Unexpected Heirs of Scotland series
In Regency Scotland, an explorer, a professor and a dispossessed lady find themselves the beneficiaries of unexpected inheritances taking them from gentry to noble or gaining wealth almost overnight. Everything they know in life won’t help them as they enter Edinburgh’s, and Scotland’s, highest levels of society and industry and must find their way in their new positions. If only there was someone who could help them. . . .
Joshua Robertson made his name with the amazing discovery of a buried Roman town. Now rumors of thievery and innuendo of scandals and worse about the discovery and those involved have threatened both his reputation and his work. Inheriting a minor but respected title has given him a certain amount of protect for no man would insult his honor now by raising questions about the past. But a woman might. And does.
Arabella MacGibbon watched her father’s decline and death because he was shamed and shunned as an impostor and thief. Embittered and certain that the now-Viscount of Dunalastair cheated her father and caused to his death, Arabella is determined to find proof and unmask him. Needing to get close to the man to discover his secrets, she takes advantage of an opportunity, disguises her identity and get hired as his housekeeper. It’s the perfect way to succeed in her plan.
But what happens if the truth is inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst? Can her plan succeed if Arabella discovers there’s so much more to the man and the myth than she dreamt possible?
“The household staff was quite stunned when I ordered these out of storage to replace the original ones my cousin, the previous viscount, preferred.” He watched her as he revealed the truth to her. “William lived his entire life here. He never traveled farther than Perth. And he viewed those of us who did and items we sent back dimly.”
“He did not like these?” She looked around at the patterns of the rugs and shook her head. “Did the man not have eyes, my lord?”
She must be feeling better for her words revealed a bit of spirit. Certainly, her color was better, no pale cheeks or tired eyes. Now, instead of only one errant curl, the lack of her cap and the way her hair was arranged with the curls loose in the back had him staring at her unhidden beauty.
“Eyes, aye, but some scruples against anything coming from the ‘heathen countries’ where I traveled.”
She mumbled some words under her breath and though he thought he knew what she’d said, he could only laugh at her reaction.
“Forgive my rudeness, my lord.” She met his gaze and stared at him. “I meant no insult.”
His ability to breathe stopped as he lost himself in the depths of those dark brown eyes. And in that moment, he understood that he had hired her just for the chance to possibly see her like this—standing before him not as his housekeeper but as his guest. As a woman.
“I took none, Clara.” He held out his arm. “Come, I will show you the library here. I use it as my office, too.”
He felt her touch on his arm and fought the urge to take her into his embrace. But, he walked, concentrating his thoughts on putting one foot before the other to keep them moving along the corridor. For the first time since inheriting the title and properties entailed to it, Josh wanted to show off the wealth and comfort and luxury of this place.
He reached the door he’d left open and released her before it. The indrawn breath pleased him. They entered and he waited as she walked on into the middle of the main chamber.
Josh was only a child, a lad of ten years or so, when he visited here for the first time. He had to be chased out day after day, his father complaining that he needed to leave the books behind. He had never seen so many books as this. Not at the school then, and not until the university had he seen a collection like this one. For everything about his cousin he did not like, he could not but be pleased about his penchant for collecting all manner of books.
“’Tis a wonder you ever leave this chamber,” she said as she faced him.
“Commitments in my life demand that I must.”
“Seriously, my lord, why do you not spend more time here? You have your new project that you are writing. I would think this,” she motioned to the surrounding shelves upon shelves, “would be more useful to you.”
She looked at him then, truly looked him over and her brows tightened in question. He glanced down over his clothing to make sure nothing was wrong with them—and he realized her question.
“I cannot let down the expectations of my title here. My cousin would turn in his grave if I insulted him by not presenting as is expected of the Viscount of Dunalastair.” He dressed every day he spent here in the finery a viscount should wear.
“But you do not do that at your house in Edinburgh.”
“Ah, so you have noticed.”
She began to say something, but he held up his hand to stop her and walked to the bell pull. When the butler answered the call himself, Josh ordered tea and coffee and then offered her a seat on one of the couches that were arranged around the large chamber.
“I cannot sit, my lord,” Clara said. “I have overstepped myself and my place already.” She gathered her hands before her and smiled. “As I told you in the carriage, I would begin my duties here, learning this household, after some rest. I have had that rest now and—”
“My lord,” Pirrie called out as he entered, leading the footman in carrying their repast. He paused as Donald walked past to place the tray on the table between two of the couches. “Mrs. Lewis, I have not had the pleasure of welcoming you to Dunalastair Manor. I hope your stay is a good one.”
Josh saw the surprise flood her at the warm words from his butler. So very different from the way Pottles had spoken to her.
“Mr. Pirrie, I—” She stopped and he could see that she was trying to decide whether to expose herself as a member of his staff or to remain simply a guest. “I thank you. My stay and care has been wonderful so far.”
“Please send word to me or Mrs. Lyle, our housekeeper, if there is anything you need.” The butler nodded at her and then walked to the door. After Donald finished placing the cups and pots and the accompaniments, the two bowed and turned to leave.
“Would you pour, Clara?” he asked, sitting on one of the couches.
Though she looked ready to begin disagreeing with him over her position here, she nodded and sat to prepare him a cup.
“Coffee or tea, my lord?” she asked as she lifted one of the cups.
“My name is Joshua.”
“I ken that, my lord.” She lowered the cup.
“Could you not call me by name. When you are my guest and not my housekeeper? When alone with me?”
“You are the Viscount of Dunalastair at all times, my lord, and I would not insult the dignity of your title, or you, by calling you otherwise. Whether alone or with others, you are the viscount.” She paused and let out a shaky breath. He smiled at that. “Coffee or tea, my lord.”
“Coffee, please.” He relented, for now. “It seems to help my headache leftover from the injury.” He was about to say milk and lots of sugar, but she added both, in the amounts he liked without him saying so. “Now, please help yourself and sit.”
She’d stood up to bring him his cup and now remained standing as though making a decision. So, he pushed her a bit in the direction he wanted her to go.
“I found the carpets on the stairs and in the foyer at a market in Ottoman Turkey. The colors have faded a bit but are still strong.” She poured some tea, with but a splash of milk and sprinkle of sugar, and then when he raised an eyebrow at her, she sat on the very edge of the couch opposite of him.
“These have faded? The colors are pristine, my lord.” He would continue to work on that, for he wanted to hear his name on her lips.
“I brought or sent back a dozen. Bought in the markets of Marrakesh, Algiers, Egypt, Turkey, Persia and more. The ones in my chamber and several others in the upper hallways get little use so they are still closest to their original condition and colors. I can show them to you while you are here.”
“About that, my lord,” she began, placing her yet-untouched cup on the table. “I am recovered. We can return to Edinburgh whenever you are ready.”
He drank the last of his coffee before speaking. He had a way to entice her to remain here, with him, but would it work?
“’Tis clear I have missed something in my review of the papers and records from my journey to Timgad all those years ago. At least the ones I keep in Edinburgh.”
“My lord?” Clara sat up a bit straighter, if that was possible, and watched him closely.
“Most of my records and files from the journey and writing the manuscript are stored here. I’ve not done a thorough review since these attacks last happened.”
“So, you will remain to do that here?”
“I will. Since it is remote and we probably were not followed, it gives me time to work on it openly.”
“Then I will simply be a distraction and I should return—"
“You could be that and go back,” he said, meeting her surprised gaze. “Or you could be of help to me?”
He could not count the number of emotions that flashed across her face in the moments after his offer—shock, fear, joy, and something that resembled hope all flitted over her features. Then she blinked several times and her expression emptied, giving him no clue. Some kind of conflict was happening within her over this—her prolonged silence and lack of response told him that much.
“I mean no disrespect, Clara. And if you preferred it, I will have you taken back to Edinburgh once the danger is over.” He stood up and walked to her. Crouching down to meet her eyes, he smiled. “Truly, coming here, in the manner we did, was to protect you and allow you time to heal. If you would be more comfortable elsewhere, at my godmother’s perhaps, I will make arrangements.”
Her hand lifted and for a moment he thought she meant to touch his face. He remembered the feel of her caresses when he was injured, and he almost closed his eyes waiting for it. She dropped her hand to her lap and shook her head.
“Amid the warm welcome and care here, I forgot about the danger, my lord. I do not wish to stay with the countess though.”
As she studied his face, she tilted her head and he saw that lifting corner of her mouth and wanted to kiss it. Kiss her. Take her in his arms. Stroke her skin and taste his way along the length and breadth of her. Peel off every layer of clothing she wore and take all the pins from her hair, until she stood, or laid, before him in all her glory. His body’s reaction forced him to stand or his hardened flesh would be very apparent before her. As he did, she stood, too.
“I w-would like to help you, my lord.” He’d never seen her hesitate in anything, so this was startling and exposed a vulnerability he’d not seen before.
She walked away from him, circling the couch and approaching the nearest of the tall bookcases. Sliding her hand over one row of the books, he wished she was touching him with that gentle caress. He held his breath, imagining how her hand would feel on the erection that instead now pressed against his trousers.
“I ken how to read, my lord. But—” She met his gaze then, facing him, framed by the luxuries of this library and its carved mahogany shelves, crystal chandeliers and collection of priceless arts. “I do not ken how to do what you do, my lord. I do not ken history or archeology or other studies. I did not go to university or school as you have.”
Josh walked to her. He wanted her to be part of this, part of discovering what he’d missed.
“I think your fresh view might see something my old eyes have missed in all these years of reviewing them.”
“Old, my lord?” As that corner of her mouth lifted, he understood she would stay. “Ah. I can see the gray hairs growing in as we speak.” She reached out and touched his temples. “And certainly, there.” Her fingers grazed his hair, the lightest touch and yet his body turned to fire from it.
He could blame it on many things in his life—his single-focused need to remain in charge of his life, his refusal to immediately acquiesce to the demands to marry and never finding a woman who interested or intrigued him. But, the truth was that he’d never realized most of that until Mrs. Clara Lewis walked into his house and his life.
Oh, there had been a few short-lived relationships along the way, and many amorous or physical adventures in his travels, but he’d never considered any of the women or arrangements permanent.
Now? Now he’d barely had a minute when he had not thought about this woman since she’d entered his life weeks ago, no matter the folly of it. For considering her for any other place in his life other than his housekeeper or his mistress would be an affront to the title he held. And though the housekeeper was honorable enough, asking her to share his bed without a commitment was an insult to her.
His body renewed its demands as she moved closer to him, her fingers threading through his hair, mimicking his own habit but feeling much so much better. His nostrils flared, taking in her scent, and it fueled his need to touch her.
“Not so old,” he said.
Josh wrapped his arms around her and drew her to him, smiling as she kept hold of him. He held her, just held her, feeling her own restraint and not wanting to push his desires on her. Now that she would stay, there was time. When his body urged him on, he resisted, glad that he’d done so when a knock came on the library door. Clara released him and he turned towards the door, taking a long step away from her.