Beguiled, p.1

Beguiled, page 1

 

Beguiled
 


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Beguiled


  PRAISE FOR NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR ARNETTE LAMB

  BETRAYED

  “Arnette Lamb has done it again! I so enjoyed Betrayed . . . can’t wait to sell it. Sarah and Michael’s story was delightful.”

  —Merry Cutler, Annie’s Book Stop

  “Arnette Lamb has written a touching, humorous, and memorable story. A definite MUST read.”

  —Karen Wantz, Willow Tree Books

  “Arnette Lamb has established herself as a bestselling author. Our customers will be clamoring for the books in the MacKenzie trilogy.”

  —Sharon Kosick, Annie’s Book Stop

  MAIDEN OF INVERNESS

  “With the depth of emotion, unforgettable characters and love of the Highlands that have made Arnette Lamb’s romances ‘keepers’ comes this utterly enthralling tale. . . . Here is a real treasure!”

  —Kathe Robin, Romantic Times

  “With her usual style, Lamb vividly evokes a time and a place and then peoples it with almost palpable characters. . . . Lamb’s sense of humor is here, too, with Revas as incorrigible and witty as any of her previous much-loved heroes.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “What a book! Arnette Lamb has to be one of the best writers of our time. No one can write a book on Scotland like Arnette can.”

  —Adene Beal, House of Books

  CHIEFTAIN

  “Powerful, emotionally intense, sexually charged, Chieftain typifies Arnette Lamb’s storytelling talents.”

  —Kathe Robin, Romantic Times

  “Excellently written and powerfully moving. . . . All-in-all, another superb read from the pen of a master storyteller.”

  —Harriet Klausner, Affaire de Coeur

  BORDER BRIDE

  “Vintage Arnette Lamb. This irresistible tale warms your heart, tickles your funny bone, and delights your senses.”

  —Kathe Robin, Romantic Times

  “Deep and sensuous . . . sexually stimulating and very fast-paced. Its theme is love heals the human heart. You will bask in its afterglow.”

  —Rendezvous

  BORDER LORD

  “All that a historical romance should be: fast-paced, funny and hot-blooded . . . one of the best of the year.”

  —Detroit Free Press

  “An excellent tale of high adventure Ms. Lamb has written a choice story filled with humor and a special understanding of human motivation and love.”

  —Sherrilyn Kenyon, Affaire de Coeur

  Thank you for downloading this Pocket Star Books eBook.

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  For

  Lina Levy

  An extraordinary artist, who has brought so many of my characters to life in her beautiful cover paintings.

  Thanks to both Alice Shields and Pat Stech for the gift of their time and their expertise.

  1

  Edinburgh, Scotland

  Summer 1785

  FURTIVE MOVEMENT BROKE THE SOLEMN stillness of the moment. On the edge of her vision Agnes MacKenzie spied a form darting in the shadowed aisle between the columns and the stained glass windows at the side of the chapel. Beside her, her just-married sister, Sarah, penned her vows in the family chronicle, the Book of the MacKenzies. The scratching of the new nib on the old vellum echoed off the stone walls of Saint Margaret’s Church.

  The dark figure moved past the confessionals and neared the chancel.

  Agnes tensed.

  The quill was passed to Sarah’s new husband, Lord Michael Elliot. Behind Agnes the congregation murmured approval.

  Who was creeping soundlessly in the shadows? All of the clerics, their attendants, and students stood at the altar before Agnes.

  The ceremony lost its reverence. Her protective senses, born of guilt and nurtured by years of training, stayed fixed on the progress of the uninvited guest.

  Her father, Lachlan MacKenzie, the duke of Ross, began a prayer asking God to watch over Sarah and Michael and to bless the grandchildren they would give him.

  Agnes thought of the one lost sheep in the MacKenzie clan. Regret and heartache over her part in the tragedy weighted her soul. With effort, she rose above the distressing subject of her younger sibling and steered her attention to the danger slithering along the far wall. Danger, yes. Agnes could feel it in her bones. Trouble was like a smell to her, like a foul odor prefacing a foe, another tangible adversary she lived to hunt down and conquer.

  Who lurked on the periphery of this joyous occasion but was too cowardly to show his face?

  A quick intake of breath sounded behind her. Turning, Agnes looked over her shoulder and scanned the occupants of the church—family members, longtime friends, and newly made acquaintances. Only one other head was unbowed for the prayer, and the worried expression on the face of the earl of Cathcart told Agnes that he, too, felt the danger.

  Their gazes met. Anxiety flickered in his eyes. He stared past her.

  The melodious cadence of her father’s voice faded.

  Agnes craned her neck, and her attention stayed focused on the front pew where Lord Edward Napier, earl of Cathcart, sat with his children. Befitting her life’s work, the little ones were Agnes’s prime concern. The lad was about eight, the girl no more than four years old. The younger sat quietly on the lap of a granny-faced nanny. The lad’s hands were clasped in prayer. His bowed head bore a crown of auburn curls the exact shade and texture as that of his noble father.

  In a protective gesture, the earl drew his young son closer to his side but continued to stare at the spot where the intruder lurked. The defensive maneuver struck a chord of understanding in Agnes.

  A chorus of “amen’s” signaled the end of the prayer.

  The shadow took form. A hooded black robe hid the features of a gray-bearded man. He stood near one of the trunk-size columns that framed the chancel. Sharp angles appeared beside him.

  A mason sent to repair one of the vaulted arches, his tools in hand? Surely not, not during a wedding ceremony.

  “Agnes, ’tis your turn to sign.” Sarah’s gaze turned cunning. “What’s amiss?”

  In spite of her apprehension, Agnes knew she must not fly with her imagination. Not unless a true threat existed. Overreaction on her part could spoil the most important day in her sister’s life.

  “You look . . . troubled,” Sarah said.

  For now a light reply would allay Sarah’s suspicions. Agnes forced a smile and whispered, “I am troubled. I’m the only virgin left among us.” By “us” Agnes referred to herself, Sarah, and their sisters, Lottie and Mary. “Give me the quill.”

  Sarah’s suspicion faded, replaced by the most radiant feminine smile Agnes had seen since the morning after Lottie’s wedding.

  “You’ll find your dashing Highlander, Agnes.”

  Love and marriage had no place in Agnes’s life, not until she righted the one great wrong of her youth. But to mention that sad day would taint this happy occasion.

  With one eye on the hooded man, Agnes scratched her name beneath the signature of David Smithson, the other witness and husband to Lottie. That done, Agnes performed her last task in the ceremony. She picked up the Book of the MacKenzies while the family Bible was placed on the pedestal. As head of the family, Lachlan began making the proper entry. None would take offense at the order in which the books were presented; religions came and went, but Highland custom held sway.

  Agnes felt the weight of the heavy chronicle, with its ancient wooden bindings and thick vellum pages, but she refused to be distracted. Once the ceremony w
as over, she’d find out who lurked against the wall and why. She’d also learn why the presence of the intruder troubled the earl of Cathcart.

  She’d met Edward Napier the evening before. A widower and resident of Glasgow, he had come to the wedding at the invitation of the groom. Papa had been impressed with the Glaswegian nobleman; he had said that thanks to the earl’s many scientific achievements, Scotland would step boldly into the next century. Sarah, whose thirst for knowledge was unequaled in Clan MacKenzie, had been effusive in her praise of the earl, had even asked him to present a lecture in science at Edinburgh’s orphanage school. He had agreed, time permitting.

  Cathcart had been polite to Agnes, but reserved. In retrospect his aloofness smacked of apprehension.

  Did he know the intruder?

  His part in the ceremony concluded, Lachlan MacKenzie closed the family Bible. The bride and groom turned toward the congregation. A cheer went through the crowd. Agnes stayed where she was. In the shadows light glinted on pointed steel. Looking back, she studied the occupants of the front pew. The nanny had disappeared. In her childish boredom, the girl swung her legs and gazed at the vaulted ceiling. Her brother toyed with a wedding souvenir. The earl’s attention was still focused on the robed man.

  Suddenly the earl’s eyes grew large. He shot sideways, shielding his children.

  A keening whistle sliced the air. Awareness ripped through Agnes. Sharp angles. A crossbow.

  Her reflexes worked like lightning. Holding out the heavy book, she lunged to the right.

  The arrow thudded into the wooden bindings and slammed the book against her chest. Pain exploded in her shoulder. Knocked off balance, she set her jaw for the impact to come. Then she was falling, the vaulted arches and stained glass windows cartwheeling in and out of view.

  She hit the stone floor hard, and as blackness gripped her, she heard the sound of her father’s voice.

  “Agnes!”

  Pushing his new son-in-law aside, Lachlan MacKenzie fought the fear clawing at his gut and made his way to Agnes. Had she tripped? Nimble-footed Agnes? Impossible. Had she fallen ill before she could make a graceful exit? An absurd notion. Agnes was in her prime, healthy and high-spirited.

  Before he could reach her, he saw the earl of Cathcart pluck his children from the pew and put them beneath it. As he moved to cover Agnes, Cathcart pointed to the side of the church. “He’s there!” he yelled. “A robed man with a crossbow! He’s shot her.”

  Shot! Fear pumping through him, Lachlan didn’t break stride as he called to his sons-in-law. “Michael! David! Agnes has been shot. Go after that bowman!”

  Changing directions, the young men gave chase. The crowd converged on Agnes, slowing Lachlan’s progress. Familiar voices formed a mosaic of sound. His grandchildren cried. His daughters screamed. His friends spoke in outraged whispers.

  He shoved his way past the throng and to Agnes’s side.

  She lay in a heap of yellow silk, the Book of the MacKenzies covering her from breast to hip. A crossbow quarrel protruded from the wooden bindings. With sickening dread, he knew the arrow had passed through the book and pierced her.

  Ripping off his coat, Lachlan called out to her. “Agnes?”

  Her eyes drifted open, and as if drawn, she sought out the earl of Cathcart and his children. “Protect them,” she begged in a pained whisper.

  Pushing her hair from her forehead, Lachlan spoke quietly. “Are you hurt badly?”

  She reached for the frightened children, who were huddled beneath the pew. “ ’Twas meant for them, Papa, and the nanny’s gone.”

  “The devil with Edward Napier and his servants. How badly are you hurt, lass?”

  She swallowed with difficulty, and as he watched her throat work, he saw blood seep from beneath the book, pool at her collar bone, and soil her jade necklace. Dread robbed him of breath.

  Pity the bastard who’d fired the shot, for his life belonged to Lachlan MacKenzie. A slow, painful death awaited the villain.

  Through a fog of anger he heard the earl of Cathcart say, “The quarrel’s embedded in her flesh, but it’s missed her heart and lungs.”

  The clinical explanation enraged Lachlan. “I should rejoice for that?”

  A hand touched his shoulder. His wife, Juliet, knelt at his side. “Have a care, my love, and tell me what happened.”

  Anger gave way to fatherly angst. “ ’Twould seem that trouble has again found my firstborn.”

  “Worry not.” Juliet cupped Agnes’s cheek, but Lachlan knew her words of comfort were meant for him as well. “We’ll take care of you.”

  Agnes bit her lip, but her eyes shone with rare trust.

  Again the voice of the earl. “ ’Tis not a mortal wound, but the arrow must come out.”

  Straining, Agnes looked at the stubby arrow. “The fletchings are English,” she said.

  Tough, unreachable Agnes, thought Lachlan. Why couldn’t she be like other young women her age? Why did this sensitive and loyal woman risk her life for others, then make light of her own injuries? For years, he’d indulged her, but now Lachlan intended to quell her penchant for danger.

  Knowing the pain he was about to cause her, he grasped the quarrel and tugged. He met resistance.

  Agnes winced as the barb tore at her flesh.

  “Sorry, sweeting.”

  “Move aside, Your Grace,” said Cathcart, his attention focused on Agnes. “I’m a doctor. I studied here in Edinburgh.”

  Lachlan searched the man’s face, hoping that he spoke the truth. Edward Napier’s achievements were legend, but medicine was not known to be among his considerable accomplishments.

  “The children, Papa,” Agnes pleaded. “Protect his children.” Her elegant features, so like her noble mother’s, turned angelic in entreaty. “Promise me you will.”

  Lachlan would promise to turn Puritan to save her. “Aye, lassie. You have my word.”

  “I can protect my own children,” said the earl. “But if that arrow doesn’t come out now, you’ll lose the use of your arm.”

  Flattening himself on his belly beside Agnes, Cathcart peered under the book. After examining the spot where the arrow impaled her, he smiled reassuringly. “ ’Tis not too deep.” Catching Lachlan’s gaze, he said, “Pull—very gently and do not twist it. I’ll lift the book. Lady Juliet, hold her hand.”

  Juliet reached for Agnes and said, “ ’Twill be over before you can make the MacKenzie war cry.”

  Agnes set her jaw. “I’m ready.”

  Lachlan grasped the wooden shaft. The fletchings prickled his palms. At the first tug, Agnes moaned.

  “Easy, love,” Juliet murmured, still speaking to the both of them.

  “Do it, man!” Cathcart urged.

  His stomach sour with worry, Lachlan pulled the arrow free.

  The earl cursed and shoved the book, with the arrow running through it, into Lachlan’s hands. Like an evil invader, the bloodied tip of the quarrel protruded from the book. Lachlan tossed it aside.

  Agnes’s yellow gown was stained crimson. Her skin glowed pasty white.

  Cathcart grasped the bodice of her dress and ripped it, pulling the sleeve away. With a gentleness that should not have surprised Lachlan, Cathcart explored the wound. Using the skirt of his kilt as a bandage, he stemmed the flow of blood.

  Agnes sucked in her breath.

  Cathcart murmured soothing words of encouragement, and as Lachlan watched, the distinctive black-and-white tartan of the Napiers literally ran red with MacKenzie blood.

  Agnes’s blood. His golden-haired, once precocious child had yet again endangered herself for another. And all because she could not let go of the past.

  Impotent rage coursed through him. Noise from the onlookers rose to a deafening roar. He must end her foolish quest. But how? He could not treble her chores or take away her pony. Banishing her to the country wouldn’t work; he’d tried that before and paid the heavy price of a year’s estrangement.

  Again fabric ri
pped. “Here,” said Juliet, handing Cathcart a length of white petticoat. “God bless you, Lord Edward.”

  Cathcart took the cloth and pressed it over the wound, but his intense gaze never left Agnes. “Breathe slowly,” he told her. “The pain will ebb. Do you understand? Will you trust me?”

  She nodded, her nostrils flaring, her lips pursed in agony.

  Lachlan pierced him with an accusing gaze. “Was the assassin sent for you?”

  “Hold this.” Cathcart shoved the now bloodied wad of satin into Lachlan’s hand. “I’ll carry her.” He scooped her into his arms and turned to the cleric. “Lead the way to your chamber. I’ll need boiled water, and send someone to the Dragoon Inn for my medical bag.”

  The clergyman whirled, surplice fluttering, and headed for the side of the chapel.

  “Lady Juliet,” said Cathcart. “I’ll need plenty of bandages. And bring a clean sleeping gown.”

  To Agnes Juliet said, “Shall I send them with Auntie Loo?”

  Resting in the cradle of Cathcart’s arms, Agnes struggled to keep her eyes open. “Yes. Show her the arrow. I need her.”

  To his children Cathcart said, “Christopher, Hannah, you can come out now. You’re to go with Lady Juliet and mind yourselves.”

  They scrambled from beneath the pew. “You’ll make her all better, will you not, Papa?” his son pleaded, a protective arm around his bewildered sister.

  “ ’S’bad,” the girl said.

  “Will you make her better?” his son demanded.

  “Of course I will.” He started to move away, but stopped. “Come, MacKenzie, and keep the pressure on that wound.”

  Taking orders was foreign to Lachlan. The sight of another man tending his daughter . . . ripping her clothing . . . holding her possessively robbed him of logic. “Give her to me.”

  “No.” Slightly taller than Lachlan and slimmer in his youth, Edward Napier no longer appeared the esteemed scholar and respected statesman; field general better suited his manner. “She grows weaker by the moment.”

  Cathcart spoke the truth, but Lachlan balked.

 
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