Home > Her Scottish Scoundrel (Diamonds in the Rough #7)

Her Scottish Scoundrel (Diamonds in the Rough #7)
Author: Sophie Barnes

 


1

 

 

London

July, 1821

 

 

* * *

 


Blayne MacNeil picked up his glass of Madeira and saluted his host. Nothing improved his mood as much as a meal at Windham House. The duke and duchess, Valentine Sterling and his wife Regina, had an incredible chef whose skill in the kitchen was second to none. Considerably different from what the two men had known in their nearly two-decade friendship in St Giles. But now that Val, once known as Carlton Guthrie, the Scoundrel of St. Giles, had taken his rightful place as Duke of Windham, he denied his new wife nothing, including incomparable food.

The sweet wine slid down Blayne’s throat, sending a warmth through his stomach. Truth was, sometimes he missed the old Guthrie—and the brutal force he and his friend had used to vanquish the vermin of the world. Now he himself was a businessman with a respectable tavern to run...well, a tavern, at any rate. And Guthrie still made sure justice was served, but it was done with more discretion now that he was a duke, and by accepting help from the authorities.

“I have been toying with the idea of hosting a ball,” Regina said. She glanced at her brother, Marcus, who also resided at Windham House, and then at Blayne. “If I do, I shall expect you both to attend so you can dance with some of the ladies the marriage mart has to offer.”

The comment was jovial – teasing even – yet it still caused Blayne’s lungs to strain against his next intake of breath.

Marcus snorted. “As if any well-bred woman would dare.”

Blayne met Marcus’s gaze and slowly exhaled. His insides eased and he forced a wry smile. “Even if one of the lasses cared to, I’m sure her parents would quickly step in to prevent it.”

“I could coerce them into compliance,” Guthrie murmured, a twinkle in his cat-like eyes.

“And into marriage, I’m sure,” Marcus said with a grin.

“Good lord,” Regina murmured.

“Without a doubt,” Guthrie told Marcus. “Shall I?”

“No.” Regina gave her husband a firm look. “There will be no coercing. I merely thought it might be nice to offer Blayne and Marcus the means by which to attend a social function.”

“To the horror and despair of the ton,” Blayne said right before he spooned more shortcake into his mouth. “I thank ye for yer thoughtfulness, Regina, but I think yer ball would be better served if I stayed away.”

“Nonsense,” she said. “You are a handsome man, Blayne. Kind, too, and hardworking.”

“Not exactly the qualities upper-class parents seek in their future son-in-law.” Blayne took another bite of his dessert. It truly was exceptionally good. “A yearly income close to five thousand pounds and un-calloused hands would be more desirable. Preferably a title or two as well. My income is modest though, my hands as rough as tree bark, and I’ve nae title to speak of.”

More importantly, he had a past he couldn’t in good conscience chain another person to. And he sure as hell couldn’t confide it in any woman. So if he did wed, his marriage would be a sham. He took another sip of Madeira.

“My situation is similar,” Marcus said. “Worse than Blayne’s, in a sense, seeing as I had a title and lost it because of our father. No man in his right mind would allow his daughter to be seen with me, Regina.”

The duchess huffed a breath. “In my opinion, a man’s character – his very own actions – ought to be of greater value than what a relation of his might have done.”

“I don’t think any of us disagrees with you there,” Guthrie said. He gave Blayne and Marcus a pensive look. “Perhaps I can help?”

“Thank ye, but no.” Guthrie had offered to give Blayne a handsome sum once before, and Blayne had turned him down then as well. He didn’t want handouts, not even from a friend who wished to disguise it as overdue wages. “There is something to be said for earning one’s own living.”

“I’m of a like mind,” Marcus said. “Although I might appreciate a loan for the sake of acquiring a profession.”

“Indeed?” Regina regarded her brother with a pensive mien. “And what profession do you have in mind, Marcus?”

“Well.” Marcus cleared his throat. “Medicine would be an interesting field of study. Certainly more so than law.”

“I think that would be marvelous,” Regina said with a smile. “Don’t you agree, Guthrie?”

Guthrie nodded. “I would be happy to provide you with the necessary funds, Marcus.”

“As a loan,” Marcus reiterated.

Blayne hid a chuckle behind his last spoonful of dessert. It was clear Marcus did not want to feel beholden to Guthrie any more than he did.

“Of course,” Guthrie said. He turned his assessing gaze on Blayne. “What about you? If you accept a loan you’ll be able to purchase that property you want a lot sooner than otherwise.”

“What property?” Regina asked.

“I’ve been of a mind to get away from London for a while now,” Blayne said. “With my interest in plants, I’d like to have a spot of land to cultivate, maybe with a wee house on it. I dinnae require much in the way of a home, but a sizeable piece of property would be grand.” It would provide him with the freedom he’d started to crave since Guthrie had left The Black Swan. Blayne ran the St. Giles tavern on his own now and saved every hard-earned penny, but the place was different without his friend there, and with every passing day Blayne could feel himself getting older. It was time to move on and settle down to a quieter way of life.

“Then I hope you shall soon be able to acquire it,” Regina said. She raised her glass. “To Marcus’s medical aspirations and to Blayne’s countryside acquisition.”

Blayne drank and breathed a sigh of relief when the conversation turned to the recent coronation of George IV.

It appeared Regina’s idea of a ball had been forgotten for now, for which he was grateful. Aside from the obvious reasons he had for not wanting to attend, there was the more dreaded prospect of being recognized. As unlikely as it might be after twenty years in hiding, one couldn’t be too careful.

Least of all when one was on the run for murder.

 

 

Apprehension filled Charlotte Russell’s veins whenever she had to visit Carlisle & Co. Located on the east side of London, the publisher wasn’t in the worst possible neighborhood, but it certainly wasn’t in the finest one either. Poverty was still rife here, especially if one ventured near Dorset Street where filth and suffering appeared to be on the rise. Toxic fumes from industries such as tanning and dyeing permeated the air with a poisonous scent while the cries from unhappy children made her heart clench.

Dressed in the simplest gown she owned, Charlotte hoped to blend in with the people who lived and worked here while she visited her friend, Avery Carlisle. The pair had known each other since adolescence when a birthday party had brought them together. They’d looked forward to promising futures back then with dreams of marrying suitable gentlemen and settling down to the lives their parents envisioned.

Goodness, how quickly one’s situation could change. Avery’s mother had one day realized she’d rather sail the world with a roguish captain. When the couple ran off together, it plunged Avery’s father into a state so severe he’d eventually shot himself. The scandal had ruined Avery’s prospects completely, but at least she and her younger brother had been remembered in the will. Enough to start their own business.

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