Mad for the plaid, p.1

Mad for the Plaid, page 1

 

Mad for the Plaid



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Mad for the Plaid


  PRAISE FOR THE PRINCES OF OXENBURG SERIES

  THE PRINCE AND I

  “Another fairy-tale romance that demonstrates Hawkins’s talent for sharp repartee, clever plotting, memorable characterization, and sizzling sexual tension.”

  —RT Book Reviews (4 1/2 stars)

  “Completely captivating, wonderfully written, and ripe with romance with a legend so captivating you’ll believe every word.”

  —Romance Junkies

  “Beautifully written and filled to the brim with that famous Karen Hawkins charm, The Prince and I is a darn right exhilarating and adventurous read!”

  —Love Life and Books

  “The Prince and I is a Robin Hood–themed romance that will keep you entertained and entranced. Karen Hawkins will charm you with this story!”

  —Addicted to Romance (5 stars)

  THE PRINCE WHO LOVED ME

  A Publishers Weekly Book to Watch for 2014!

  “Hawkins puts her unique stamp on Cinderella in a tale that shines with humor, sparkling dialogue, and plenty of sexual tension.”

  —RT Book Reviews (41/2 stars, Top Pick)

  “This is the funniest and most satisfying Hawkins book yet! A clever retelling of Cinderella!”

  —Romance and More

  PRAISE FOR THE DUCHESS DIARIES SERIES

  HOW TO ENTICE AN ENCHANTRESS

  “This fairy tale gone awry is just different enough, just quirky enough, and just wonderful enough to have readers sighing with pleasure.”

  —RT Book Reviews (41/2 stars)

  “Doesn’t disappoint on any level. There’s heat, humor, misunderstandings, and, finally, love.”

  —Tampa Bay Books Examiner (5 stars)

  HOW TO PURSUE A PRINCESS

  “Sparking, witty repartee and heart-tugging emotions. With a wonderful romantic story, this book is pure, unadulterated Hawkins.”

  —RT Book Reviews (41/2 stars, Top Pick)

  “Incredibly witty and sweet with the kind of fairy-tale charm that cannot help but remind us of our own childhood dreams of handsome princes and happily ever after.”

  —Novels Alive.TV

  HOW TO CAPTURE A COUNTESS

  “A delightful, sprightly romp is what Hawkins does best, and when she sets her witty tale in Scotland and adds a charming castle and an engaging cast of characters, readers have the beginning of an appealing new series.”

  —RT Book Reviews (4 stars)

  “A beautifully written romance filled with passion, zest, and humor.”

  —Addicted to Romance

  PRINCESS IN DISGUISE

  “Karen Hawkins delivers warmth, humor, romance, and a touch of heartache. . . . A great story to curl up with on a cold winter’s eve.”

  —Joyfully Reviewed

  “Karen Hawkins has . . . appealing characters, an eye for detail, a talent for bringing historical events from the past to life, and wickedly entertaining plots.”

  —Romance Junkies

  PRAISE FOR THE HURST AMULET SERIES

  “Delightfully humorous, poignant, and satisfying. . . . Memorable characters, witty and humorous dialogue, and sizzling sensuality.”

  —RT Book Reviews (41/2 stars, Top Pick)

  “An entertaining romantic battle of wits.”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “A lively romp.”

  —Booklist

  “Charming and witty.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  Thank you for downloading this Pocket Books eBook.

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  To Hot Cop, who instinctively recognizes when I need hugs, a laugh, or a cup of coffee.

  You know what I’m like without those, and love me anyway.

  Thank you.

  Acknowledgments

  Many thanks to my soon-to-be-retired editor, Micki Nuding, who found me in her slush pile one fateful day in 1998. I still remember where I was at the exact moment she called to say she’d read my submission and loved it. (FYI: I was standing in a pile of dirty laundry—it wasn’t pretty.)

  It’s been a long, fun, rewarding ride and I’m so, so grateful for all the time, effort, and care you put into my books over the years. Micki, I’m going to miss you!

  Prologue

  To: His Royal Highness

  Prince Nikolai Romanovin of Oxenburg

  Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

  Your Highness,

  As you may recall, two weeks ago you escorted the Grand Duchess Natasha Nikolaevna to Castle Leod for her visit with my grandmother, the Dowager Countess Cromartie. I’m sorry we did not have the opportunity to meet, but that is not surprising, as I was informed you stayed less than ten minutes.

  Soon after you left, your grandmother discovered her black leather travel case was not with her trunks. Her Grace assures me it is quite important and that she must have it with all possible haste and thus requests that you send it at your earliest convenience.

  Yours sincerely,

  Lady Ailsa Mackenzie

  September 12, 1824

  To: Lady Ailsa Mackenzie

  Castle Leod

  Lady Ailsa:

  Pray inform my grandmother that the “case” to which she refers is actually a very large and heavy trunk and would take well over a fortnight to ship, by which time her visit will be over. She can do without it.

  HRH Nikolai of Oxenburg

  September 21, 1824

  To: His Royal Highness

  Prince Nikolai Romanovin of Oxenburg

  Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

  Your Highness,

  Once again I am writing on behalf of your grandmother the Grand Duchess Nikolaevna. Her Grace requests (again) that you send her black leather case which contains her favorite lotions as soon as possible (again), for she has great need of them (still). As she has decided to stay another month and perhaps longer, there is now plenty of time to have the case (or trunk, if you insist) delivered.

  Yours sincerely,

  Lady Ailsa Mackenzie

  October 2, 1824

  To: Lady Ailsa Mackenzie

  Castle Leod

  Lady Ailsa:

  I was not aware Her Grace was staying another month and (hopefully) longer. I cannot tell you how happy I am to learn this. Expect that blasted trunk in the next week or so.

  HRH Nikolai

  October 11, 1824

  To: His Royal Highness

  Prince Nikolai Romanovin of Oxenburg

  Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

  Your Highness,

  I regret to inform you that Her Grace’s black dressing case containing her lotions still has not arrived and your grandmother strongly requests that you send it immediately. She wishes me to remind you that it has been one week and two days since your letter was posted. (On an aside, I did point out that your use of “next week or so” was obviously a generalization and that the case would most likely show up before this letter arrives on your desk, but she will have none of it.) As I’m sure you are aware (as evidenced by your rapid departure on leaving your grandmother on our doorstep), Her Grace tends to be moody when she is upset.

  Send the case or trunk or whatever it is as soon as is humanly possible.

  Yours sincerely,

  Lady Ailsa Mackenzie

  October 21, 1824

  To: Lady Ailsa Mackenzie

  Castle Leod

  Lady Ailsa:

  When my men fetched the trunk from Her Grace’s bedchamber last week, my men discovered something dripping out of one corner.
Upon opening the trunk, we were met with a smell I cannot describe, even though it still lingers throughout the house like a deadly mist.

  The trunk is not a “dressing case” filled with lotions as my grandmother has claimed, but is filled instead with her potions. One letter can make a great difference, can it not? Sadly, some of the bottles holding her potions were broken when the trunk was last moved, and I can only imagine her “eye of newt,” or whatever it is, has caused that deadly odor. I now hold out only a vague hope none of us is overcome by it, or—as is more likely—turned into some sort of goat or toad.

  Before I send the trunk, it must be cleaned, aired, and left to dry. When this is done, I will send it by private courier.

  Meanwhile, inform my grandmother that her “case” will be there forthwith. (Note: As she cannot measure “forthwith,” I trust this will end this unnecessary correspondence.)

  HRH N

  November 14, 1824

  Chapter 1

  Castle Leod

  The Small Study

  November 17, 1824

  “What do you mean, she’s ‘gone missing’?” Lady Ailsa Mackenzie put down the letter she’d been reading and eyed her grandmother with disbelief.

  Lady Edana MacGregor Mackenzie, the Dowager Countess Cromartie, fluttered her lace handkerchief. “I mean what I said: the duchess is nowhere to be found.” Dressed in black, a color Lady Edana had assumed on the death of her husband, the late earl, more than ten years earlier, she made an impressive figure. Tall and willowy, with carefully crafted dyed-gold hair that echoed the true color that had faded years ago, Edana fought valiantly to keep age from robbing her of the famed MacGregor beauty. “Ailsa, I am deeply concerned. Poor Natasha does not know the dangers of our highland countryside.”

  “Perhaps Her Grace is oot in the carriage, or going for a ride, or . . . whatever it is she wished to do.”

  “Dear, it’s ‘out,’ not ‘oot.’ ” Edana sighed heavily. “I do wish your father had sent you to a proper boarding school.”

  “I needed to be here with Mama after she grew ill. I would nae have missed those moments for anything.”

  “And now she’s gone, your papa is never here. It’s as if I lost both of them at one and the same time.” Edana gave a fretful sigh. “Your papa is neglecting us all. He should have seen to it that you went to a proper boarding school and had at least one season. You might have married by now, the way your sisters have.”

  Ailsa refrained from pointing out that while her sisters had inherited Edana’s famed MacGregor beauty, Ailsa had taken after the bold Mackenzies. Where her sisters had golden hair, blue eyes, willowy figures, and perfect noses, Ailsa’s hair was a darker, less noticeable ash blond, her eyes gray, her form stalwart, while her nose could only be called “prominent.”

  It was an unfortunate blend of traits.

  Not that it mattered; Ailsa was twenty-two now and had no desire to be displayed on the marriage mart among a group of mindless seventeen-year-olds who would drive her mad with their empty chatter and breathless gossip. She was happy to have been left at Castle Leod, where she could hunt, ride, fish, and—when the mood suited her—throw a cloak upon the ground under a tree and read to her heart’s content. There were a thousand amusing things to do here in the highlands, and she loved them all.

  She was content with her life, especially now that Papa had left the castle and estate in her care. It was a big responsibility, and she was still learning how to answer the challenges presented, one of which was keeping up with her grandmother’s elderly, and at times quarrelsome, houseguest. “Why precisely do you think Her Grace is ‘missing’?”

  “We were to meet for breakfast almost an hour ago, and at her request, too, for she wished to visit that shop in the village I told her about, but she didn’t appear.” Edana sniffed. “I had to eat by myself as no one else was up.”

  “So the two of you are speaking again.”

  “La, child, of course we are speaking!” Edana frowned, though she instantly ceased, for fear of deepening the lines between her eyes. “I admit we’ve had a few arguments—”

  “A few?”

  “No more than is to be expected.” Edana waved her handkerchief, wafting a floral perfume through the air. “Poor Natasha; she’s changed dreadfully. She used to be quite lovely. Now . . . well, you’ve seen her. She’s aged forty years in the time we were apart.”

  As it had been almost forty years to the day since the dowager countess and the grand duchess had last seen one another, Ailsa didn’t find this difficult to believe. “Are you certain Her Grace is nae just still abed?”

  “I spoke with Her Grace’s maid, and she said Natasha left her bed chamber at daybreak. I asked the housekeeper to see if perhaps the poor thing was lost somewhere in the castle, as it can be confusing, but Mrs. Attnee says Her Grace is nowhere to be found.”

  “Perhaps she went for a ride.”

  “MacGill says all our coaches and horses are accounted for. Ailsa, I’m certain Natasha is missing. We must send a search party.”

  “But the carriages and horses are all here, and you cannae be thinking she left on foot. It’s been snowing since late last night.”

  “Of course she’s not walking! She’s a duchess, for the love of heaven. But if she’s been foolish, then we must stop her from—” Lady Edana clamped her lips closed.

  Ailsa narrowed her gaze on her grandmother. “Stop her from what?” When Edana didn’t answer, Ailsa added, “I see. You’re hiding something.”

  “Nonsense,” Edana said sharply, the faintest hint of a flush showing through her face paint. “I’m just worried.”

  “Of course. Well, if there’s nae more to tell, then there’s nae more to do.” Ailsa pulled forward the stack of waiting correspondence. “The Grand Duchess Nikolaevna is neither a button that has been misplaced nor a puppy that has wandered off. Wherever she is, she got there under her own power and is where she wants to be.”

  “Ailsa, please! Natasha must be found. You can’t go losing a grand duchess! Think of the scandal! Her grandson left her in our care. He will be beside himself with worry!”

  “That, I doubt.” From her own correspondence with the prince, and the columns and columns she’d read about him in the papers, as well as the little her father had said of the man on meeting him at some function or another, she was well aware that the duchess’s eldest grandson was a profligate, a womanizer, and little else.

  She pulled a fresh piece of paper from the center drawer and placed it before her. “Wherever the duchess is, she will return when she’s of a mind to.” Ailsa dipped her pen into the inkwell. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have at least ten letters to—”

  “Fine! I’ll tell you what’s happened, but do not blame me if something ill has occurred to poor Natasha while you’ve been lollygagging about with estate nonsense!”

  “ ‘Estate nonsense’ is what puts a roof over our heads.” Ailsa replaced her pen in the holder. “Tell me everything.”

  Lady Edana’s shoulders slumped. “Do you remember the first night Her Grace was here, and how she flirted so shamelessly with Lord Lyon, who did not look at all comfortable with her attention?”

  “I vaguely remember that, aye.”

  “It’s ‘yes,’ dear, and not ‘aye.’ Natasha was shameless. And my dear Daffyd—I mean, Lord Hamilton—noticed her affections were not returned. It was quite pathetic, and the whole situation put poor Natasha in quite an ill temper.”

  “I noticed that. We all noticed that.”

  “Exactly. And things just got worse after Lord Lyon left. Knowing how Her Grace taxes me, Hamilton said that he wished he could brighten her mood, just to be of service to me, of course. Which got me to thinking that perhaps what Natasha needed was a distraction.”

  “A distraction? What do you mean— Och, you dinnae!”

  “I did and it was brilliant!” Lady Edana beamed. “I asked Hamilton to ply her with attention. It worked, too, for she was in a muc
h better mood after that, although”—Edana’s smile disappeared—“had I known then what I know now, I would never have been so charitable.”

  “And what do you know now— Ah! Has Lord Hamilton come to care for Her Grace?”

  “Don’t make me laugh!” Lady Edana said sharply. “He’s been playing a part, that is all. And at my request. It’s Natasha who’s made the mistake of caring, not Hamilton.”

  “Really?” Ailsa considered this. “It seems much more than that to me. He sat near her at dinner last night, dinnae he?” Ailsa squinted at the ceiling, trying to remember all the places she’d seen Lord Hamilton with Her Grace. “And at the picnic and at the musicale and at—”

  “Yes, yes.” Edana drew herself up, a firm smile now plastered on her lips, although it didn’t reach her eyes. “Naturally Hamilton went beyond my request, but only because he knew how much I was suffering from Her Grace’s moods. He’s been in love with me for so many years—I truly feel sorry for him.”

  “I know all aboot Lord Hamilton. He eats dinner here so many nights of the week that he has his own bedchamber.”

  “Then you don’t need me to tell you how concerned I was when it dawned on me that Natasha was beginning to believe Hamilton’s kindness as something more. Naturally, I warned her not to mistake Daffyd’s attention as anything other than politeness. You’d think she would have thanked me for taking the time, but no!” Edana’s jaw firmed. “She laughed and said I was jealous. Me! Jealous of an old woman like her!”

  “I see. Did you mention your concerns to Lord Hamilton?”

  “Of course. I warned him he was in dire danger of being put upon by Her Grace and that her feelings were unnaturally strong. He was much struck by my observations, and asked me several times why I thought such a thing. It’s laughable, I know—Daffyd and Natasha!”

  Ailsa wisely didn’t say a word.

  Her grandmother gave a hearty laugh that sounded oddly hollow. “Why would any man pay attention to her? She cannot be bothered with keeping out of the sun to prevent freckles, or with wearing something that fits. Like you, she refuses to maintain her appearan—” Edana closed her lips over the rest of her sentence. “You know my feelings on the subject.”

 
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