TO REDEEM A HIGHLAND RAKE
by Collette Cameron
Oh this looks delightful! You must read the excerpt below…I highly recommend it!
One forbidden kiss sets them on a path from which there’s no return.
In a desperate final attempt to force her cruel betrothed to call off their arranged marriage, Arieen Fleming deliberately creates a public scandal. Aware she’ll likely be shunned by Society and remain unmarried, she kisses a dashing swashbuckler at a masked ball. What she doesn’t anticipate is her powerful fascination and sensual reaction to Coburn Wallace. And she most certainly doesn’t foresee her father casting her out as a result of her madcap scheme.
Coburn Wallace is a man who enjoys life and women to the fullest. As cousin and second-in-command to a laird, he has no need or desire to marry and produce an heir. When a beautiful female pirate demands he kiss her, who is he to refuse such an unexpected gift? Upon learning Arieen’s been disowned and is destitute, he’s seized with an inexplicable urge to protect her even as his honor demands he marry Arieen for his unwitting contribution to her ruination.
Arieen has no choice but to accept Coburn’s offer, and though they can’t deny their overwhelming, mutual attraction, dare they hope for more? Can attraction blossom into love in a marriage neither wanted?
Outside Edinburgh, Scotland
McCullough’s Masquerade Ball
Arieen’s heart knocked behind her ribs as she trained her attention across the ballroom. Barely able to breathe, she could scarcely contain her glee.
Och, I have the lying scunner now.
Aye, she did. She good and truly did.
And not any too soon, by Odin’s gnarly teeth.
Their wedding was scheduled for next week.
Though a domino covered the upper half of his aristocratic face, she easily recognized her loathsome affianced: Fulbright, Viscount Quartermain—every bit as pretentious and full of self-importance as the Englishman’s pompous name implied. His lordship also wore a black cape and a tricorn festooned with a ridiculous froth of ostrich feathers.
Ever the charmer—much like the wily serpent in the Garden of Eden—he smiled, dipped his head, and spoke to acquaintances as he ambled along the ballroom’s perimeter.
On the other side, about as subtle as a two-headed trow sipping tea in the parlor, Mrs. Jameson, his current love interest, mirrored his movements.
Did they truly think no one noticed their unified, oh-so-casual meandering toward the terrace doors?
After all these months, did he think Arieen was such a naïve bampot?
Aye. He did.
And that was one of the higher opinions he held of her.
Lord Quartermain would soon learn he’d underestimated her. Anger and exhilaration tussled in her stomach, and an answering wave of anticipation and heat swept over her. She inhaled a soothing breath and slowly, deliberately released the air through her nose.
Steady on, she ordered her galivanting pulse.
Stick to the plan.
Catch the cheating cawker in the act.
No one, not even Da, could expect her to marry a lout she caught rutting another woman at a ball.
She slid Morag a sideways look.
Her stepmother tapped her toes to the music whilst fanning herself. Her advanced pregnancy precluded a need for a costume, and therefore, her hand-held mask lay on the empty chair on her other side.
Morag ought to be home, abed and resting—not here chaperoning her stepdaughter.
Arieen had actually counted on that detail.
She couldn’t risk raising Morag’s suspicions. If she possessed the tiniest inkling that Arieen plotted something, she’d watch her that much closer and ruin everything. Thank goodness, Arieen’s mask and oversized pirate’s hat helped shield her eagerness. To succeed with her scheme, she must escape her stepmother’s scrutiny for several minutes.
Arieen hadn’t told the viscount what she’d be wearing tonight. She might’ve hinted she’d come donned as a nun, if only to enjoy his eyes glazing over with disinterest. As she and her parents had arrived but a few minutes ago, Quartermain hadn’t yet noticed her.
Not that it would’ve made much difference if he had.
In general, he ignored her at social gatherings after their initial greeting. That didn’t mean he disregarded other women in the same brusque manner. No indeed. The man attracted willing bedmates faster than an open grain sack lured pesky vermin. She alone was the single female he’d eschewed. Probably because of her unfashionable height and dark coloring
His disdain stung, although ’twas entirely absurd that it did since she couldn’t abide him either. Once, she’d overheard him admitting he preferred petite English blondes, not rustic Highland clodhoppers. There’d been no doubt to whom he referred.
Was it a wonder she couldn’t wait to be rid of the dobber?
The crowd parted, and her gaze collided again with that dashing swashbuckler’s she’d encountered earlier. He’d brazenly approached when she’d first entered the ballroom. Evidently, he’d thought her alone and an easy mark for his seductive wiles.
Morag had succinctly curbed that assumption.
Breathless, she’d waddled in and promptly snared Arieen’s elbow in a surprisingly firm grip. Giving the charming fellow a turn-your-attention-elsewhere glower, she’d whisked Arieen away before he’d introduced himself.
Was he Scots or English?
His burnished hair suggested Scots.
Now, as their gazes meshed, a lazy grin hitched the buccaneer’s mouth—a much too attractive mouth for a man, not that she generally noticed that sort of thing—and he bent into a courtier’s exaggerated bow. The bright azure cloth tied about his longish auburn hair fell forward, sweeping the floor.
Chin lifted, she presented her profile, sending him an unmistakable message. The impertinent, intriguing jackanape. She didn’t need nor want the attentions of another womanizer.
The sensation of being stared at raised her nape hairs, and unable to resist another peek, she cut a covert glance in his direction.
A shoulder braced against the door jamb, he unabashedly observed her, his mouth bent in that same gratified grin. As she averted her gaze, another man snagged Arieen’s attention.
His expression, somewhere between disbelief and interest, he regarded her with disturbing keenness. They hadn’t been introduced. She was certain of it. Nevertheless, he seemed uncannily familiar and made her oddly uncomfortable.
To ease her nervous tension, she tapped her fingertips on her thigh.
The crowd shifted and blocked the men from her view once more. Just as well. She must focus on the task she’d set for herself. Besides, rakes, roués, and rapscallions—men of Quartermain’s ilk—were trouble through and through, and didn’t hold the least appeal for her.
Then again, neither did serious, long-faced gentlemen.
Or foolish, comedic, featherbrained chaps.
Or scholarly, bookish men.
In short, she hadn’t, in her nineteen years, met a single Scot, Highlander, or Englishman who made her pulse patter and her knees go soft.
Bah to the weak knees folderol.
She’d be satisfied to find a man who conversed with her for more than five minutes without ogling other women or his attention repeatedly straying to her bosoms. She wasn’t that boring. And what was it with men and breasts? No males of any other species obsessed as much about them.
With a small huff, Arieen dismissed her rambling musings and concentrated on the matter at hand.
Too bad she dared not drag a witness along for what she had planned tonight. Doing so would only strengthen her position.
It wouldn’t do, however.
She couldn’t very well approach one of her friends and ask her to help Arieen spy on the bounder she was supposed to wed in five days. Then pop out—Surprise!—and announce her presence at a most indelicate moment, as she intended.
Nae. Not done.
But to see Quartermain’s expression if she did dare do so… A secret smile arced her lips. That’d be bloody priceless. There’d be no excuses, no hastily contrived fabrications from the viscount this time. She meant to catch him with his breeches down. Literally.
What were a pair of male buttocks and a few moments’ awkwardness compared to her freedom?
Another wave of heat suffused her.
Och, perhaps announcing her presence before he was that far along might be a wee bit wiser. She didn’t wish to become a voyeur.
Her attention riveted on the objects of her musings.
Quartermain and his mistress had almost made it to the doors.
’Twas now or never.
Arms folded, Coburn Wallace braced a shoulder against the door frame, battling an insane urge to march across the floor and request a dance with the enchanting pirate. He couldn’t, of course, without a proper introduction.
Besides being a tremendous breach of protocol, the fire in her chaperone’s eyes might incinerate him on the spot, so heated was her perpetual scowl.
Not for the first time, he condemned etiquette and politesse to hell.
Glancing around, he searched for his cousin, Logan Rutherford, clanking about in an ill-fitting suit of armor. Perhaps he could be persuaded to perform the niceties. As laird of Lockelieth Keep, Logan boasted many more influential connections than Coburn did.
Coburn preferred it that way. Other than the plentiful feminine distractions Edinburgh offered, he also preferred the less chaotic Highland life.
Truthfully, the only reason he was in the city at present was on behest of Logan. His cousin had needed Coburn to make himself scarce whilst Logan pretended to be him. As Coburn had warned, Logan’s plan had back-fired and estranged him from his betrothed even further.
That’s why Logan clanged and banged about tonight, making a fool of himself in an effort to win Mayra Findlay’s affection. Thank God, Coburn was immune to that sort of sentimental drivel.
Look what love had done to Logan, once a sensible man.
Why, not fifteen minutes ago, he’d said, “Just ye wait, Coburn. Yer day may come yet. And if it does, I’ll be right there mockin’ ye, rubbin’ yer nose in yer warmer affections.”
Never. Some men weren’t meant to wed.
Coburn was one of them.
Aye, far better to be the laird’s steward and second-in-command than expected to marry and produce an heir. Neither of which Coburn had any desire or need to do. He’d seen what became of men and women who allowed themselves to fall in love. He prayed Logan and Mayra would be spared the heartache Coburn’s mother and even Uncle Artair had endured for love’s sake.
Coburn’s gut and lips involuntarily tightened. Thinking of his unfortunate mother always caused that reaction. Filling his lungs with a bracing breath, he tossed off his morbid thoughts. Straightening, he surveyed the teeming ballroom.
Honestly, he couldn’t point out one couple present who could claim marital bliss. Either they’d married for gain or position, or the occasional fools who’d professed to wed out of mutual devotion, found one spouse—usually both—seeking other bedfellows soon enough.
He permitted a partial gratified smile.
Och, he on the other hand, had the best of it: No obligation to wed. No bearing the weight and duties of a Highland chief. And the pleasurable, occasional company of a willing lass.
Perhaps his pockets weren’t as deep as he’d like at times, and he couldn’t lay claim to a single thing of value except his horse, but his belly was always full, and he had a warm place to lay his head each night.
Neither of the latter two had been true as a young boy.
He lowered his lashes for the briefest moment against another onslaught of memories.
Opening his eyes, his attention once again gravitated to the bewitching siren.
She wasn’t the pale, oval-faced blonde with large round eyes and a rosebud mouth popular these past few seasons. Nae, slate-black winged brows graced her diamond-shaped face above upturned eyes and an oblong chin with the slightest cleft. Her mouth was slightly too wide to be classically bonnie, but her skin gleamed like polished marble.
An irresistible aura surrounded her.
It had beckoned to him from across the room. So much so, that he’d momentarily abandoned his intent to sample his host’s superior whisky in the study and had veered in her direction instead.
More fool he.
Nothing could come of pursuing her.
Not only was she guarded like Windsor Castle or The Palace of Westminster with the King in residence, Coburn didn’t dally with innocents. This was also his last night here before returning to Lockelieth and resuming his duties as Logan’s second-in-command, amongst other things.
Prudence nudged, and giving a resigned sigh, he opted for McCullough’s fine whisky rather than beg an introduction and dance with the bewitching wench. Still, he couldn’t deny himself another glimpse…