.” “What a relief.” Lady Chastity smiled at Kenna. “I want Miss Ramsay to be seen in the best light.” “You always keep a finger on the pulse of current fashion,” the girl said. “I fear I am woefully behind the times with this conservative dress.” Kenna worked to keep her fury in check.

“Lady Chastity’s choices are always perfect.” The group turned deadly silent. Kenna’s heart raced. She’d done it again. It wasn’t her words, but her tone. Gentle Society didn’t show anger. “We all agree that Lady Chastity’s choice is perfect.” Kenna started at Lord Newhall’s statement. He smiled down at her. “I think the dress is exquisite.

” The stares of the three women burned into her skull. “You are correct, of course, my lord,” Lady Fiona said in a too-sweet voice. “Well, if you will excuse us, tasks await us.” Sir Stirling bowed, but Lord Newhall only watched until the women brushed past them. Lady Chastity and Sir Stirling began walking, and Kenna fell into step when Lord Newhall started forward. They took half a dozen steps before the silence closed in around her. “Forgive me, Lady Chastity, I was rude.” “Were you rude, my dear?” she asked. “I was, as you know—but you are too kind to point out my flaws. Which is exactly why I should return home.

” “Return home?” Lord Newhall cut in. Kenna looked up at him. The furrow in his brow had returned and deepened. “Where is home?” he asked. “Skye,” she replied. “I am only here for a visit.” “When will you return?” “Tomorrow, if I can.” “Tomorrow?” He halted. Kenna and Lady Chastity stopped and looked at him in surprise. Sir Stirling, however, clearly struggled to control a smile.

What had gotten into the man? “Perhaps that can be arranged,” he said. Kenna’s heart surged with hope. “Stirling,” Lady Chastity admonished. He blinked at her. “What is amiss, my dear?” “You know full well—” She broke off and glanced their way. Lord Newhall’s muscle tensed beneath Kenna’s fingers. She shifted her gaze to his face, but he stared at Sir Stirling. A group of people came around the path’s bend ahead of them—Mrs. Stone and Miss Stone, accompanied by Mister Stone. Kenna had met the down-to-earth family three days past and liked them.

Probably because they weren’t nobility, she thought with a mental snort. The family reached them and stopped. “How lovely to see you, Lady Chastity,” Missus Stone said. “Sir Stirling.” She and her daughter curtsied. “We will have none of that.” Sir Stirling smiled. “We are all friends here. You know Lord Newhall?” “We haven’t had the pleasure,” Mister Stone said. Stirling made the introductions.

Of course, Miss Stone blushed when the viscount bowed over her hand. Something he hadn’t done with the previous ladies, Kenna noted. “I know you remember Miss Ramsay,” Stirling said. Mister Stone bowed. “Miss Ramsay.” “It is wonderful to see you again,” Mrs. Stone said. “We are so looking forward to seeing you— and Lady Chastity and Sir Stirling, of course—at our luncheon tomorrow.” Kenna smiled. “Lady Chastity says we will be there.

” The two women smiled. Mrs. Stone’s eyes shifted to Lord Newhall. “We would be pleased to have you, as well, my lord.” To Kenna’s surprise, he said, “I would be pleased to attend. Perhaps Lady Chastity can provide me with your address?” He turned his smile upon her. “Stirling has the address,” she replied. Despite his charming smile, Kenna still sensed tension in Lord Newhall’s posture. She didn’t have to guess at the cause. Embarrassment and regret warmed her cheeks.

In less than fifteen minutes, she had revealed her lack of gentle breeding. Like the gentleman he was, he hadn’t pulled away from her, but he must surely want to rid himself of her company as soon as propriety allowed. They weren’t far from Lady Chastity’s parked carriage. She could withdraw her hand from his arm on the pretense that she and Lady Chastity were to return to the carriage. With a deep breath, Kenna pulled her hand free. His head snapped in her direction. His frown deepened. “Have a pleasant walk,” Mrs. Stone was saying. “We will see you tomorrow, Miss Ramsay,” Miss Stone said.

Kenna nodded. “Until then.” The young woman smiled, and the family moved past. Kenna started forward, her gaze straight ahead. Lord Newhall walked alongside her with Lady Chastity and Stirling to her right. “Stirling, I imagine you and Lord Newhall should get back to your business,” Lady Chastity said, and Kenna released a silent breath of relief. “We have all day for business,” he replied.” How often do we have the opportunity to enjoy the park together?” “Quite often, actually,” Lady Chastity remarked. “I believe Kenna and I will visit the rose garden.” She linked her arm with Kenna’s.

“Good day, gentlemen.” Kenna glimpsed Lord Newhall’s stiff bow in the instant before Lady Chastity turned her toward the rose garden. Kenna had the odd feeling that Lord Newhall stared at her. She kept her gaze forward and concentrated on her steps. She would die of embarrassment if she tripped over her skirt in public, as she had when they’d left the house that morning.


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