Noble Passions, Book 3
by Sabrina York
Ebook ISBN: B01HRALZBI
[ Scottish Regency Romance, MF ]
Kidnapped by a notorious brigand, she is determined to hate him…until she discovers he is the boy she once loved. But he blames her for the disaster his life became and wants her to pay. Can love conquer all?
It was such a lovely, peaceful day. The grass was a deep emerald and the sky a cerulean blue dotted with fluffy white clouds. Birds sang gaily in the trees.
One would never suspect utter mayhem was about to erupt in the manor house on the far side of the sweeping lawn.
But Violet knew. She had recognized that look in her brothers’ eyes. All of them, Ned and Malcolm and Sean and Dennis—and especially Hamish and Tay—had had enough. A bloody mutiny was in the offing.
Violet did not want to hear the screams.
Hence this stroll in the gardens.
She gazed up at the rolling tors in the distance and sighed. “Och, I’ve missed Scotland so.” She pulled her cloak a little tighter around herself. The air was brisk with a sharp bite. But she loved it. London had been practically tepid. And dirty. It was wonderful to be home.
She’d hated leaving in the first place but they hadn’t had a choice.
Abject poverty would do that.
The only pity was that her friend Kaitlin had stayed behind in London. But then she’d had to. She was, after all, in hiding.
Aunt Hortense hobbled beside her on the path, leaning heavily on her cane. “We’ve only been gone a few weeks, gel. No need to be melodramatic.”
“Still, I’ve missed it.”
Aunt Hortense snorted and Violet grinned. Hortense was always snorting or grumbling about something.
She patted her aunt’s arm. “What is it, dear?”
“I didn’t miss it. Didn’t miss Agnes a whit.” They had come back home—packed up the entire family and returned—with the news that Hortense’s older sister was on her deathbed. They’d arrived to discover Agnes wasn’t dying at all. She was merely aggrieved that Hortense had deserted her to serve as chaperone for Violet while she was in London.
The dire illness had been naught but a pretense to hasten her sister back to her side.
And no wonder Hortense had been so pleased to escape.
“Agnes is a…charming soul.” Violet gave a little shudder.
Hortense pinned her with a dark glare. “Young girls shouldn’t lie.”
Violet chuckled. “I’m only being charitable.” She noticed that Hortense’s steps were beginning to flag. “Shall we go back?”
“Back to the house?” Ah, the horror in her tone.
“It is rather chilly,” Violet urged. “And we did leave the boys.”
Hortense cackled. The sound rang through the arbor and startled the birds, which abruptly stopped singing and took to wing. “The prospect of Agnes saddled with those rambunctious rapscallions—”
“They’re not so bad.”
“But they’re my hellions.” Violet adored her brothers. All six of them. The thought of them dancing circles around sour-faced Aunt Agnes made her grin.
Violet shrugged. “The boys didn’t care for her last lecture. They…may have something planned.”
Her aunt’s expression lifted hopefully. “Do tell. No, wait. It will be more fun to watch it unfold. As long as they don’t set the house on fire. They don’t plan to set the house on fire, do they? Because I really do not fancy spending the night at an inn.”
Violet nibbled at her smile. “No fires. I’ve been very firm on that point.” Sean had a certain fascination with watching things go up in flames. Dennis, on the other hand, preferred shredding things. With the twins, one could expect a plethora of bugs or worms. Ned and Malcolm were older. More reserved. They could be counted upon to exact subtler forms of revenge.
“Bah. Whatever it is, serves her right.”
“For what?” Violet’s brow quirked. Not that she couldn’t fathom why Agnes had incurred the boys’ wrath. She was just curious as to which particular offense Hortense was referring.
“For refusing to take you in when you were in desperate straits.”
Ah, that. Violet cleared her throat. “I’m sure she had her reasons.”
“No doubt,” Hortense grunted. “All of them selfish.”
Agnes was old. And grumpy and, yes, a bit selfish. But this was her home. Who could blame her for not wanting it overrun with ragamuffins? Relations or not.
“Well, no matter. I’m happy with the way things worked out. I do adore Edward.”
“He is…tolerable, I suppose.” Her aunt’s voice was gruff but Violet suspected she made it so to mask a tender emotion. Hortense was prickly as a hedgehog but only because she was soft and mushy on the inside and needed to protect herself.
“I found him quite nice.”
“He’s hardly nice.” This, Hortense muttered under her breath, but Violet heard. Edward Wyeth, Duke of Moncrieff, was a notorious rake. And like her brothers, very much a hellion as well.
Violet shot her a look. “He took us in, dear. Lock, stock and barrel.” Violet, her six brothers and Kaitlin. Oh, and Aunt Hortense as a chaperone. None of whom her English cousin had ever met. They had descended upon him with nary a warning and completely upended his household.
And he had let them.
Another snort. “As though he had a choice.”
“He had a choice. He could have turned us out on the street.” Thank God he had not.
“He’s a duke. There are appearances to keep up.”
“Edward doesn’t strike me as the kind of man who gives a fig for appearances.”
Hortense harrumphed. She whacked the head off a poor unsuspecting rose with her cane. “Every man of Quality does.”
Heavens. There was probably a juicy story in that outburst. Aunt Hortense was a font of juicy stories. Violet filed it away for a future interrogation. “Well, I like him. He’s been so kind, despite…everything.” He’d even allowed Kaitlin to stay at his home in London—where she would be safe—while the rest of the family hared up to Scotland to attend a dying Aunt Agnes. Oh, yes. She owed Edward a great deal.
“As I said…tolerable.” Hortense tried to sound diffident but Violet caught a hint of satisfaction in her tone. Though why she should care what Violet thought of a distant relation was beyond her. Then again, the machinations of Aunt Hortense’s mind were often beyond her. “Because of him, you will finally have your season.”
“I should be excited about that, I suppose.”
Hortense gored her with a gimlet glare. “You should.”
“It just seems so…”
Violet shrugged. “I don’t know. Contrived?”
Hortense shrugged. “All of the best associations are.”
“Sequestering all the eligible partis in Town for three months. Forcing them to dance and socialize and sniff around for a suitable mate like hounds on a hunt…”
“Don’t forget dry cakes and watery lemonade.”
“Naturally.” Violet turned away, pretended to study a bloom as they passed. But really, she felt the need to hide her face from her aunt’s eagle eye. Yes, a season seemed artificial and forced. An unnatural way to choose a mate. Falling in love should be a natural thing. Something that simply happened when one found the right man.
Her heart lurched at a memory.
She had found the right man—or the right boy, at least—and lost him.
She wasn’t sure she ever wanted to go through that again.
Oh, it had been glorious while it lasted—especially that kiss. Ewan had been perfect. So handsome. And so heroic. He’d saved her life. Once when she was a girl—a stupid girl—she’d gone out on the iced-over loch to play. She’d gone through, into the freezing water, and he’d risked his life to save her. He jumped in after her, found her deep in the swirling waters, dragged her to the surface and hauled her out. But as he struggled out himself—ice cracking under his much greater weight—a sharp edge had sliced him open. He would always carry a jagged scar on his chest for saving her.
Och, how she had loved him.
Her heart still ached whenever she thought of him.
Because he’d been there one day—such a large part of her life, part of her girlish dreams—and then, just like that, he was gone. No one would talk about him. When she asked, her father turned purple and pressed his lips together. At her frequent queries, all the servants turned away.
Though that was years ago, Violet still wondered what had happened to him, that boy, the one who’d kissed her once and ruined her for all other kisses.
She’d never forgotten him and she never would until the day she died.
Part of her dreaded having a season, choosing a husband, simply because, in a way, it meant replacing her Ewan with some other man. One who could never live up to her expectations.
She shivered. “Perhaps we should go back.”
With a sigh, Hortense turned and they headed toward the house. It was a long and laborious journey. Possibly because Hortense was moving so very slowly. She was hardly motivated to scuttle quickly. She and Agnes really did not get on.
Then again, no one got along with Agnes.
They reached the edge of the sprawling gardens, halfway to the manor. Hortense put a hand to her side and gusted a sigh. “Is it really that far away?”
“It’s not so far. But here, we’ll go slowly.” Violet took her arm and let her aunt lean on her as they strolled. “Or we can sit in the folly for a bit.”
“Bah. A folly. Why Agnes would waste good money on that bit of froth, I’ll never know.”
“It’s a nice place to sit when the walk is too long. Shall we?”
“I suppose.” One would think Violet had asked her to muck about in the stables, the way she grudgingly agreed. Hortense was something of a curmudgeon but Violet adored her. They turned onto the yew walk and headed for the folly.
They were nearly there when a man in a voluminous cloak leapt out from between the trees.
Hortense screeched and reared back. Instinctively, Violet stepped between her aunt and this threat, though her heart thundered.
One did not expect a man in a voluminous cloak to leap out from nowhere onto this bucolic scene.
And grab her by the arms.
But he did.
“Where is she?” he snarled.
It took a moment for her mind to clear, but when it did, Violet knew him at once. Callum MacAllister, Kaitlin’s brother. The beast who wanted to sell Violet’s friend into an unwanted marriage to a foul villain. Dread coursed through her. The wild expression, the way the veins in his neck stood out, the pinch of his fingers on her flesh didn’t help.
“W-what are you d-doing here, Callum?”
“You know damn well.” His grip tightened and he gave her a little shake. Violet was certain there would be bruises on her arms tomorrow. “Where the hell is she?”
Outraged, Hortense jabbed him with her cane. “Unhand her, you fiend!”
Callum yelped and let Violet go, but then he grabbed her again and whipped her around, using her as a shield against furious swats. “Where is she?” he hissed into her ear. “I know you’re hiding her.”
“Who? Who?” Aunt Hortense punctuated each word with a whack. Unfortunately, they all hit Violet.
“Please…” More a plea to Aunt Hortense to stop smacking her than to Callum to release her, but neither paid her any mind.
“Where. Is. She?”
Violet swallowed. “S-she’s not here.”
“Who?” Heavens, Aunt Hortense could bellow. The air vibrated with her roar.
“Kaitlin, of course, you old bat.”
Hortense took careful aim and smacked Callum’s leg. “I am not an old bat you…cad. And Kaitlin isn’t here. She’s in London.”
Violet’s heart plummeted. Oh, no! She had gone to great lengths to hide her friend, to help her escape from a fate truly worse than death. And now Callum knew exactly where to find her.
He stiffened. His hold became unbearably tight. Violet struggled to breathe.
“London? What the hell is she doing in London?”
“Avoiding you.” Violet punctuated her snarl with a sharp elbow to Callum’s gut in an attempt to break free. It didn’t work.
But it did make him angry.
“You’ll pay for that,” he snapped, and then ominously began dragging her into the woods. Callum had never been violent before—but then Violet had never seen him so enraged. So desperate.
She struggled to break free, dug in her heels, grasped at passing trees, but to no avail. Kaitlin’s brother was a large man and rather determined. Hortense hobbled after them in a flurry, brandishing her lethal cane, but she was far too slow to catch them.
They came to a clearing where Callum’s horse was tethered to a branch. He tossed her over the horse’s back, up in front of the saddle. She landed on her belly. The breath rushed from her in an undignified oof. Still, she wriggled off, landing on her feet, but she lost her balance and tumbled to the ground.
He didn’t allow her any time to recover, wrenching the cravat from his neck and quickly tying her hands behind her back.
“What are you doing, Callum?”
He lifted her again, this time setting her upright before the saddle and leaping up behind her. “I’m taking you with me.”
“You can’t do this.”
“I can. And am. I must have my sister back. And she will return to Scotland, to me…for you.”
Aunt Hortense burst into the clearing, gasping and wheezing. “Release her, you…brute!” she warbled.
Callum yanked on the reins and sidled up to Aunt Hortense. “You tell Kaitlin,” he barked, “if she ever wants to see Violet alive again, she’d better come home. And soon.”
Then, before Aunt Hortense could so much as whack him with her cane, he wheeled the horse and pounded through the forest, with Violet pinioned helplessly between his arms.