Authors: Angeline Fortin
You don’t find love
, it finds you.
It’s got a little bit to do with destiny, fate,
and what’s written in the stars.
The next morning
“My lord! I wasn’t certain if you were planning to join us for a walk after all.”
Ian turned to find Hero approaching on her father’s arm
, though he could hardly spare a glance for the fellow. His arousal flared to life, recalling that brief passionate moment the previous night, and Ian found that he couldn’t look away from the woman who had so inflamed him … not only with her body but with the acknowledgement that she didn’t view him as a close relative any more than he did her.
was a vision of summer splendor this morning. Her wide hooped skirts belled around her as she walked, almost giving the impression that she was floating toward him. The gown she had chosen was a practical choice, given the unexpected heat of the summer’s day, yet the pale blue muslin skirts wafted about her like a cloud billowing from the tiny, cinched waist. The bodice clung tightly to her torso and breasts, and the sleeves hugged her arms to the wrist. Both sleeves and bodice were detailed with mother-of-pearl buttons. It was a modest gown, yet from the peak of her breasts to her shoulders the bodice consisted of nothing more than ruched ecru chiffon that formed a deep V at the neckline. So sheer was it that Ian imagined he could see the flesh of her breasts swelling above her corset with each breath she took.
blue and ecru lace gloves, bonnet, and parasol all matched the gown, and as she stepped down from the terrace, slippers of the same peeked from beneath her skirts.
It was the word that best described her. Her smile, too, was more than heavenly as she beamed down at him, an attractive blush spreading over her cheeks. Ian felt his heart twist and his groin grow heavy as he held out his hand and she placed hers so trustingly in it. He wanted her. Kissing her the night before had been impulsive, originally meant to do little more than stop her from forcing him to acknowledge what, in truth, he already knew. The attraction between them was strong and undeniable. Body and mind, he wanted to know every part of her.
But how t
o express the power of his hunger without frightening her off? Despite her years of marriage and her provocative parting words the preceding evening, there had been an innocent vulnerability in Hero’s kiss that told him she wasn’t wholly wise in the ways of men. His burst of passion, he was certain, had startled her, though she had responded sweetly in turn.
There must be a courting
of sorts, Ian decided with an inner smile, and perhaps a seduction more subtle than pouncing on her. He would win her into his bed … but would that be enough? Ian shook his head as the question rose in his mind. Enough for what? Good God, all he was looking for was a mutually satisfying affair. Perhaps it was her very naiveté that was putting such thoughts into his head. Hero Conagham wasn’t the sort to fall into bed with a man she didn’t care for.
Would that be so bad?
Another question that Ian pushed aside, putting the blame on long, lonely nights on the battlefield, and raised her hand to his lips. Nudging up the cuff of her sleeve with his thumb, Ian pressed another kiss to the inside of her wrist. With a flare of satisfaction, he felt her pulse race beneath his lips. “Good morning, Lady Ayr. Of course I am eagerly anticipating our day. I ate an early breakfast so that I might get some work done, thereby allowing myself your uninterrupted company as reward.”
Truthfully, Ian had spent a sleepless night, riddled with sexual frustration, and he wondered if she had been left as unsatisfied by their abbreviated encounter as he. “Did you sleep well?”
I did, thank you,” she responded blithely. “The State Room is a lovely bedchamber.”
Ian inwardly groaned.
For all that Hero had given him reason to hope that she might welcome advances from him, it was clear to see that either she hadn’t a clue how strongly she affected him or she was simply too naive to appreciate the state she had left him in. There was little he could say on the matter, however, with her father by her side. “I’m sorry you were unable to resume residence in your old rooms.”
then, her eyes twinkling. “It would hardly be proper for me to inhabit the marchioness’s chambers when they are attached to your own.”
Yet I would love to have you there, so near,
Ian thought. With a rueful chuckle, he acknowledged that it was better that Hero was far removed from him at night. Such temptation so close at hand would be too much to bear. It had been hard enough to imagine her just across the hall.
ware that Hero’s father was eying him curiously, Ian turned to the duke with a bow. “Good morning, your grace. Did you sleep well?”
“Who are you?”
Beaumont asked with a frown.
“Papa, this is the marquis
. You met him yesterday when we shared his carriage,” Hero said patiently. “The Marquis of Ayr.”
“No, Papa, my husband died last year. Don’t you remember?”
The duke studied Ian intently for a moment before his brow cleared. Whatever troubles the duke held were swept from his expression, and a smile replaced the worried frown. “Did you try the porridge at breakfast, sir? I thought it was most outstanding.”
“It was, indeed, your grace.
Perhaps the finest porridge I’ve ever had,” Ian agreed. “I believe we have your daughter to thank for the fine meals served at Cuilean. She was the one who engaged the cook.”
The duke patted Hero’s hand affection
ately, leaning in to whisper
to Ian. “She’s a very clever girl.”
“Aye, she is.”
“Very pretty, too.”
Ian turned to find Hero’s cheeks blossoming a becoming shade of pink.
“Aye, she is indeed.”
“Papa, really!” Hero chided before addressing Ian.
“Pay him no mind, my lord. He’s just teasing.”
“Then I am not to agree with him?” Ian asked with raised brows.
“How can I not? You are most fetching this morning. Though perhaps pretty is not the word I would choose.”
Hero’s lips parted then before she caught her bottom lip between her teeth and Ian grinned roguishly, aware that she’d nearly taken his invitation to fish for compliments.
Instead, she blushed once more and glanced up at him from beneath her lashes. “You shouldn’t toy with me so, my lord.”
“Who’s toying?” he asked with an innocent shrug.
“You are as lovely as this glorious day. And I thought we had agreed that you would call me Ian.”
Beaumont cut in with a joyful smile. “I once had a cousin named Ian whom I liked very much. His hounds were the best I’ve ever seen.”
Ian couldn’t help but smile at the older man’s enthusiasm.
“I’m pleased to think my name rouses such happy memories, your grace. Perhaps you might help me to convince your daughter to address me as such.”
“You should, girl,” the duke said immediately.
“We don’t want to be rude. I’ll even let him call me Harry. No one’s called me Harry since I was a young lad.”
“I would be honored
, Harry.” Ian bent in a slight bow and grinned devilishly at Hero, who just rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“Papa, I shouldn’t
arry,” the duke insisted of her as well.
Really!” Hero sighed in frustration but Beaumont just crossed his arms over his burly chest and scowled at her. Hero shook her head once more in resignation. “Harry.”
Both men smiled
engagingly, and Ian held out his arm to her. Hero took it with a sigh. “You’re impossible and you shouldn’t encourage him.”
“He’s Harold Arthur Phillip Ashburn, the eighth Duke of Beaumont,” Hero said with a frown. “He comes from a long and distinguished lineage and now he’s been reduced to Harry. It’s simply wrong.”
“If it makes him happy, what i
s the matter?” Ian asked as he steered Hero across the terrace and down the long stone stairs to the lawns below while the duke trailed behind. As they moved away from the castle, Hero popped open her parasol and positioned it to keep the sun off her face.
“I guess it’s no great matter, I suppose, if he allows you to call him by his given name,” she said at length
, then added cheekily, “I should, however, prefer continuing to address him as I have my entire life.”
“Then patience, Hero,” Ian said with a
n engaging smile. “I’m sure he’ll have forgotten all about it in a few hours.”
“I suppose so.
I hope you don’t mind if Papa joins us for our walk this morning. I thought the day too lovely to be spent in the dungeons,” Hero continued as they arrived at the formal garden in the English style that spread itself on the wide expanse of lawn that stretched out on the east side of the castle. When visitors approaching from the east broke through the tree-lined drive, the vista of the gardens with their low, precise hedges and the ornate reflection pool and fountain at their center would be backdropped by the glorious castle with its towers, turrets, and wings sprawling along the cliff side. It made a mighty impression on newcomers.
“Not at all,
” Ian answered. “On both counts, you made the right choice.”
“I’ve told him so much about Cuilean over the years, I know he is anxious to see for himself,” Hero continued, as if she did not believe his assurance.
“He’d never been here before?”
No, life’s business kept my family away, and Mama preferred London to Scotland.”
And yet, you do not.” It was a simple statement but even after their long conversations the night before, he remained curious of her reasons.
Hero tilted her head in a thoughtful fashion and considered him with a smile
that settled in her eyes. “Why would I? London is filled with superficial society and frivolous endeavors. Dùn Cuilean feeds my soul. It has since the day Ayr first brought me here. I’ve never been anywhere else that I’ve felt such peace … and anticipation.”
Anticipation? Of what?” he asked curiously.
I don’t know,” she responded vaguely, adding a self-conscious shrug. “I’ve just always sensed that something is waiting to happen here. And how do you like Dùn Cuilean thus far, my lord?”
“I have been here but a month but I’ve found it to be a most pleasant place.”
“Have you a better description?”
A smile tugged at the corner of Hero’s mouth. “Many I’d consider more apt than pleasant.”
“In truth, I haven’t been here long enough to shake my awe.”
The news of his inheritance hadn’t reached Ian Conagham for several months after Robert Conagham’s death as the laird’s executer searched for him, the only surviving male heir of the line. He had finally been located in Greece, where, as an officer in the Queen’s army, Ian had been sent to fight in Crimea. The trip back had been long, taking Ian first to London to have the title conferred upon him and meet with the marquisate’s solicitors, then to Edinburgh for much of the same lauding, and finally to Dùn Cuilean just a month before.