Minuet at Midnight
Chronicles of the Westbrook Brides, Book 4
Just because they could get married doesn’t necessarily mean they should…
All Lord Leonidas Westbrook wanted was a new adventure in Greece. Saving a pretty lass from abduction was not on his itinerary. In fact, doing so made him miss the tide and ruined all his plans. But regardless, he knew helping the woman was the right thing to do. He never imagined he’d end up proposing a marriage of convenience…or that he’d fall for her. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened…
Primrose McKessick fled Scotland to avoid an arranged marriage. It worked, too. Until she was almost kidnapped, that is. After all she’d been through, having to accept help from the handsome Leonidas was bad enough. But accepting his unconventional proposal? That was madness. Especially if she hoped to escape this misadventure with her heart intact…
Choosing each other—and happily ever after—might cost Leonidas and Primrose their life-long dreams. Is their fledgling relationship strong enough to survive their differences? Or are these opposites destined to go their separate ways?
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See What Readers Are Saying
★★★★★ “Okay, this book actually made me cry when it got close to the end. It’s been so long since a book has brought that out in me, but one scene between Leonidas and Primrose touched my heart to the point where it brought tears. A good book will make you laugh; a great book will make you cry.” ~ K. Hudecek
★★★★★ “Ms. Cameron has woven a heartwarming story that combines love, class differences, adventure, and horrid villains. The classic, quirky Cameron banter and dialogue will have you laughing out loud and enjoying every moment of the book. I cannot wait for the next book and more family intrigue!!” ~ Terrie
★★★★★ “I didn’t realize how connected I had become to Primrose and Leonidas until I found myself crying in the third act.” ~ Sandra W.
★★★★★ “Of course the tale leads to a happy ever after ending, but the journey there makes a superbly entertaining read and absolutely worth its five stars.” ~ Fiona Murphy
★★★★★”Collette weaves such a case of quirky characters with great dynamics and witty introspective dialogue. And the comparison to dogs is so funny, I just loved how she relates the people to different dog types.” ~ Tina Ullrich
★★★★★ “I enjoyed this story from page one and couldn’t put it down. I read the book in one sitting. That is rare for me. I loved everything about it from the sweet heroine to her handsome rescuer. I can’t remember when two characters seemed more suited to each other. It’s my favorite in this series so far and I will be excitedly waiting the next because they only get better!” ~ Linda G. Martin
★★★★★ “I love the Westbrook family and this story does not disappoint! The ending was truly swoon-worthy and heart wrenching. Unapologetically, tears may have been shed, giggles spouted and sighs aplenty!(from the reader!)” ~ Pat Robinson
★★★★★ “What a great story of recognizing love as it develops and understanding all that one is capable of giving up for the one we love.” ~ Ghazal
★★★★★ “The story flowed effortlessly & I devoured this utterly charming romance in a sitting. I just love the Westbrook family.” ~ Janet
★★★★★ “Wonderful characters, excellent story and romance all wrapped in one.” ~ Lisa C.
★★★★★ “This was a wonderful, clean, sweet story with some twists and turns.” ~ Marilyn
★★★★★ “A fabulous story of knight in shining armor to friend to lover. Add in Ms. Cameron’s quirky sense of humor and it’s a 5+ star read.” ~ Dee
~ Excerpt ~
West India Docks
May 1827 – Late afternoon
Long shadows stretched their wispy, slightly eerie fingers along the bustling wharf as the surprisingly clean and well-maintained hackney rumbled over the sturdy pier. Sailors, laborers, merchants, and others scurried here and there, dashing in front of carts or maneuvering their way around laden wagons, crates, and barrels.
After over a week of hard traveling and constantly looking over her shoulder, Primrose McKessick had reached her destination. Safe at last, she exhaled a long, shaky breath.
Today was the beginning of her new life—a much better life, she prayed.
Sulky clouds hung low in the sky, promising more rain.
What was a little rain to a Scot?
Accustomed to the dock’s commotion, mangy dogs and scraggly cats darted between stacked goods and vehicle wheels. Bedraggled street urchins with hungry eyes and gaunt faces covertly searched for an easy pocket to pick, and what Primrose suspected were prostitutes hawking their wares flirted outrageously with any man who passed them.
The hired hack proved no protection from the busy pier’s hubbub and din or the tangy air, tinged with sea and sewage, assailing her nostrils.
Primrose scanned the crumpled, short, rather sloppily written letter from her great maternal aunt as she’d done at least a hundred times in the past ten days as she raced from the Highlands to London.
The instructions were clear.
Meet Aunt Rhodesia Shenton-Wayford at West India Docks on the second of May at half-four to board the sailing vessel Sea Queen for an extended holiday in Italy as her paid companion.
Thank God for Aunt Rhodesia’s benevolence and kindness and the fortuitous timing of her trip. The poor dear had penned the letter to Primrose as Aunt Rhodesia recovered from a sprained wrist resulting from a tumble over a footstool.
Had Aunt Rhodesia not extended the offer, Primrose might have found herself on the street or forced to become the third wife of feudal baron Wallace MacLerie, Baron of Glentorquith.
Lyster McKessick arranged the marriage of convenience after accepting MacLerie’s two-hundred-pound bribe and informing Primrose she could no longer live or work at his establishment. Never a loving father, his cold dispassion as he kicked her to the curb still took her aback, nonetheless.
Primrose wrinkled her nose and pursed her lips.
She’d been bought and paid for like a pair of plow horses and given no choice about the match.
Had Lyster truly believed she’d comply without a fight?
Primrose wasn’t the quiet, docile, defeated woman Mama had become. No indeed. She’d have joined the Black Tinkers roaming Scotland and lived a gypsy’s life before submitting to his drunken demands.
Sagging against the charcoal-gray squabs, Primrose permitted an exuberant smile as she roved her gaze over the two tattered and stuffed valises across from her. They contained all that she owned in the world. Perhaps not much by some people’s standards, but plenty for her to start over in England.
For as long as she drew breath, she never intended to return to her homeland.
There was no reason to now, in any event.
Not only had she fooled the man the world falsely believed was her father—Mama had told Primrose the ugly truth at the tender age of five to explain McKessick’s ongoing cruelty—but she’d also finally escaped MacLerie’s lustful clutches.
And now, Primrose was to set off on a grand adventure, the likes of which she’d never have dared to dream.
Perhaps Mama was right.
Every cloud contained a silver lining—if you but looked for it.
Gulls’ raucous cries interrupted her introspection and dragged her back to the present.
Spain. Italy. Greece.
Six months of traveling—something she’d always yearned to do but never hoped to experience. Seeing exotic places. Eating unfamiliar food. Enjoying unusual customs. Surely McKessick and MacLerie would’ve given up searching for her by then—if they even bothered to in the first place.
A lazy skellum, McKessick probably wouldn’t inconvenience himself.
MacLerie, on the other hand, very well might.
Accustomed to using intimidation and bribery to get his way, the man didn’t take no for an answer. That’s why she had traveled under the plain, unremarkable, and forgettable assumed name of Joane Porter.
Primrose might only be two inches over five feet tall, but she possessed spirit.
Mama always said so.
“Primrose Crystabel Faye, how does such a small form contain so much fortitude, resilience, and tenacity, my darling girl?”
Hadn’t Primrose managed to outsmart those two tosspots?
Indeed, she had, though she could well imagine their rage at having been thwarted.
She winced at the thought, a chill racing up her spine and leaving goose pimples on her arms. With a gossamer-thin grasp on sanity and given to blood-curdling threats and malevolent violence, McKessick and MacLerie were men she hoped never to encounter again.
Primrose’s earlier exuberance flitted away as the other reason for her hasty, secretive departure from her birthplace forced its ugly head into her gleeful musings.
Last month, the frail body of her only surviving sibling, dear, sweet, sickly Oleander, finally succumbed to the myriad of ailments that had plagued him since his birth twelve years ago. She’d nursed him to the best of her ability, but it hadn’t been enough. His death sent Lyster into a drunken binge, leaving Primrose to make the burial arrangements.
Oleander died a mere three months after Mama passed while giving birth to yet another stillborn child. In all, Rosmund Tierney McKessick, the once-pampered youngest daughter of an English viscount, had suffered six miscarriages and three stillbirths.
Every instance since she turned ten, Primrose had assisted Mama with the aftermath, begging her to stay in bed and rest so her worn-out body could recover.
Usually soused to the gills by noon, Lyster—the inconsiderate, worse-than-a-rutting-bull brute—would rage and swear at poor Mama for failing him once more. Before her body could recover, he’d be on her again like flies on a carcass. Inconsiderate beast. The tippler blamed her for losing the other children and resented Primrose’s health and vigor.
Sudden grief-born tears welled in her eyes, but she blinked them away with furious determination.
Today was a day to celebrate, not mourn. She would never again feel Lyster’s hand upon her cheek, wrenching her arm, or yanking her hair. Never again would she suffer his foul curses and raving rants bordering on lunacy.
And, praise God and all the saints, never again would she have to suffer MacLerie’s accidental caresses and lecherous ogling while she served him in The Quacking Dog, Lyster’s tavern and inn, where she’d labored for free since she could lift a broom and wipe a table.
The inn was supposed to have been named The Quaking Dog—more of Lyster’s perverse humor—but the painter misspelled the word, and the unfortunate name had stuck, even after Lyster had ripped the sign down and stomped it to pieces.
He hadn’t paid her for her labor, but Primrose had saved and hidden the tips secretly slipped to her by sympathetic patrons over the years. Those carefully secreted away coins had made this escape possible. She’d chosen to use these unforeseen circumstances to forge what she hoped would be a happy future.
Attitude and outlook are everything, Mama used to admonish softly.
Both the youngest children of nobles, Mama had remained good, sweet, and kind while Lyster embodied all that was selfish, abhorrent, and foul in humanity.
The hack slowed to a rocky stop, and the vehicle bounced as the lanky driver descended.
Primrose’s stomach pitched from excitement and nerves. She’d barely tucked the letter into her reticule and adjusted her plain straw bonnet when the door swung open.
“Here you are, miss.”
His lean face creased into a toothy smile, reminding her of the brown hares hopping through the fields at home. The jarvey extended his hand, treating Primrose like a proper lady instead of the by-blow of the married lord who’d raped her mother over two decades ago.
Mama never told Primrose who her father was, only that he’d been older, married, and taken her virtue by force. Oh, and that he’d died from a wound received on the field of honor a couple of years later after despoiling a duke’s daughter.
No one in Mama’s family had protected her honor as fervently as that unnamed duke had defended his daughter’s, hence Mama’s hasty and reluctant marriage to Lyster—the only man who would have her.
His copper-brown eyes alight with kindness, the driver assisted Primrose from the conveyance before reaching inside, retrieving her bags, and setting them near her dusty and worn half boots.
“The ship be just yonder.” He angled his bony chin toward a majestic vessel with her crew busily preparing for departure.
“Thank you.” She arched her spine, stiff from so many days of sitting.
A small frisson of uncertainty trailed across her shoulders.
Where was Aunt Rhodesia?
A frown furrowed the driver’s high forehead.
“Ain’t no one meetin’ ye?”