The Legendary Lord
Playful Brides, Book 6
THE MAKING OF A LEGEND…
When Christian Forester, Viscount Berkeley, flees the stuffy ballrooms of London for his Scottish hunting lodge, the last thing he expects to find ensconced before his fire is an incredibly beautiful woman. But the plight of lovely young Sarah Highgate, who has run away from an unwanted betrothal, inspires an eminently practical exchange. He’ll safeguard her reputation with the ton while she advises him how to best attract a proper bride…
As the undisputed belle of the season, Sarah has enchanted plenty of suitors. Still, she isn’t interested in marriage, especially not to the pompous bore her father has chosen for her. But her hasty escape seems reckless now that she’s estranged from her family and has no one to count on besides Christian. Turning the luckless lord into such a catch has another unplanned consequence for Sarah: Has he run away with her heart?
Read an Excerpt
Scotland, November 1816
Someone was inside his house. Christian Forester, Viscount Berkeley, stood outside the small hunting lodge and watched as a plume of smoke from the chimney billowed into the darkening sky. He made his way slowly toward the front door, pushed it open with his boot, and tightened his fist around the pistol he kept inside his coat pocket whenever he traveled. He’d spent the last sennight on the road from Bath. He was tired. He was dirty. He hadn’t shaved. And he was in as foul a mood as he ever got. It was bitter cold. The wind was picking up. And from the looks of things, the sky was about to open up and dump an unholy amount of snow on this place. All Christian wanted was a warm fire and some food. Instead, it looked as though he would first be forced to dispatch a thief. He took a deep, calming breath and slowly pulled the pistol from his inside coat pocket.
He pushed farther with his boot and the front door creaked open, revealing the great room. The empty great room. Christian glanced around the space. There was a fire in the grate, a pleasant woven rug he didn’t recognize set in front of the door on the wooden planks, and a boiling pot of what smelled suspiciously like stew bubbling over a fire in the kitchen. Christian stepped inside. Yes. It was obvious. Someone was here. Someone other than Mr. Fergus, the caretaker, and his little black Scottish dog with black pointy ears who also happened to be named Fergus. The odd man once explained to Christian that if men could name their sons after themselves, then by God, he could do the same with his dog. Christian had always thought that sounded about right. But no, Fergus I and II (human and canine) weren’t here now. In addition to the stew, the room smelled vaguely of flowers. Lilies, to be precise. There were no flowers in the Scottish Highlands at this time of year. He’d made it up here just ahead of the looming storm that was already blowing freezing gusts up the mountaintop behind him. The smell of lilies meant one thing: perfume. A woman was here. An uninvited, unknown, unwanted woman. And he’d left London to get away from women.
He shut the door behind him, stomped his boots on the rug, and cleared his throat. Perhaps she would show herself, introduce herself. Oh, and explain what the bloody hell she was doing here.
There was no movement. No sound. Nothing. He swung his heavy wool overcoat from his shoulders and placed it on the rough wooden coatrack he’d made himself out of a felled oak tree one summer here. He might be Viscount Berkeley in both London and Northumbria, but here in Scotland he was just Christian. Or Master Christian, according to Mr. Fergus. There was no pomp and circumstance at the hunting lodge, which was why Christian liked it so much. One of many reasons.
A small opening in the bottom of the door at the back of the house flapped to and fro for a moment and Fergus II, the canine variety, came rushing into the room like a black dart. He had the manners to stop and shake the snow from his back and paws as Fergus I had taught him when he’d created the little door for him. Fergus II came rushing up to Christian, wagging his tiny tail furiously and hopping about on all four paws. Christian put his hands on his hips and stared down at the handsome little pup. What in the—? Christian nearly rubbed his eyes. Was it his imagination or was Fergus II wearing a small red woolen coat?
“Well, what are you doing?” Was Christian mistaken? Was his caretaker here after all? Had Fergus I begun to do things like cook stew, place homey rugs near the door, and wear perfume? Or had he taken to entertaining a companion? A female companion? Perhaps she had made the stew. Yes, that surely made more sense than Fergus I wandering around smelling like lilies and dressing his dog in sweaters. But knowing the irascible man, Christian decided that scenario was equally implausible. No. More likely a vagrant had happened by the dwelling and, finding no one home, had decided to take up residence. It wasn’t uncommon in these parts. But Christian wanted to get to the business of dispatching the drifter (male or female) posthaste.
After sliding his pistol back into his pocket, he leaned down and scooped up the little pooch. Fergus II licked him squarely upon the nose. “Thank you,” Christian said, wiping off the slobber with the back of his gloved hand. “I don’t suppose you’d be so kind as to tell me who’s here?”
The dog blinked at him and cocked his stout head to the side.
“No?” Christian rubbed the back of his neck. “Very well, then. I’ll follow you. Lead on.”
He set the short, solid dog back down and motioned for him to precede him down the corridor. The entire lodge consisted of a great room with the kitchen instruments in one corner and a sofa and two aged leather chairs near the fireplace in the other corner. A plump cushion for Fergus II sat near the sofa. There was a wooden table and four matching chairs (also made by Christian one long-ago summer) near the kitchen area. A corridor led to two small bedchambers, each populated with a feather bed, a chair, some books, and a rug. If Mr. Fergus was here, he was either outside in the snowy forest or in one of the bedchambers. The man usually slept in the small room at the back of the barn, but Christian had just come from there after seeing to his horse. That room had been empty and Fergus’s mount was gone.
“Go on, mate, show me,” Christian said. He followed the dog’s determined little trot down the corridor to Christian’s own bedchamber door. Mr. Fergus wouldn’t have any business in that room. Christian frowned. The dog placed his paw on the door and whined.
“Go on, then,” Christian prodded, his chin in his hand. Fergus II glanced back at him as if confirming his permission, then he pushed open the door slightly with his paw and trotted inside the dark room. A few moments of silence passed. The only sound was the dog’s toenails clicking against the wooden floor. A moment later, a distinctly female voice floated out into the corridor. “Why, there you are. Are you here to wake me from my nap?”
Christian’s eyes widened and his hand fell away from his chin. By God, there was a woman in his bed!