An impossible pairing…
Hamish Douglas, the mercurial Laird of Glen Lyon, has never got along with independent, smart-mouthed Emily Baylor. Which wouldn’t matter if this brilliant Scottish astronomer didn’t move in the same scientific circles as Emily and if her famous father wasn’t his mentor. But when Emily looks likely to derail the event which will make Hamish’s career, he loses his temper with the pretty miss and his recklessness leaves her reputation in ruins.
A marriage made in scandal…
Emily has always thought her father’s spectacular protégé was far too arrogant for his own good. But what is she to do when the only way she can save her good name in society is to wed the unruly laird? Reluctantly she accepts Hamish’s proposal, but only on the condition that their union remains chaste. That shouldn’t be a problem; they’ve never been friends, let alone potential lovers – except that after they marry, Hamish reveals unexpected depths and a host of admirable qualities, and he’s so awfully handsome, and now the swaggering rogue admits that he desires her…
From the ballrooms of London to the grandeur of the western Highlands, a battle royal rages between these two strong-willed combatants. Neither plans to yield an inch – but are these smart people smart enough to see that sometimes the greatest victory lies in mutual surrender?
An international e-book release 30th March 2020
Pascoe Place, near Greenwich, late October 1822
Emily Baylor was the most annoying girl in the entire world.
No, make that the entire solar system. And Hamish knew what he was talking about. He was an astronomer. And promising to become a deuced famous one, at that.
Or at least that was the plan.
But so far, the self-satisfaction he’d imagined – no, he deserved! – to feel at this defining moment of his career proved elusive. Not that he meant his advancement to stop at this level. He had his eye on the Astronomer Royal position, and all the honors thereto pertaining. Tonight was an important stepping stone toward achieving his ambitions.
If only a nagging voice in his ear didn’t stop him basking in the knowledge of a job well done.
He wished to Hades he could say it was a strident, hectoring voice, but even at this instant, when the urge to pitch its owner down the steep hill into the Thames was nigh irresistible, he couldn’t describe the voice as anything but a pleasant contralto.
Damn it, this wasn’t fair.
Tonight was meant to be a major triumph for Hamish Douglas, Laird of Glen Lyon. Not that any of these ignorant Sassenachs gave a farthing for a man’s Scottish titles.
They did, however, give a farthing if that same fellow had just discovered a new comet. Not to mention if he was the man likely to win the Royal Society’s Copley Medal and who took up the post as assistant to the current Astronomer Royal, John Pond, in the new year.
But before Hamish could accept his well-earned acclaim, he needed to deal with the woman tugging at his sleeve and speaking in an urgent whisper. “Hamish, you have to withdraw the pamphlet. The calculations are faulty. I’ve checked them five times and got the same – wrong – answer every time.”
“They’re not faulty, blast you,” Hamish growled, striving to keep his bass rumble of a voice so low that only Emily could hear him. They were standing in a corner of Lord Pascoe’s beautiful ballroom, which was jammed with London’s scientific elite, present to applaud the great discovery. Hamish didn’t want the world and its wife to suspect that his findings might be in doubt. “Your father checked them.”
“Papa is…” Emily trailed off and made a helpless gesture, when helplessness was a thousand miles from her usual condition.
To his sorrow, he knew why she had trouble finishing that sentence. Emily’s father, Sir John Baylor, had been Hamish’s mentor since he’d graduated from Cambridge. A tutor and a friend since Hamish had come to London to make a career in the field he’d loved from the moment he was old enough to understand what a star was. But over the last few years, Sir John’s health failed, and with his health, his mind. Sir John was here tonight, sitting beside the lectern. The place of honor befitted the teacher who had shaped the new force in British astronomy.
Hamish was pleased to see Sir John looking better than he had in a long time. The old man hadn’t been out in public since last year. Now his many friends and colleagues in the London Astronomical Society, the Royal Institution, and the Royal Society crowded around to pay court.
She tried again. “Papa is—”
“A great man.”
“Inclined to be confused.” Emily’s bright hazel gaze, more green than brown in the light from the chandeliers, settled on her father with a frown of concern. Then she shifted her attention back to Hamish. “You can’t make those calculations public. They will ruin you.”
“They’re not wrong,” he said through his teeth.
“They are,” she said, just as stubbornly.
“Damn you, Emily,” he muttered and dragged her across to the long mahogany table where hundreds of copies of his paper about the comet awaited distribution once the speeches were done.
She hoisted her imperious little nose into the air. “I can’t help it if you made a mistake.”
He’d known Emily as long as he’d known her father. She’d annoyed him when she’d been a fourteen-year-old girl, partly because his masculine superiority hadn’t overawed her as it should. He’d soon discovered that she possessed a brilliant, incisive mind. While he’d like to say her mind was unfeminine, he came from a family of clever women so he couldn’t.
Nonetheless, she was far too ready to pit that mind against his. Even more annoying, on occasion her intellectual arrogance proved justified. On the very rare occasion, he wondered if, perhaps, her brain might surpass his.
Most people, even in England, rewarded him with immediate respect. After all, he came from a rich, powerful family. He owned a large and prosperous estate, and he was connected to many influential Scottish landowners. His late father had been a significant power in the War Office during the French wars, and his mother’s passion for politics made her influence felt across the nation. Not to mention that he was the size of a mountain and he had a brain like a steel trap.
Yet Emily Baylor, even as a girl, treated Hamish like her slow-witted older brother. The sight of her turning up her nose at him was no novelty.
Hamish wasn’t an overly vain main, but he was accustomed to female admiration. Emily most definitely didn’t admire him. She never had. Which shouldn’t niggle. After all, there was no accounting for taste. Most people loved strawberries. He couldn’t stand the things. Perhaps he was to Emily what strawberries were to him.
Over the years, he’d learned to live with her ill-concealed disdain. Mostly. It was easier these days, when the fashionable and scientific worlds vied to praise him.
This uppity, frank, clever – much as he hated to admit it – snip of a girl didn’t like him? So what? Everybody else did. In recent years, he and she had made an unspoken truce to stay out of each other’s way as far as possible.
But when she set out to spoil his special night, the chit crossed a line. A tide of long-held irritation rose to clog his throat. He wanted to rage at her, tell her to find her own blasted comet, but both manners and the event’s public nature meant he had to keep a lid on his exasperation.
“I didn’t make a mistake,” he said slowly and with commendable composure, given the provocation. “You did.”
The long-suffering patience weighting her sigh made him want to push her out the window. “Let me show you.”
He sucked in a deep breath and told himself he had too much at stake to inform this upstart what she could do with her interference. Hamish’s temper could get the better of him, and right now he was angry. But he retained enough self-awareness to notice a couple of heads turning in their direction. Sometimes it was no gift to be six foot five and built like a marauding Viking.
Anyway, he was the guest of honor, and therefore the center of attention.
“Not here,” he said, still in that unnaturally steady voice.
Emily’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not going somewhere private, just so you can shout at me.”
Offended, he drew himself up until he loomed over her. She wasn’t a small woman, but compared to him, she was a mere scrap. “I do not shout,” he said icily.
“Yes, you do,” she said with equal coldness. “It’s how you get your own way, when the practiced charm fails.”
Bloody English witch. Most people found him a perfect gentleman.
Most people give you your own way, simply for the asking.
The nasty little voice in his head spoke with Emily Baylor’s crisp consonants and ironic intonation. He ignored the jibe and tightened his grip on her arm. “I promise I won’t shout.”
The angle of her fine dark brown eyebrows indicated skepticism, but after a pause, she nodded. “All right, I’ll meet you there. But the moment you raise your voice, I’m leaving.”
He ground his teeth to restrain a blistering response. “There’s an anteroom down the corridor.” Those curious glances worried him. He didn’t want to continue this discussion in public. “I’ll meet you there in five minutes.”
“Very well,” she said in a clipped tone.
She didn’t ask for more directions than that, reminding him that she belonged to the London scientific establishment in a way he never had. She’d been born to this world. He’d had to fight his way into it. Emily had been a regular visitor to this luxurious house since she was a toddler. Lord Pascoe’s estate was only a few miles from the Royal Observatory, and he often hosted intellectual gatherings.
She paused to pick up a pamphlet from the table. As if he chose a dueling pistol, Hamish did, too.
It took him slightly longer than five minutes to find her in the side room. A couple of his friends came over to congratulate him, and he needed to extricate himself from their good wishes.
He wasn’t sure she’d still be waiting, but she was there. She was a remarkably headstrong lass, inclined to go her own way. She was so headstrong, she could almost be Scottish. Most well-bred English girls were brought up to do what they were told.
It was no surprise that Emily Baylor was still on the shelf at twenty-four. What man would want to take on such a hellcat? She’d be more likely to argue philosophy with him over breakfast than smile sweetly and wish him good morrow as she refilled his coffee cup.
Except the most annoying aspect out of Emily’s multitude of annoying aspects was that she was so damned pretty.
For years, her shining, changeable eyes and her fine-boned face with its pointed chin had inspired a host of forbidden dreams that had Hamish waking hard and ready. In the dark, Emily wasn’t annoying because she tried to put him in his place. No, she was annoying because she was a mere figment of his fevered imagination, instead of real and warm and lying in his arms.
Even now, when she was even more annoying than usual, he couldn’t help admiring the way she looked, standing under the small chandelier. His gaze fixed on the luxuriant sable hair caught up in loose curls. What man wouldn’t burn to sink his hands into that glossy tumble? Nor could any red-blooded male ignore how her deep blue gown clung to her magnificent bosom and lissome figure.
When she turned a hostile gaze in his direction, he battled to ignore what a diamond she was. As usual, he didn’t quite succeed. Even though he told himself that diamonds didn’t just glitter, they cut.
“You should have got me to check the calculations.”
Definitely annoying. His lips tightened as he stepped into the room. “You have a high opinion of yourself, miss.”
“I’m good at the details. You know that.”
He did. Despite their combative relationship, he’d always felt sorry that Emily was born a woman. If she’d been a man, a brilliant scientific career would have beckoned.
He bristled with awareness of the risks he and Emily took, sneaking away like this. The corridor behind him was empty. He couldn’t be sure it was going to stay that way. There was no reason for any of the guests to venture into this small room, but if they heard voices, they just might. “Come out to the garden and tell me what you think is the problem,” he said wearily.
She stiffened. “It’s freezing out there.”
It was. Winter had come early this year. “We can’t stay in here. If anyone finds us, there will be gossip.”
She greeted that with a scornful snort. “Nobody in their right mind would imagine you and I are carrying on a flirtation.”
He closed the door to the corridor and marched across to stand in front of the doors leading onto the dark terrace. “Nevertheless, I’d rather have a little more privacy.” He took off his coat and held it out between his hands. “Emily?”
She didn’t shift. “Do we have time before the presentation?”
“I think so.”
He could see she wanted to argue. Arguing with him was natural to her. But with another of those sighs that always made him bristle, she let him help her into his coat.
Hamish stepped back. She should look silly with his evening coat draped over that spectacular gown with its filmy midnight blue skirts and pretty pattern of spangles. The dress reminded him of the night sky.
Even when Emily was annoying him, which was most of the time, he couldn’t deny her effortless elegance. Topping her stylish ensemble with a masculine coat did nothing to lessen that. The coat was miles too big, of course. It fell to past her knees, and the shoulder seams drooped down her arms.
As they stepped outside, she clutched the coat around her throat. “Won’t you be cold?”
“I’ll manage,” he said gruffly, as the chill air struck him like a blow.
He paused to look up at the stars, but flying clouds masked the sky. All his life, it had been his habit to wonder at the night’s beauty. It was second nature to note the name and position of the few pinpricks of light he saw.
At his side, Emily did the same thing. The fleeting moment of common ground between them eased his crankiness. As he drew her down to the garden, the hand he curled around her arm wasn’t quite as insistent as it had been. With another woman, he might even call his touch tender.
“Now tell me what you think you found,” he said, as they entered a bedraggled garden, all bare sticks with the coming winter. The light from the house saved him from stumbling around in the pitch black.
When she raised her face, he caught the glint of her eyes. “I found…” She placed a slight emphasis on the word. “…an error in your figures for the velocity. You’ve transposed sine for cosine three lines down on page three. Why on earth didn’t you ask me to check it before you published?”
His lips turned down, although somewhere in the back of his mind, he couldn’t help wondering if Emily might be right. She sounded so certain, and her mathematics were usually reliable. His pride insisted that he stifled the unwelcome niggle of doubt. He’d been over those calculations a hundred times. “I don’t need your supervision, Emily.”
“Apparently you do,” she retorted, and he was immediately back to wanting to lift her high over his head and hurl her into the river. “Anyway, it’s pointless talking about it out here in the dark. Take me back inside, and I’ll show you.”
“You’re set on ruining my success tonight,” he said grimly. “I’d thought better of you.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Hamish, I’m not doing this out of spite. Anything but. I don’t want to see you make a fool of yourself.”
“Because it reflects on your father as my mentor?”
“There’s that, but for your own sake as well. I bear you no ill will.”
“Right now, I have difficulty believing that,” he said, his temper rising to a dangerous pitch. He reminded himself again that he had too much to lose to unleash his anger. “You could have approached me privately about this.”
“I only saw the paper tonight,” she responded just as hotly. “These last months, I’ve had my hands full with Papa. It never occurred to me that you’d make such an elementary mistake.”
The superior little baggage. “Elementary?” he asked on a rising note.
She faltered back into the spindly bushes and that displeased him, too. As if he’d descend to violence.
“Yes, elementary.” At least she didn’t sound frightened.
His burgeoning anger made him say something he didn’t mean, but that he knew would rankle. “Everybody says there’s nothing but trouble in store, when a female dabbles in higher learning.”
“Then everybody is a dimwitted ass.”
“I suppose that means me.”
“If the cap fits.”
His hands fisted at his sides as he battled for calm. He and Emily had often squabbled before, but this threatened to disintegrate into a juvenile quarrel that would show neither of them in a good light. “There’s no point in continuing this discussion.”
She didn’t budge. He should have known she wouldn’t. She was as stubborn as a mule. “So are you going to withdraw that paper and make corrections?”
“I believe it’s unnecessary,” he said coldly, although he was desperate to check the equation she’d singled out. He wouldn’t admit that to Emily, though, even under torture. Hamish held out his hand. “Allow me to escort you back inside, Miss Baylor.”
They’d known each other for ten years and been on first name terms for most of that time. He intended the formal address to wound. By God, after tonight he’d be happy never to see her again.
“Now you’re acting like a child.”
“If I am, it’s of no concern to you.”
“Oh, Hamish, don’t be like this.”
The world of disappointment in the words made him grit his teeth until his jaw ached. “There’s nothing more we can achieve out here.”
She made a soft exhalation redolent of irritation. “We haven’t achieved anything out here.”
“Emily, stop playing games,” he said in a rush, and only realized he’d used her Christian name after he’d spoken. So much for staying on his high horse. He shivered and to make matters worse, it started to rain. “It’s as cold as a witch’s tit. If you mean to berate me, at least do it inside in the warm.”
“It was your idea to come into the garden.” She still sounded sulky.
It had been. Because he’d feared a scandal if anyone caught him alone in a side room with his mentor’s bonny daughter. Now if they both went back into the house, wet as herrings, questions would arise anyway. “Well, now it’s my idea to go inside. Are you coming?”
There was a silence while he wondered what in blazes fretted the pestilential girl now.
“I can’t,” she said in a small voice.
“Emily,” he growled, hunching his shoulders against the wet. “I told you to stop playing games.”
“I’m not playing games. I’m stuck.”
“What?” Hamish bit out.
“When you shoved me into this bush, my dress got caught.”
“I did not shove you,” he retorted, even as he shifted around Emily to try and see where she was attached to the branches. It was dark in this corner of the garden. And muddy. Damp seeped into his shoes and chilled his feet. His evening pumps weren’t designed for anything but a dance floor. “Hold still and I’ll set you free.”
“Try not to rip my dress.”
Hamish ignored her habit of giving orders. He usually did. He dropped the pamphlet to the ground so he had two free hands. Bending down, he tried to use his fingers to work out where dress and thorns made contact. Devil if he could see a damned thing. And Emily’s smoky, alluring scent, all honey and jasmine, teased his nostrils and made it almost impossible to think.
“Plague take you, stay still.”
“Well, that’s charming.”
He tugged at his coat and loosened it with what he hoped was minimal damage. “See if you can get out of my coat.”
“I’ll tear it.”
“I don’t give a fig if you do. You’ll freeze to death if you stay out here.”
So would he. He’d intended taking a few unobserved moments to put this impudent miss in her place, but they’d been out here for over a quarter of an hour now, and his shirt offered precious little protection from the elements.
“If you say so.”
With some trouble, she wriggled out of the fine black coat, and he heard fabric ripping. He ground his teeth in irritation. When he stood up on the podium to give his speech, he wasn’t going to make much of a show, by God.
He shrugged on the coat, immediately welcoming the warmth. But now Emily only had that damned becoming gown to cover her, and it was as unsuited to the outdoors as his pumps.
“Why the devil do women wear these ridiculous rags?” he muttered, trying to make sense of a million layers of petticoats tangled around the thorny bush.
“What is it?”
Those thorns meant business. “Nothing. Can you move now?” he asked, striving not to bark at her.
“My skirt’s still caught.”
Of course it was. Could this night get any worse? He muffled a sigh and went down on his haunches to see what else he could do to free her. “Keep still.”
He could smell rain and cold fresh air. But as he kneeled at Emily’s side, mostly he just smelled her. Crushed flowers. And beneath that, a warm, alluring scent that he’d long ago identified as essence of Emily. By God, if he was a chemist, he’d work out how to bottle that. He’d make a fortune.
That scent turned his usually deft hands into ten thumbs. While here and now he’d like to consign this interfering besom to perdition, tonight that scent would twine its way through his dreams. It would make him hot and frustrated, and angry with himself for the depraved things he did to his mentor’s daughter in his fantasies.
“Hamish, I’m freezing.” She didn’t sound nearly as full of herself. He wasn’t the only one who knew they’d been out here far too long.
“I know.” Even with his coat on, he was cold. He was close enough to hear her teeth chatter. He reined in a lunatic offer to sweep her into his arms and warm her up. It didn’t help that he crouched mere inches from graceful hips and a nicely rounded rump. “Forgive me, I’m going to have to tear your dress.”
His shoulders tensed as a cold dribble of water ran down the back of his neck. “People might notice.”
“I’ll make repairs in the retiring room before I return to the reception.” She paused. “Or go back outside and wait in the carriage.”
In the silent garden, the sound of ripping fabric was loud. Loud and too damned evocative to a man who might resent the girl’s effrontery, but who couldn’t help wanting the woman.
As if they had a chance of getting together. What a disaster that would be. If he did manage to inveigle his way into her bed, she’d take notes on his performance. Once they were done, she’d give him chapter and verse on where he went wrong.
The minute she was free, she staggered. As Hamish rose, he reached out to catch her. For one dizzying moment, he clasped Emily Baylor to his chest, and she wasn’t bossy or prickly or difficult. She was soft and supple, and she smelled sweeter than a flower garden in high summer.