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Authors: Christy English

How to Seduce a Scot

BOOK: How to Seduce a Scot
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Copyright © 2015 by Christy English

Cover and internal design © 2015 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover art by Paul Stinson

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

Fax: (630) 961-2168

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For my friends LaDonna Lindgren and Laura Creasy. Thanks for hanging in there while I became a better writer.

One

London, 1820

Catherine Middlebrook surveyed the ballroom at Almack's, looking for a quiet, biddable man to marry. She knew that she needed to focus her attention properly if she were to catch the interest of a suitable man before her one and only Season was up. But she kept being distracted by a dark-eyed, wide-shouldered Highlander staring at her from across the room—and by his sister, who was prattling in her ear.

“The problem with this hall is that there is only one way out,” Mary Elizabeth Waters said.

“Indeed?” She needn't have bothered saying anything—the Scottish girl seemed to need little encouragement to expound on her wild notions. Catherine welcomed those wild notions, for they helped her forget that she had been in Almack's for over an hour, and so far, not one man had asked her to dance. Not even Mr. Waters, who seemed intent on memorizing the planes of her face since the moment she had saved his happily oblivious sister from another debutante's cruel snub.

Though he made no move toward her, her new friend's brother kept staring. It made her skin prickle with a strange awareness. It would have been uncomfortable had it not been so delicious.

Alexander Waters, a younger son from the wilds of Scotland, was not the kind of man Catherine needed to attract. He was too large, for one thing. Mr. Waters's shoulders were too broad—both for the black superfine coat he wore and for the room he lurked in. Though he stood silent across the length of the ballroom from her and his sister, he seemed to take up all the air between them with his presence. Catherine was not certain that she would have enough breath in her body to dance a set with him in the room, even if she were asked.

His dark-chocolate eyes hid depths that Catherine wished she might find the bottom of, and the sight of him drew her gaze no matter how she tried to keep her mind fixed elsewhere. Like all gentlemen present, he wore the requisite white breeches with knee buckles and polished slippers. He simply did not look at home in them, as the other men did.

But of all his stellar attractions, Alexander Waters's lips drew her gaze the most. There was a quirk of humor to them that made her wonder what he found amusing. She would like to have been let in on the joke.

Sometimes she felt as if
she
were the joke, and this evening was one of those times. Never had the task she had set herself seemed so insurmountable as it did that night. The ballroom was full of lovely young girls, none of whom were on the last desperate leg of their family's money. If by some chance Mr. Waters were looking for a bride, there would be no need to stare so fixedly at her, a girl with only her mother's good looks and five hundred pounds to recommend her.

She had to be mistaken. No doubt the handsome Alexander Waters was not watching her at all, but keeping a close eye on his little sister, still chattering away beside her.

“One would need a good stout rope of hemp to make it out of that window there,” Mary Elizabeth was saying.

Catherine blinked, drawn away from her anxious thoughts. “I beg your pardon?”

“You are not attending, sweet Catherine. Pay attention. This is important. It may save your life someday. Say for example the English had cut off the staircase…”

Mary Elizabeth Waters paused for breath, and Catherine wondered if the girl realized the unsuitability of using her given name so freely. Perhaps such informality was common north of the border. Never having been further north than Mayfair, Catherine did not know.

She turned to survey the company, trying to see them as Mary Elizabeth might, taking in the London
ton
all around her: the tabby-cat aunts who stood as chaperones, the Almack's patronesses who deigned or refused to let various young ladies dance, the young lords who preened before girls just out of the schoolroom, and the debutantes in delicate white who vied for those young lords' attention. Most in that room, save Mary Elizabeth and her brother, were English.

Catherine's young friend seemed to realize her mistake, for she began again. “Say for example the staircase had been cut off by some sort of ruffians, pirates perhaps—”

“Pirates in Almack's?” Catherine asked, keeping her voice free of the laughter that seemed to gather just at the back of her throat. It threatened to take her over in an unseemly bolt of hysterical mirth. Open laughter would be a true disaster, as no gentleman would approach her if she were to behave in such an unladylike manner. Catherine schooled her features into a semblance of calm, even as her heart lightened for the first time since she had arrived. And as she felt the hot caress of Mr. Waters's gaze on her skin once again, the notion of pirates skulking about did not seem so outlandish.

“Highwaymen, then,” Mary Elizabeth said. “The type of ruffian doesn't signify.”

“But the ruffians are definitely English,” Catherine said, unable to suppress her smile.

Mary Elizabeth caught the gleam of humor in her new friend's eyes and smiled as well. “Ruffians are almost always English.”

“I bow to your greater knowledge of ne'er-do-wells. Please continue.”

“If pirates or highwaymen had cut off our escape, we would need a good sound hemp rope to descend the side of the building to the street below and to safety.”

Catherine did her best to resist, even as her desire for propriety and good sense gave way to good fun. “But do you think it would be at all proper for a lady to climb from a window? Might all on the street below take note?”

Mary Elizabeth waved one hand in dismissal. “If the gents below want to get a glance at my undergarments, let them. Better to escape with my throat uncut, and let those below sort themselves out.”

Catherine felt her telltale blush rise as it always did, and she wondered how to steer this bizarre conversation to safer waters. She looked around at the company and saw that not one soul was paying any attention to them at all, save for Mary Elizabeth's brother. She decided to let caution and prudence go, if only for the moment, and simply enjoy herself.

“I wonder if Almack's keeps such rope handy?” Catherine asked, joining her new friend in her outlandish speculations. “And if they do, would there be enough rope for all present to effectively make their escape?”

“Unlikely,” Mary Elizabeth said. “But we keep a sound hemp rope ladder in every room on the upper floors of the duchess's town house. You look shocked, Catherine, but it is quite proper. Even my uncle, the Bishop of London, keeps rope ladders in the bedrooms of his home. Just in case.”

Catherine blinked. Mary Elizabeth had mentioned that she and her brothers were guests of the illustrious Duchess of Northumberland, who was sponsoring Mary Elizabeth's debut. Catherine would never have guessed that a headstrong girl from the north would have such lofty connections, but in spite of them, Mary Elizabeth seemed completely unspoiled. Unfortunately, her alliance with the duchess had not drawn any men to her side either.

Catherine brought her mind back to their bizarre conversation. “The Bishop of London keeps rope handy above stairs in case of pirates?”

“In case of fire. But it would work if pirates invaded as well.”

“Or the English.”

Mary Elizabeth laughed, the velvet tone far too confident for such a gathering of fops and young ladies. “We're in London, Catherine. The English are everywhere.”

“I am sorry to bring up a sore subject,” Catherine said, “but
I
am English.”

“I beg to differ. You are a decent woman from the county of Devon. That's practically Cornwall. That's practically civilized.”

Catherine was about to inquire as to Mary Elizabeth's standards of civilization when she noticed that Mr. Waters had vanished from his accustomed place on the other side of the dance floor. In the next moment, the mystery of his whereabouts was solved when she felt the gentle touch of his hand on her arm. The heat of his palm, even encased in a leather glove, drove all rational thought from her mind for the moment—and most likely for the duration of the night.

She would have to begin her husband hunt again later, once she retrieved her good sense—which had deserted her completely.

* * *

Alexander Waters could not keep his mind on the task at hand—namely to ferret out a decent Englishman for his sister to marry. He found that he could not even plan his next sea voyage, the best refuge he knew from boredom when trapped in London. The girl who stood beside his sister took over all conscious thought, his gaze drawn back to her again and again like a lodestone.

She was a butterfly flown in from some summer garden. A butterfly with soft green eyes, blonde curls, and a body with curves made for sin.

No, Alexander corrected himself, she was not a butterfly. She was an angel, if such a celestial being might come to land among the heathen English. If such a gentle soul might sit still among the melee of the London
ton
and listen with patient serenity to his sister as she prattled on. About swords or fly-fishing, no doubt. No other lady present would have been as kind, he was certain of that.

Alex wondered if she smelled of sunshine. He had wondered all night, for her hair made him think of sunlight on the burn near Glenderrin. Now that he stood beside her, he found that she did not bring the scent of sunlight into that stale, stilted ballroom. Instead, she smelled of the hothouse rosebuds in her hair.

He had spent the evening watching as both his sister and the lovely girl beside her were ignored by every man present. He did not understand the English mind, why the men in that assembly room seemed intent on dancing with every girl but them. Mary Elizabeth did not give a fig for what the members of Almack's thought of her, but Alexander would have bet the contents of his brother's flagship that the angel beside her did.

Alex knew he should not touch a gently bred young lady without permission, but his hand found the soft skin of her upper arm on its own. The heat of her body burned through his glove, and he almost swallowed his tongue. Luckily, he had been raised to make polite conversation with ladies, even when his brain had shut down. He breathed deep, trying to set aside his own fascination with this girl, determined to bring her out of the shadows.

“May I have the pleasure of this dance?”

Alex was pleased that his tongue did not betray him by clinging to the roof of his mouth. Lady Jersey gave him the evil eye from across the crowded assembly room; he would bring her a glass of watered-down lemonade later, to sweeten her. He winked and watched as his mother's friend colored at his regard. Lady Jersey's hawk-like gaze softened, and her natural beauty rose to the fore as she gave a subtle nod.

“I have not yet received permission to waltz, sir,” the young lady said, blinking up at him as if she were standing in the bright light of a small sun.

He turned his smile on her, nodding to Lady Jersey, who watched them from down the ballroom. “I think you just did,” he said.

Alex did not wait for her to protest again, nor did he listen to the snide comments of his little sister as he left her, and the angel's mother, standing on the edge of the dance floor. Mrs. Angel was chattering away to the woman at her side and did not seem to notice that he had whisked her daughter away, leaving Mary Elizabeth frowning in his wake.

The waltz would not last long. When it was done, he would take his sister and the angel to meet Lady Jersey and to obtain a slice of dry cake. Such were the rewards to be found among the English elite.

He felt the heavy gazes of the lords and young fops on him as he had all night. None of them had shown the sense to ask an angel to dance themselves, but now that he had put his filthy Scottish hands on her, they were ready to draw swords. Not that any of them would have the nerve to approach him. They all looked too inbred to be men of action. Perhaps they might hire it done, and have him stabbed in the street. He almost laughed at that thought but pushed it aside when the angel in his arms spoke.

“I beg your pardon, sir, but we have not been introduced.”

It took Alex a moment to comprehend the statement, for he was too busy breathing in the scent of rose petals, with London and all its so-called men forgotten. It was not just the blossoms in her hair that entranced him. Her skin smelled of roses warmed by the summer sun. He wondered at himself. It was too cold to grow roses along the Glenderrin. Where had he suddenly acquired this fascination with their scent?

As she gazed up at him with clear green eyes—which filled with more genteel irritation by the moment—he knew that it was not the scent of roses in particular that fascinated him. It was her.

“I am Alexander Waters, brother to your new friend Mary Elizabeth Waters of Glenderrin. You are…?” Here he faltered, for he had no idea of her name. Michaela? Gabriella?

She smiled a little, then pressed her lips together as if to suppress it. She succeeded only in drawing his attention to her mouth, and to the fact that her lower lip was a plush pillow that he would like to take between his teeth.

“I am not accustomed to dancing with gentlemen I do not know.”

“No one knows anyone at these things. Except for the bloody English, who have known each other since birth.”

“As I have told your sister, Mr. Waters, I am English.”

“You are an angel from heaven. I don't know why you've touched ground here tonight, but I am grateful to God you have.”

“Now you are simply teasing me,” she said. She did not look embarrassed, as any other young girl might, but she searched his face as if to find his motives reflected there.

“Far be it for me to ever mock a lady,” he answered.

She smiled then, and Alexander found his heart lighten as her mossy-green eyes took him in, lit by a wry humor he would not have thought to find. He knew he had more than overstepped the bounds of propriety by foisting himself on her without even the semblance of an introduction. But there was something about this girl that drew him to her, a light in her eyes that made him want to know what lay behind them. As he looked down at the girl in his arms, he would have given half the gold in his family's coffers to know what she was thinking.

BOOK: How to Seduce a Scot
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