Scandal's Bride

By: Stephanie Laurens

Chapter 1

    December 5,1819

    Keltyburn, The Trossachs

    Scottish Highlands

    "WILL THERE BE ANYTHING ELSE, SIR?"

    An artful arrangement of sleek, nubile, naked female limbs sprang to Richard Cynster's mind. The innkeeper had finished clearing the remnants of his dinner—

    the feminine limbs would satisfy that appetite still unappeased. But…

    Richard shook his head. Not that he feared shocking his studiously correct gentleman's gentleman, Worboys, standing poker-straight at his elbow. Having been in his employ for eight years, Worboys was past being shocked. He was, however, no magician, and Richard was of the firm opinion that it would take magical powers to find a satisfying armful in Keltyburn.

    They'd arrived in the hamlet as the last light left the leaden sky; night had fallen swiftly, a black shroud. The thick mist that had lowered over the mountains, hanging heavy across their path, obscuring the narrow, winding road leading up Keltyhead to their destination, had made passing the night in the dubious comfort of the Keltyburn Arms an attractive proposition.

    Besides, he had a wish to have his first sight of his mother's last home in daylight, and before he left Keltyburn, there was one thing he wished to do. Richard stirred. "I'll be retiring shortly. Go to bed—I won't need you further tonight." Worboys hesitated; Richard knew he was thinking of who would brush and hang his coat, who would take care of his boots. He sighed.

    "Go to bed, Worboys."

    Worboys stiffened. "Very well, sir—but I do wish we'd pressed on to McEnery House. There, at least, I could have trusted the bootboys."

    "Just be thankful we're here," Richard advised, "and not run off the road or stuck in a drift halfway up that damned mountain."

    Worboys sniffed eloquently. His clear intimation was that being stuck in a snowdrift in weather cold enough to freeze the proverbial appendages off brass monkeys was preferable to bad blacking. But he obediently took his rotund self off, rolling away into the shadowy depths of the inn.

    His lips twitching into a slight smile, Richard stretched his long legs to the fire roaring in the grate. Whatever the state of the inn's blacking, the landlord hadn't stinted in making them comfortable. Richard had seen no other guests, but in such a quiet backwater, that was unsurprising.

    The flames flared; Richard fixed his gaze on them—and wondered, not for the first time, whether this expedition to the Highlands, precipitated by boredom and a very specific fear, hadn't been a trifle rash. But London's entertainments had grown stale; the perfumed bodies so readily—too readily—offered him no longer held any allure. While desire and lust were still there, he'd become finicky, choosy, even more so than he'd already been. He wanted more from a woman than her body and a few moments of earthly bliss.

    He frowned and resettled his shoulders—and redirected his thoughts. It was a letter that had brought him here, one from the executor of his long-dead mother's husband, Seamus McEnery, who had recently departed this earth. The uninformative legal missive had summoned him to the reading of the will, to be held the day after tomorrow at McEnery House. If he wished to claim a bequest his mother had made to him, and which Seamus had apparently withheld for nearly thirty years, he had to attend in person.

    From what little he'd learned of his late mother's husband, that sounded like Seamus McEnery. The man had been a hothead, brash and vigorous, a hard, determined, wily despot. Which was almost certainly why he'd been born. His mother had not enjoyed being married to such a man; his father, Sebastian Cynster, 5th Duke of St. Ives, sent to McEnery House to douse Seamus's political fire, had taken pity on her and given her what joy he could.

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