True heart, p.1

True Heart, page 1

 

True Heart
 


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True Heart


  PRAISE FOR NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR ARNETTE LAMB’S

  BEGUILED

  The Second Thrilling Novel in the Clan MacKenzie Trilogy

  “Arnette Lamb beguiles her readers with this latest installment in the MacKenzie saga. This delightfully fast-paced, sensual romance has it all. Sit back and savor.”

  —Kathe Robin, Romantic Times

  “[A] well-crafted historical romance. . . . This witty book . . . offers a fresh twist for fans of Lamb’s romances.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Arnette simply gets better with each effort; Beguiled may be her best yet. Agnes and Edward and the others are quickly ‘taken to our hearts,’ so that we care deeply about the outcome of their adventures.”

  —Merry Cutler, Annie’s Book Stop

  “Agnes is a true heroine with many strengths, but her tender side is most endearing. . . . Beguiled is filled with warmth and unusual plot lines. . . . [A] unique blend of action and exceptional characters make this a book above and beyond.”

  —Rendezvous

  “Just what we would expect from Arnette. . . . Be prepared to read into the wee hours with Beguiled; it’s one you won’t put down.”

  —Bell, Book and Candle

  “A unique premise, a fearless heroine, and a persistent hero are complemented by lively dialogue, beautifully managed sexual tension, and a batch of unusual secondary characters. . . . [A] swift-moving, involving story. . . . Lamb[’s] fans will be waiting for this.”

  —Library Journal

  BETRAYED

  The First Enchanting Novel in the Clan MacKenzie Trilogy

  “A terrific book. . . . Delightful. . . . A wow of a read.”

  —Merry Cutler, Annie’s Book Stop

  “A wonderful, witty story. Sarah and Michael will capture your heart. . . . If this first book [of the Clan MacKenzie trilogy] is an indication of what’s to come, we are all very lucky readers!”

  —Patti Herwick, The Paperback Forum

  “Betrayed is a delightful example of Ms. Lamb’s wonderful writing style. The dialogue is razor sharp and sassy, the characters are lively and entertaining, and the story holds your interest from start to finish. I can’t wait to read about the next MacKenzie sister.”

  —Rendezvous

  “Arnette Lamb captures the era with fine strokes and rich colors. Betrayed is a truly charming romance brimming with familial love and romantic sentiment.”

  —Kathe Robin, Romantic Times

  “Arnette Lamb’s Betrayed is fantastic! Five bells! She’s got herself a real winner.”

  —Donita Lawrence, Bell, Book and Candle

  “Arnette Lamb just gets better and better.”

  —Denise Smith, Aunt Dee’s Book Bag

  Thank you for downloading this Pocket Star Books eBook.

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  For Ron Dinn,

  who is my own True Heart and the love of my life

  Acknowledgments

  Thanks to Marie Sproull and Millie Criswell for sharing their knowledge of tidewater Virginia and for trusting me with their research books.

  Thanks also to Pat Stech. I’d list the reasons, Pat, but they’d fill a book.

  Prologue

  Rosshaven Castle

  Tain, Scottish Highlands

  Spring 1779

  “You didn’t for a moment think I believed you asked me into the stables to show me a new horse.”

  Even after all these years, Juliet brought out the rogue in Lachian. He took her hand and pressed her palm against his cheek. “What I have in mind is infinitely more entertaining than a foal.”

  Her interest engaged, she lifted her brows. Her fingers traced his mouth. “Which is why you brought me to the loft.”

  Her familiar scent softened the robust aroma of freshly mown hay. Her touch did more earthy things to his sense of decorum. “Why I brought you up here is a surprise.”

  “I see.” She licked her lips. “You intended to wrinkle my dress and muss my hair?”

  “Aye. The first before I ravished you, the second while I ravished you.”

  Always the grand skeptic, she said, “A husband cannot ravish his own wife . . . unless . . .”

  She had more to say, but she’d make him wait. His patient and practical Juliet had helped Lachian raise Agnes, Sarah, Lottie, and Mary. But respect and love for his four bastard daughters only scratched the surface of her fine qualities. She’d given him four more daughters and an heir. He loved Juliet more today than when she’d placed his son in his arms. At sunrise next, he’d love her more still.

  Talking with her was a gift he’d forever cherish. Touching her was a pleasure he couldn’t deny himself now that they were alone. “In the event you’ve lost the essence of the conversation, my love, you were holding forth on the issue of whether a husband may ravish his wife.”

  “True. But the word holding distracts me.” She glided her hand down over the placket of his breeches and made a carnal image of the ordinary word. “Will you hold forth on why there is a satin pillow beneath the hay?” She flicked her gaze to the spot where roof met wall.

  Lachian chuckled. “If you hope to tease me with conversational detours, you’ll go wanting for that. Not even a bolster of gold could distract me at the moment.”

  Her supple fingers began an arresting rhythm, and her voice softened to an enticing purr. “Pondering two things at once is surely manageable for a man of your considerable resources.”

  Desire thrummed in his chest and rang in his ears. “As I did when you interrupted my civic duties to show me Mary’s painting of Lottie, barefoot and astride a draft horse?”

  “Lottie was beyond mortification over it. You were more interested in what our good sheriff Neville Smithson had to say about tariffs. But this is different.” She put that thought to action.

  Excitement quivered in his belly. On a shallow breath, he said, “You, on the other hand, are not completely captivated.”

  With her free hand, she cupped his neck and pulled him closer. “I’ve been captivated since the winter of ’68.”

  The occasion of her entry into Lachian’s life and the genesis of his true happiness. For hours he’d anticipated this time alone with her. Their eldest and his first child with Juliet, ten-year-old Virginia was betrothed this very day to Cameron Cunningham, a lad they favored. Their youngest, Kenneth, would one day foster with Cameron’s parents, Suisan and Myles. Lachian’s elder daughters were seventeen years old and planning their own futures.

  Lottie would wed David Smithson later this year. Sensible Sarah had begun to tutor the children of Tain. Mary planned to move to London to apprentice with the artist, Joshua Reynolds. Agnes was busy breaking every rule of society. Lily, Rowena, and Cora were still in the nursery with their three-year-old brother.

  For now, time alone with Juliet was a luxury to Lachian, but in a few years he’d have her all to himself. This afternoon’s tryst was a rarity he intended to savor. Teasing her was a part of their love game.

  He plucked a straw from her hair. “But coherent thought is ever your constant companion, nay?”

  “Not always.”

  “Let’s see about that.” Gaze fixed to hers, he kissed her. Her brown eyes glittered with pleasure, and desire smoldered in their depths. A sense of belonging swamped him, and as he deepened the kiss, he wondered for the thousandth time what goodly deed he’d done to deserve this woman. With a sweetness that always thrilled him, she returned his ardor and heightened it with her own.
>
  In the distance he heard the happy sound of childish laughter. Juliet heard it too, but that was the way of mothering with her. Even in the crowd at Midsummer Fair she could discern the voices of her own children.

  Lachian broke the kiss. “Which of our brood is so joyous? Cora?” He spoke of their youngest daughter.

  “Kenneth. Agnes must be tickling him.”

  “I’ll be glad when his voice changes. Let’s hope that occurs before Lottie’s wedding, else I’ll have him strewing rose petals instead of bearing the wedding band.”

  “He squealed with laughter today when he saw Virginia’s betrothal ring.”

  “Do you think they are too close?”

  “I think Cameron and Virginia have a special need for each other.”

  Lachian couldn’t deny that a deep bond existed between his daughter and his fosterling.

  “Put any doubts from your mind, Lachian. Cameron and Virginia are perfect for each other.”

  “Aye, as perfect a pair as Lottie and David.”

  “Will you rejoice when Agnes flies the nest?”

  “Aye and nay. But ’tis dear Sarah I worry over more.”

  “Sarah’s too sensible to choose a poor husband. I’ll wager my new carriage that you’ll grieve when Virginia weds.”

  His first daughter with Juliet was unlike any of his other children. Outspoken and adventurous, Virginia had been strongly influenced by her four older sisters. From Lottie she’d learned grace and stitchery. At Mary’s hand Virginia had perfected stubbornness and an artist’s skill. From Sarah she’d gained a love for books and philosophy. From Agnes she’d learned too much cunning and bravery.

  Cameron had been Virginia’s special friend since she’d spoken her first word. He’d taught her to string a bow. He’d looked after her when everyone else was too busy. Five years hence, he’d become her husband. Lachian felt a pang of loss at the thought of giving Virginia to another, even if Cameron was both perfect for her and the man of her choice.

  “Now who’s distracted?” Juliet teased.

  Lachian pressed her back into the soft hay. She winced and shifted.

  “Uncomfortable?” he asked.

  She gave him a look of tried patience. “No. But a pillow would be nice.”

  That mysterious pillow again. An odd jealousy stabbed him. He couldn’t own her every thought, never would, but independence was also a part of her allure. Now she was curious about the pillow and wouldn’t leave the subject alone. He reached for the item in question and held it so they could both inspect it.

  Embroidered in golden thread were a halo and the words We love you, Papa.

  Juliet said, “Only Lottie’s stitches are so finely done.”

  Lachian eased the pillow beneath her head. The shiny embroidery thread paled beside the glow of Juliet’s fine complexion. “Never will I understand the female mind.”

  “We are cerebral creatures, even in our stitchery.”

  They’d plowed this conversational field often over the years. “Cerebral.” He pretended to ponder it as he stared at the message on the pillow. The sentiment of the words filled him with pride. “For a thinker you’re doing some very earthy things with your other hand.”

  “Then I’ll allow you a moment to gather your priorities.”

  “Gather holds great appeal.” Which is what he did to her skirts, exposing her legs and moving his hand up her thigh. He found bare skin. “No little silks? You’re bold, Juliet.”

  She fairly preened. “The last time you lured me into the stables you took my underclothing and wouldn’t give it back. Agnes made a show of returning the garment to me on the occasion of the vicar’s next visit. Virginia spilled her tea and soiled her best gown.”

  Two months to the day after Kenneth had been born, Lachian had enticed his wife into the loft. They’d spent the day loving, laughing, and napping in their pursuit of happiness. She was the sun to his day. The moon to his night. The joy to his soul. The love in his heart.

  He worked his hand higher. “We were also interrupted that day.”

  The interruption had come when she’d asked him to give her another child. He’d refused. She’d respected his wishes.

  “ ’Twas a rough argument ’tween us.” She mimicked his Scottish speech, but beneath the mockery lay regret, for she’d carried his children with ease and birthed them with joy. Five babes of her own had not been enough for his Juliet. Counting his illegitimate daughters, nine children were plenty for Lachian.

  “You’re wonderful,” he said.

  “I thought I was the moon to your night.”

  “Aye, you are.”

  “The rain in your spring?”

  “And the skip in my step.”

  She pretended to pout but spoiled it by chuckling. “The thorn in your side?”

  He blurted, “The bane of this loving if you laugh like that again.”

  She giggled low in her belly, more dangerous than full-out laughter. Still in the throes of mirth, she said, “Do you recall the morning I seduced you in Smithson’s wood house?”

  Lachian did. “Hothouse better describes it. Actually I was remembering the time you tied me to the bed at Kinbairn Castle.”

  “You made a delicious captive except for that one request you refused me.”

  Had she been cunning, Juliet could have gotten herself with child that day, for she had ruled their passion. “I prevailed.”

  “A winning day for both of us, but—” Something caught her attention. “Look.” She pointed to the ceiling.

  Craning his neck, Lachian saw a piece of parchment secured to the rafter with an arrow. Printed on parchment in Sarah’s familiar handwriting were the words We love you, Mama.

  Fatherly love filled him. Knowing he’d bring Juliet here, the lassies had left the pillow so he could see the affectionate words. Mary, the best archer of the four, had secured the note in a spot where Juliet couldn’t miss the loving words. Even though she wasn’t their mother, they thought of her that way. But the positioning of the messages left no doubt that the girls knew Lachian and Juliet would be making love in the loft today.

  On that lusty thought, he burrowed beneath her skirts and feasted on her sweetest spot.

  Too soon she tugged on his hair. “Please, love.”

  He growled softly, triggering the first tremor in her surrender to passion. The beauty of her unfettered response moved him to his soul. But when she quieted, he eased up and over her, wedging himself into the cradle of her loins. His own need raging, he entered her, but not quickly or deeply enough, for she lifted her hips and locked her legs around him.

  Lust almost overwhelmed him. “Say you’re wearing one of those sponges.” The sponges were the second most dependable way to control the size of their family.

  Her slow smile struck fear in his heart. She wasn’t wearing the sponge. If she moved so much as a muscle below the waist, he’d spill his seed, weighting the odds that she’d conceive again.

  With his eyes he told her no.

  Juliet’s smile turned to resignation, and she mouthed the words, “No ill feelings, love.” He didn’t need to hear the sound of the words; he’d heard them many times in the last three years. She waited until he’d mastered his passion. Then she reached into her bodice and retrieved a small corked bottle. With a flick of her thumb, she sent the cap sailing into the hay. The smell of lilac-scented water teased his nose.

  To tease her, he pulled the wet sponge from the bottle. “Excuse me for a moment.” He put the sponge between his teeth, leered at her, and again burrowed beneath her skirts.

  Primed, sleek, and ready, she awaited him. In his most inventive move to date, he inserted the sponge, then brought her to completion a second time.

  “I want you now,” she said between labored breaths.

  Obliging her came easy to Lachian. Just when he’d joined their bodies again and began to love her in earnest, voices sounded below.

  “You must let me go with you,” said a very disg
runtled Virginia MacKenzie.

  Lachian groaned. Juliet slapped a hand over his mouth.

  He knew to whom Virginia was speaking: her betrothed, Cameron Cunningham. Hoping they wouldn’t stay long, Lachian returned his attention to Juliet.

  * * *

  Praying for patience, Cameron followed Virginia into the last stall. “You cannot go with me.”

  She stopped and folded her arms. “Why not?”

  The greatest adventure of his life awaited Cameron. For the first time he would command the family ship, the Highland Dream himself. With MacAdoo Dundas as his first mate and Briggs McCord as his mentor, Cameron would sail to China. Years from now, after he and Virginia were married, he’d sail around the world with her. For now, reason seemed prudent. “Your father will not let you go.”

  “He needn’t know until we are under way. I’ll leave him a note.”

  “Well, then, it wouldn’t be proper.”

  “Proper?” Her dark blue eyes glittered with temper, and her pretty complexion flushed with anger. She pointed to the sapphire and pearl ring he’d given her earlier in the day. “We’re betrothed. That should be reason enough. Papa knows you will not ravish me. I haven’t even gotten my menses yet.”

  From another female the remark would have sparked outrage, but Cameron had known Virginia MacKenzie since the day of her christening ten years ago. His ears still ached when he remembered how long and loudly she’d cried. He’d been eight years old at the time. He’d fostered here at Rosshaven. He’d learned husbandry from Lachian MacKenzie, the best man o’ the Highlands. The announcement earlier today of Virginia’s betrothal to Cameron had been a formality. Their marriage, five years hence, would mark the happiest day of his life. She was his special friend, his conscience. Once, she’d saved his life; a dozen times, she’d saved his pride. Their parents heartily approved, for the union would unite the families.

  He told her a lie and the least hurtful refusal. “You cannot go with me to France.” He was actually sailing for China. She’d learn that truth from her father on the morrow.

 
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