To Marry a Highland Marauder
Heart of a Scot Book 7
Fate can always lead you to what’s right… If you let it…
Bethea Glanville needs a hero. Only she never thought it would be Camden Kennedy. The man is an infuriating—and entirely too attractive—rogue. But when an outrageous comedy of errors throws them illicitly together, the only way to salvage her reputation is to announce her betrothal…to Camden. This could not possibly go well…
Camden was trying to catch a spy, not a wife. But when Bethea is accidentally ensnared in his mission for the Crown, a marriage of convenience is the only protection he can offer. The only question now is whether he’ll be able to let her go when she inevitably demands the annulment he promised her…
Can a marriage that began all wrong ever become something real and right? There’s only one way for Bethea and Camden to find out…
Spies. Secrets. Seduction. This tantalizing marriage of convenience Scottish historical will have you guessing what fate has in store next for Bethea and Camden.
If you love reading romantic, page-turning Scottish Historical love stories brimming with mystery and suspense, a dash of humor, and alpha male Highlanders, then you’ll adore the intriguing HEART OF A SCOT Series. Buy TO MARRY A HIGHLAND MARAUDER and be prepared to stay up late reading a rousing Highland adventure you can’t put down.
InD’Tale Magazine Crown of Excellence ★★★★★ Review
“…fans will swoon and read over and over again.”
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“This has suspense, twists, wonderful main and secondary character’s.” ★★★★★ ~NavyWave62
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Earl of Montieth’s Ball
21 March 1721
Peeking around a Grecian column, Bethea Glanville warily scanned the illustrious assemblage. Elaborately attired, self-important gentlemen and ladies dripping in satin, velvet, every manner of jewel imaginable, and gasp-worthy towering wigs, packed the breathtaking, but overly-crowded ballroom.
One grande dame required two attendants, one on either side, to guide her around. Her pink ribbon-adorned white wig contained a birdcage—complete with a live and petrified looking canary. She could scarcely move her head lest the creation either topple from her head or send her tumbling ample bosom over abundant bum.
Bethea couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if the bird needed to relieve its wee self, and despite the direness of her situation, a naughty grin momentarily twitched her mouth.
Until now, she’d never considered herself a coward. She enjoyed challenges, meeting new people, and experiencing new things. Yet the past fortnight, she’d done her utmost to avoid an amorous lord’s wholly unwanted attentions.
Only now, she had begun skulking behind potted greeneries, diving into curtained alcoves, and made so many excuses to seek the lady’s retiring room that people might’ve begun pondering if a health condition plagued her.
Odin’s gnarly teeth. How had she ever thought this was what she wanted?
How many times had she and her sister, Branwen, complained to their guardian, Keane Buchannan, Duke of Roxdale, that he was too strict and protective? That they longed to attend elaborate fetes and soirees such as this very ball? That at one and twenty, she was of marriageable age, and she wanted to fall in love, marry, and have children?
Well, not precisely this minute or week or month even, but in due course.
In truth, Bethea thoroughly enjoyed the dancing and the gaiety. The musical performances, teas, and all the rest were exhausting but exciting, nonetheless. Though she wasn’t the belle of any ball, enough gentlemen had asked her to dance and otherwise paid her pretty compliments that she had a grand time thus far.
When noxious David Talbot, Earl of Montieth, wasn’t following her, sniffing about her skirts, that was. Rarely—never before, in truth— had she met anyone as off-putting and as persistent as the earl. He was worse than a ratty terrier after a meaty bone.
Pursing her mouth at the thought, Bethea stood on her tiptoes, craning her neck to see over the milling merrymakers and dancers. Tonight’s assembled were some of the most extravagant she’d seen, and she couldn’t help but be slightly impressed at the earl’s scope of influence—even if she intensely disliked the man himself.
Where are they?
She gripped the column tighter, scrutinizing the undulating crowd which seemed to have swallowed her sister, Keane, and his lovely new wife, Marjorie.
Wait. Squinting, Bethea arched even higher on her toes. Is that…? For an elated instant, she hoped she’d spotted a familiar raven head, shoulders above the milling assemblage.
Was Camden Kennedy here?
The notion caused a little thrill of excitement to rush through her, immediately followed by her knitting her eyebrows together into a perplexed vee.
Odd, but neither Keane nor Marjorie had mentioned Camden—one of her first husband’s brothers—was even in Edinburgh, let alone expected here tonight.
In a blink, the throng shifted, obstructing whoever the man was from her avid view. Inexplicable disappointment swept Bethea. She’d very much wanted him to be Camden Kennedy.
Standing well over six feet, all brawn and muscle, but with a perpetual twinkle in his vivid blue eyes, Camden would’ve kept her safe from Montieth. Now there was a man she could trust not to impose himself on her. Not once in the times that she’d encountered Camden had he stepped beyond the mark in word or action.
A practiced flirt possessing a disarming wit, he usually made her laugh, too.
The heavy-treaded, unsteady clickety-clop, clickety-clop announced the Earl of Montieth’s approach before she smelled the perpetually malodorous man.
Daring another peek, she stifled a distressed gasp.
Drat, drat, and double drat-damn.
The very man she’d managed to avoid the past hour toddled toward her on ridiculously embellished blue and silver high-heeled shoes, perspiration profusely beading the wide expanse of his brow and upper lip. His ridiculously curled wig brushed his shoulders, and she strongly suspected a number of vermin made the wig their home. The engraved, shiny silver buttons fastened across his stomach strained to contain his corpulence.
By all the saints, if he sneezed, the fastenings would become lethal projectiles.
Her mouth quivered again at the image of the prestigious guests in attendance laid out flat by flying buttons.
Her mirth, however, was short-lived.
The Earl of Monteith, and her host for this evening, had found her. Again. The nobleman was persistent, if nothing else. No amount of politely discouraging the middling-aged man’s attentions deterred him from his pointed pursuit of her since her family had arrived in Edinburgh.
Tattle had it, he was in the market for a countess, and apparently, he’d set his bleary, dumpling-eyed sights on her. Bethea had done nothing to encourage his interest, and the more she attempted to put him off, the more determined he had become to seek her out. Like a great perspiring and smelly hound on the scent.
If he hadn’t already, she truly feared Montieth meant to ask Keane for her hand.
God save her from such a horrific fate.
A shudder rippled up her spine, spreading out in prickly waves across her shoulders and tingling her scalp. The very notion made the small midday meal she’d consumed threaten to reappear.
Swallowing, Bethea pressed a hand to her middle, willing the queasiness roiling there to abate.
Keane wouldn’t betroth her without telling her.
She had no doubt of that, and Marjorie well knew Bethea and Branwen desired a love-match. A widowed Englishwoman, Marjorie had become the older sister Bethea had never had, and both she and Branwen had confided their dreams and fears to her.
A curious, rather austere, lady caught her peeping around the column, and Bethea couldn’t resist a mischievous little finger wave. When the woman promptly elevated her reedy nose and turned her back in a direct snub, Bethea chuckled. Only since arriving in Edinburgh and experiencing the—ah—flamboyant and—ah—interesting persons of elevated station, had this peculiar bend toward precociousness overcome her.
Standing on her toes again, Bethea desperately searched the room for Branwen, Keane, or Marjorie. She didn’t know anyone else well enough to approach them. If only that had been Camden Kennedy. In truth, she shouldn’t be hiding here alone. There were those only too eager to cast aspersions on something as innocent as an unchaperoned lass.
And I was so eager to experience High Society.
Bethea huffed a rude noise beneath her breath, not daring to voice the unladylike oath she wasn’t even supposed to know, let alone utter.
Bent on a hasty retreat, she gathered the iridescent silver and lavender of her satin gown in her gloved hands. She might very well heave decorum aside and cause a scandal, by hiking her skirts to her knees and sprinting across the room. Anything to avoid Montieth.
How she wished she was back at Trentwick Castle in the Highlands, right now. Boredom was, indeed, preferable to hiding at every event and dreading an unwanted proposal.
She cast another desperate glance about the ballroom.
Praise the heavens.
There Marjorie was. Her fiery red tresses were a much welcome, glowing beacon.
“Miss Glanville,” the earl puffed breathlessly, from several paces away.
Och, hell in a basket.
Determined to avoid a dance as unpleasant as the one she’d suffered through at the Cavendishs’ two nights ago, Bethea pretended not to hear him. His fetid scent had compelled her to hold her breath each time the reel’s steps forced them together. Without glancing behind her, she dove into the throng, winding her way through the guests.
Several people smiled or inclined their heads—two or three gentlemen quite lecherously—but mindful of Marjorie’s instruction, Bethea maintained an air of genial indifference as she swiftly wove through the colorful tapestry of people. The instinct to run, to put as much distance as possible between herself and the Earl of Montieth, thrummed through her.
Nevertheless, she kept her pace brisk, yet modulated.
“At all times present yourselves as polite and approachable, but not eager or forward,” Marjorie had counseled her and Branwen when Keane had, at last, conceded to present them in Edinburgh. “A young lady must act agreeable without seeming overly-friendly toward any gentlemen. A very fine line exists between politesse and what some consider fast or impudent behavior,” Marjorie had solemnly advised.
No doubt, naughtily waving at a busybody fell into the latter category.
So many ridiculous rules to observe, half of which, Marjorie and Keane dolefully acknowledged, changed on a whim.
Be reserved, but not austere.
Smile, but not coyly.
Exemplify graciousness, but do not encourage or tolerate scandalous behavior.
And on and on and on went the list of strictures and expectations. How could anyone possibly be themselves?
No wonder Keane hadn’t been enthusiastic about toting them to Edinburgh and enduring the social scene. A constant, unnerving undercurrent hummed beneath the outward facades of geniality, and Bethea had already learned not to take anyone at their word.
Pulse high and breathing erratic from the discomfiture the Earl of Montieth always roused, Bethea tried not to draw undue attention as she slowed her steps to a sedate pace and approached Marjorie.
Attired in a stunning sea-green gown that set off her bronze hair to perfection, she chatted with a trio of attractive ladies. Marjorie spied her, and producing a welcoming smile, she extended her hand and drew Bethea near. Her treacle-brown gaze gravitated past Bethea, and flexing the merest bit, comprehension dawned in the depths of her eyes.
Perfect. Just as Bethea had hoped.
Aye, Keane had made a brilliant choice in selecting this exceptional woman for his duchess. Not only was she warm and loving, but her two adorable daughters had brought much laughter to the keep.
“Your sister is dancing at the moment,” Marjorie said, in her lilting English accent, one eye trained on Montieth’s laborious progress. “And Keane excused himself a few minutes ago and left the ballroom with Mr. Frederick Rickerson and the Marquis of Pennsworth.” Jollity shone in her eyes. “They claimed they had important business to discuss.”
One of the other women, a petite brunette with a shy smile, chuckled and arched an eyebrow. Lady Abagail Fitzpatrick, if Bethea recalled correctly. “Which means, they stole off to have a stiff drink. No doubt to congratulate Roxdale for having the good sense to marry you, Your Grace.”
Before Marjorie had a chance to introduce Bethea to the other pair, Montieth was upon them. Except for Marjorie, the ladies dipped into perfunctory curtsies, though she angled her head. She outranked him, but nonetheless curved her mouth into a gracious smile. Her nose only twitched the merest bit as his overpowering stench wafted near.
Bethea wouldn’t even permit her imagination to conjure up an image of what bedding him would entail. You needn’t fear on that account, she reminded herself. Keane would never consent to such a match.
She bit her lower lip, traitorous uncertainty pricking her.
He was most determined to improve the duchy’s standing a reputation, and if one of his wards were to marry a powerful earl…
Nae. I shallna think of it.
Lady Fitzpatrick promptly snapped her fan open and went about creating a vigorous breeze as the other two women surreptitiously stepped backward a few paces. It said much about Montieth’s sphere of influence that so many guests graced his ballroom, despite his hygiene issue.
Did Montieth truly have no knowledge of how offensive his body odor was?
Perhaps he had an unfortunate condition that caused the malodorousness.
Why else would he not address the embarrassing matter?
“Yer Grace, might I call upon ye and his grace tomorrow afternoon?” Montieth half-wheezed, sending Bethea a sly look from beneath his heavily hooded gaze. His smile crinkled the fleshy, wrinkled pouches, drooping beneath his eyes. “I have a matter of some import I wish to discuss with him. A matter I’m confident he’ll be amenable to.”
Good God! Nae.
Bethea’s heart stopped beating before plummeting straight to her lavender silk shoes. Her throat went dry as hot sand, and an icy chill swamped her.
It was just as she’d feared.
He intended to ask Keane for her hand in marriage.
Marjorie still held her hand, and Bethea squeezed hard, sending a silent, panicked message.
Montieth had some nerve, cornering Marjorie when others were present, thereby making the refusal of his request more awkward. The boor should’ve sent a card around requesting an audience. However, Bethea had learned another thing about Montieth: no one’s opinion of him exceeded his own.
Please say nae. Please say nae, she mentally chanted, hoping her eyes didn’t reveal her absolute desperation. The fact that every ounce of blood in her body had drained to her toes wouldn’t give her away either.
“I regret we shan’t be home tomorrow,” Marjorie said coolly with the perfect combination of solicitousness and inflexibility. And praise the saints, she didn’t offer an explanation as to where they would be, for the earl was brazen enough to put in an appearance.
Marjorie serenely scanned the ballroom before returning her attention to him. “I see this set has ended, my lord, and my husband’s other ward is searching for us. I take my role as chaperone very seriously and must make my way to her, your lordship. Please excuse us.”
A tinge of steel threaded her last words.
With a cordial nod to the ladies, each of their expressions schooled into blandness but a knowing glint in their eyes, she led Bethea away.
“Has he been pestering you, Bethea?” Marjorie asked beneath her breath as they fell into step, putting several feet between themselves and the pungent earl.
“Aye, and I can scarcely relax and enjoy myself. I’ve taken to hidin’ or lurkin’ in shadows. Montieth makes my skin crawl.” Bethea extracted her hand and then fitted it into Marjorie’s bent arm. “I fear he means to propose, and I canna abide him, Marjorie.” A note of anxiousness crept into her voice. “Keane wouldna—”
“Lord have mercy, no.” Marjorie gave a vigorous shake of her head. “Never think it, my dear. He thinks Montieth’s a sweaty toad, but the earl does have valuable connections. We’ll need to put Montieth off without offending him. I’ve already extracted a promise from Keane that you and Branwen will have your choice of husbands.”
“Have I told ye how glad I am Keane married ye?” Bethea pressed nearer to Marjorie’s side, a wide grin arcing her mouth. “I didna ken how we managed without ye before.”
Marjorie squeezed her arm. “And I’m delighted he has wards who could be the younger sisters I never had.”
They were upon Branwen now, resplendent in midnight blue and white. Her stance uneven, she offered a pained smile. “I fear my last partner trod upon my feet so many times, my toes are severely bruised. I believe I’ll rest for a few minutes in the ladies’ retirin’ room. Hopefully, puttin’ my feet up will do the trick.”
“I’ll go with ye,” Bethea offered, seizing the excuse to help her sister and avoid Montieth.
Marjorie nodded. “I’ll let Keane know.”
“Ah, there you are, Marjorie.” A pretty, plump woman with light brown hair and a radiant smile approached. “I’ve been searching for you all evening.” Her curious gaze gravitated to Bethea and her sister. “And these must be Keane’s wards.”
“Anna, I didn’t know you were in Scotland,” Marjorie bussed her cheek. “Yes, this is Bethea.” She indicated Bethea with a sweep of her hand. “And Branwen Glanville. Girls, this is Anna Buchannan Hawthorne. She’s actually a second or third cousin to Keane. We were girlhood friends.”
Anna laughed, a merry twinkle in her pale brown eyes. “Well, my branch of the family rarely ventured north of the border, and that’s why I’ve never met you in all this time.”
“’Tis a pleasure,” Bethea greeted. “How wonderful that ye were friends, and now ye’re cousins.”
“Indeed,” Branwen agreed, shifting on her feet and grimacing slightly.
She truly was uncomfortable.
Marjorie linked her elbow with Anna’s. “The girls were just on their way to the retiring room, but why don’t we find a quiet corner and catch up?”
“A splendid idea,” Anna agreed. “Ten years is far too long.”
“I’ll come for you in a half an hour,” Marjorie told Bethea and Branwen before turning away, her coppery head bent to hear what Anna was saying.
Bethea promptly wrapped an arm around Branwen’s waist and slowly guided her slightly taller sister from the ballroom. Though Branwen put on a brave face, her pinched lips and occasional flinches revealed the state of her damaged feet.
Ladies ought to be warned of Lord Hurstwood’s proclivity to mash his partners’ feet.
“Ye poor darlin’,” Bethea murmured as they entered the corridor.
“Lord Hurstwood is an exuberant dance partner, and I vow he tromped upon my toes a score of times.” Branwen winced again, and a small gasp escaped her.
Lord Hurstwood was no small man, either. Not given to corpulence like Montieth, Hurstwood was nonetheless a thick, stocky sort an inch or two over six feet.
Alarm spiked in Bethea.
Just how badly injured were Branwen’s feet?
Bethea’s scalp tingled, and she had the unmistakable sensation that someone watched her. As she turned the corner, she cut a swift glance along the passage. Her flesh puckered when she spotted the Earl of Montieth, his bulbous form framed in the ballroom’s entrance, staring at her with unfettered lust upon his fleshy face.
A sly smile curved his full mouth, and he boldly winked.
Just as she jerked her focus away, Camden Kennedy’s massive form appeared behind the earl. He looked straight at her, and a scintillating current sparked between them.
He is here.
When had he arrived?
And more mystifying, why hadn’t he sought her family out?