The Viscount’s Feisty Highland Lass

Daring Damsels Book One

The Viscount's Feisty Highland Lass by Lis'Anne Harris

“THE VISCOUNT’S FEISTY HIGHLAND LASS is a fabulous Georgian historical romance that will leave readers begging for more!” ~ Virginia Henley, New York Times Bestselling Author

“Lis’Anne Harris has written a page-turner, keeping the action and, of course, the romance on track and flowing. The attention to detail is remarkable; the author clearly has done her homework.” ~ Jeff Decker, Goodreads

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At the mercy of her amoral uncle, Baron Ledgemont, who’ll stop at nothing to steal her inheritance, LADY DESIREE FRAZIER finds herself the object of a scandalous auction. Belittled for her stuttering speech, no man wants her for a wife. Desiree summons the courage to wrest control of her future and money from the vicious monster who plots to destroy her.

LORD ALEXANDER EVERDON, beleaguered by the guardianship of his errant siblings, is in London to track down his wayward brother. What he doesn’t expect to stumble upon is the noble Lady Desiree surrounded by lascivious lechers.

BOUND TOGETHER in a wild bid to thwart Baron Ledgemont’s evil machinations, Alex discovers the feisty Scottish lass is the perfect match for him. While trying to gain her love, Alex is thrust into a series of misadventures to free his brother from a date with the gallows. Desiree must turn the tables on her dastardly uncle before she can revel in her viscount’s sweet love.

Excerpt

Chapter One

London, 1780

Desiree Frazier pressed her forehead against the windowpane. Proprietors closed their shops ere the last rays of the setting sun disappeared. She gazed at the people walking by on the filthy, cobbled street below wishing she were one of them, a woman with a purpose and a place to call her own. A woman who was wanted, needed, loved. She bit her bottom lip, stifling her need to rail at the cruel world passing her by without a backward glance.

Her spine stiffened at the audible click across the room. The old wooden door creaked open on its black strap hinges. She pulled her white handkerchief from the ruffle-edged sleeve at her wrist and hurriedly erased the telltale signs of her tears. It would no’ do for her odious Uncle John to catch her crying. Every one of his hateful words was a lance piercing her heart and she dinnae have on the armor necessary to deflect the pain. It made her skin crawl to even think of him as family.

“I told you to keep your mouth shut.” His disgust-filled voice was a never-ending waterfall of misery to her ears. “That man would have taken you off my hands had you shown one iota of intelligence. As usual, you sat there unable to utter one intelligible sentence.”

“I am s-s-sorry.” Desiree bowed her head to hide her flush of anger. He’d told her to keep her mouth shut, but then hissed at her to answer the prospective groom’s question.

She clenched her jaw so tight, it was surprising she dinnae crack a tooth. Why did her mind form each word perfectly, yet her tongue stumbled? There was nae answer for why she could no’ speak normally. Her gaze returned to the window. Desiree flinched as the door slammed shut behind her in the Black Swan Inn. Nae man on earth wanted her the way she was.

If only her uncle would let her live a quiet life in the country, alone with her books and her dreams, she would somehow find contentment. Being paraded before one gentleman after another, and some verra un-gentlemanly, she felt like a deformed lamb up for auction with nae one willing to bid. The Season was long over. Most of the nobility had retired to their country estates for the winter, but her uncle was desperate to find a man, nae matter how lowly, ere the year was out.Alex Everdon entered his second-floor room at the Black Bull Inn. He tossed his hat and gloves on one of the worn wooden chairs in the sitting room. He shrugged out of his greatcoat and flung it across the bed.

The sight of a full decanter of brandy elicited a deep sigh. He sloshed a liberal amount into the provided glass and leaned against the window jamb, scanning the street below. Alex despised London and wouldn’t have come to its filthy environs had Edward been where he was supposed to be. He flinched at the thought of the balls and parties his fiancée, Pamela, would force him to attend. She loved this wretched city. She’d accepted his proposal of marriage with the condition he allow her to spend the better part of each year amidst the glittering multitude. Alex’s sisters needed the strict propriety Pamela could instill in them, and Pamela desperately wanted his title. It seemed an equitable arrangement. She was rather long in the tooth at three-and-twenty years with no decent offers. Alex cared naught of her age or beauty. He only needed a son or two and a female to take over the maddening care of Amelia and Elaina.

A hard rap at the door announced his valet. The elderly servant entered followed by two boys carrying Alex’s traveling trunk. Evans’ gray hair was trimmed short and neatly combed over the bald patch on his head. His suit black pinstripe crisp and unwrinkled as though he hadn’t spent the entire day cooped up in a cold coach.

“Order my supper. I shall take it here.”

“Already done, my lord,” Evans replied without hesitation.

Alex nodded and returned his attention to the street. His gaze wandered over the hackneys plodding along the crowded thoroughfare. Elegant coaches no doubt carried their lofty occupants home from an afternoon of shopping. Street vendors pushed nearly empty carts back to their tiny hovels in the overcrowded city. Merchants briskly closed up shop eager to ease sore feet after a long, hard day earning their bread. Alex was weary and growing wearier watching the people scurry along.

“Excuse me, my lord.” Evans’ quiet voice interrupted his trance.

“Yes?”

“Your dinner is ready.” He turned to see the valet set a tray of food on a table and pull a chair close.

“Thank you, Evans.” He gave a dismissive wave. “You may take the rest of the evening off and seek your own diversions. I am more than capable of seeing to my own needs before I retire.”

“Are you certain, my lord?” A look of concern clouded the astute valet’s brown eyes.

“Yes, quite.” Alex smiled to ease the worry of the man who had served him for the past seven years. Evans had been his father’s valet and Alex more or less inherited him along with the title. In truth, the man was quite indispensable, and life would be far less manageable without him.

“If you should have need of me, I will be in the common room, my lord.” Evans gave a slight bow and slipped from the room.

Alex’s neck and shoulders bristled with tension and he rocked his head from side to side in search of relief. The demands of caring for his younger siblings were more than he could handle. At the moment it was his younger brother who necessitated this visit to London. The wild youth disappeared from school, again, and was somewhere in the city. Alex’s visit to his solicitor today resulted in cutting off Edward’s allowance thereby flushing him out. Soon with any luck. He didn’t have the luxury of time to waste looking for the recalcitrant youth. Alex couldn’t leave his two sisters alone for more than a few days without one or both of them seducing the stable lads at Seaton Tor. Their governess, Miss Pritchard, tried to rule them with an iron-fist, but the girls were wilier than foxes trying to raid the henhouse.

He was about to turn away when a movement across the street in the opposite window caught his eye. A young woman stood with her forehead pressed to the pane. The saddest expression suffused her pretty countenance. She gazed at the passersby below. Alex watched her, unable to pull his eyes away. Fiery red hair haloed her pale, oval face. Would that he could reach out across the narrow lane and touch her. She stood stiffly erect and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief ere turning her back to the window. He couldn’t see who entered her room, but whatever was said to her clearly affected her stature, which seemed to shrink in the space of a few seconds.

She turned back to the window. Her flinch jolted Alex.

Who was this exquisite creature? Who would want to hurt her?

More than likely her husband reprimanded her for spending too much on unnecessary fripperies; although his sisters never looked so miserable after he reprimanded them. He’d never seen anyone appear so forlorn. She moved away from the window and he shook his head. It was none of his concern.Desiree stepped through the front door of the Black Swan Inn. Fluffy clouds scudded by in the bright morning sky. Londoners of every description hurried this way and that. She held onto the hood of her weel-worn black cape as a gust threatened to whisk it off. The biting chill in the air invigorated her flagging spirit. She stepped onto the busy sidewalk and was jerked to a halt. John clutched her arm.

“Be back no later than two o’clock wearing your prettiest gown, chit. You will be the first thing the gentlemen see as they step off the afternoon stagecoach.”

She sniffed. Thing? Prettiest gown? She dinnae have a pretty gown. She owned three plain black mourning dresses. They’d been hastily sewn together by the good Sisters of St. Margaret’s of Loch Linny almost a year ago. John refused to release any of her money beyond her meager allowance, so there were nae hard decisions to make of a morning. Desiree was no’ aboot to waste her precious coin on clothing. Books provided her only means to escape her wretched existence.

Eager to be away from John’s hateful stare, she inclined her head and turned toward St. Paul’s Churchyard. He said nothing more; she breathed a sigh of relief. Nae doubt he was on his way to Brooks’ or White’s or some other such establishment to place a bet or two he was sure to lose.

Desiree walked swiftly, weaving in and out of slower pedestrians on her way to Joseph Jeffers Bookseller. She craved a humorous escapade a Henry Fielding novel could provide.Alex stepped out the front entrance of the Black Bull into the fast-paced action of Holborn Lane. A groom led Banshee from the mews. Alex mounted and turned the sleek black thoroughbred to enter the throng of carriages and hackneys clogging the way. He was prepared to search every house of ill repute in the city if need be to find his brother. The last time Edward ran off, he’d dragged him out the House of Roses by his ear, half-naked and intoxicated. Alex was tempted to buy his brother a commission in the Royal Navy.

He pulled up on his reins with a quick jerk. Banshee sidestepped back out of traffic. The sad woman of last eve stood on the opposite sidewalk, like a breath of fresh air. The late morning sun kissed her upturned nose and the cold wind colored her cheeks the same exact hue as his mother’s pink roses. Wisps of her curly red hair escaped the confines of her hood. He decided in that moment he had a strong affinity for crimson curls.

Of all people, his neighbor grabbed her arm. Alex’s thigh muscles flexed. Banshee snorted and shook his head in response to the pressure on his sides. Baron Ledgemont said a few terse words; a scowl turned down the corners of his thick lips. The lovely woman inclined her head then walked eastward a few yards. She glanced over her shoulder and stuck her tongue out at Ledgemont’s back.

Alex chuckled. The fille certainly had spunk.

She zigzagged through the multitude of equipage, crossed the thoroughfare, and continued onward.

Alex’s first inclination was to follow her. He glanced at Baron Ledgemont. The rotund, florid-faced gentleman turned on his heel and walked briskly in the opposite direction. Who was the woman to the baron? She wasn’t his wife or either of his two whey-faced daughters. Alex shouted across the busy roadway and raised his hand in greeting. The baron, along with several dozen other passersby, turned to stare his way.

Alex nudged Banshee with his knee and forced his way across the crowded roadway. He stopped alongside the man who was his closest neighbor at Seaton Tor. “Good morn to you, Ledgemont. What brings you to the city this time of year?”

The baron’s slightly protruding brown eyeballs seemed to bulge a bit further. He lifted his ugly mustard yellow hat that matched his coat and pantaloons to reveal greasy strands of hair. John glanced eastward uneasily. “Good morn to you, Lord Windmere. I have some business interests to attend to that could not be facilitated from the country.” He stared up at Alex, offering no more explanation.

“I trust your wife and daughters are well? They have not been to visit Amelia and Elaina for awhile.”

“Yes, yes. They are quite well, thank you.” Ledgemont tugged on his tightly tied white cravat. “If you will excuse me, my lord, I mustn’t be late for an appointment with my solicitor.”

The flustered baron turned on his worn black shoe heel and hurried into the throng without another word.

“Well. That was a most bizarre encounter.”

Alex usually couldn’t shut the man up. Ledgemont always tried to impress everyone with his lofty opinions. Was the young woman his mistress?

Alex curled his upper lip in distaste. The man would surely have to pay a pretty fortune to get anyone to lay with him.

He had never liked the self-centered man. Lady Ledgemont wasn’t so bad; however, there were times when he thought she was a little wild-eyed.

Banshee snorted and shook his head.

Alex shook his, as well, and directed his black steed into the flow of traffic to begin the search for Edward.This was the part she always dreaded. Desiree placed her selections upon the polished oak counter and smiled. If luck were with her, she would no’ have to utter a syllable.

The clerk glanced up from his tally of figures and raised his brows. He impatiently brushed a lock of unruly sandy blond hair from his forehead. His brown eyes flitted from the small stack of books to her eyes. “Good morning, miss. Did you find everything for which you looked today?”

Desiree nodded, pretending distraction while she read the placard on the counter. “Help Wanted: Male or Female, Must Be Literate”

“Would you like a receipt?”

She bobbed her head once more and swallowed the lump in her throat. ‘Twas rude to say yes without ‘please.’ But was it ruder to say nothing at all? Just nod? Her palms began to sweat as they did each time she had to face a stranger attempting to converse with her.

The clerk selected a small sheet of parchment and began to list the titles along with their cost. He spoke without looking up. “Mighty cold weather out there, is it not?”

Desiree could no’ just nod because he was no’ looking at her. “Aye, it is.”

She tilted her head. Had she uttered three words in public without stuttering?

“Five shillings, three pence, please.”

She smiled at the clerk and placed her last guinea on the counter.

He counted out change for her then tied the books together with a length of twine. He handed her the bundle. “Have a good day.”

Desiree nodded her thanks and stepped outside with a feeling of euphoria. It was the first time she’d conversed with a stranger without having to use a word beginning with a consonant.

Excited, she commenced walking with a lively step to the Black Swan. Lost in a daydream wherein she nae longer spoke with impediment, she thudded into someone. A small cry escaped her lips as she landed on her bottom. Her books tumbled to the filthy roadway breaking free from the twine. Mud splattered the plasterboard covers.

A large, male hand stretched into her vision. “Excuse me, miss. I did not see you.”

Her gaze climbed upward. Desiree stared in awe. He had been in the act of swinging his black cape around his back. It slid down his arm where he captured it ere it hit the dirty cobblestone walk.

His frosty blue eyes framed by long dark lashes sparkled in the sunshine. Wavy black hair, wind-tousled, brushed the shoulders of his navy blue superfine jacket. He was clean-shaven and without the hideous mutton chop whiskers most men found so fashionable. His upper lip was thinner than the lower, but nicely shaped and his even, white teeth appeared even brighter against their rosy hue. Could a man be thought of as beautiful?

The tastefully garbed man was a veritable giant from her position on the ground. His muscular legs were encased in a pair of soft yellowish buckskin pantaloons that were far too tight to be decent and his black Hessians appeared custom-fitted.

He crouched down to her level.

Desiree swallowed a small groan. She was afraid to utter anything other than Aye, it is, but it obviously dinnae fit the situation. She placed her gloved hand in his; he lifted her to her feet as he rose.

His deep melodious voice wrapped itself around her. “I am sorry for barreling into your path. Are you hurt?”

She shook her head once. He whisked a pristine white handkerchief from an inner pocket of his jacket. He bent to retrieve each of her books, wiping off the muck before handing them to her. He smiled down upon Desiree with an expectant air.

Good Lord, he waited for her to say something. She could no’ look him in the eyes and witness his pity, or horror. She kept her gaze firmly fixed on the toes of her scuffed brown boots. “Th-th-thank you.”

The man’s strong index finger tilted her chin up, shocking Desiree beyond all reason. “You are welcome.”

She met his understanding gaze. There was no pity, no horror. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Alexander Everdon.” He smiled and bowed most formally.

She curtsied then scrunched her eyes shut and forced out her name. “L-L-Lady D-D-Desiree F-F-Frazier.”

“‘Tis very nice to meet you, Lady Desiree. A very beautiful name for a beautiful lady.” He leaned toward her and offered his arm. “May I escort you to your destination?”

She violently shook her head, taking an involuntary step back. If he walked with her she would have to continue conversing and that would be pure torture. “N-n-nae, th-th-thank you.”

Desiree stepped around Mr. Everdon and hurried along into the crowd of pedestrians without a backward glance. He dinnae follow and insist on escorting her; she breathed a sigh of relief.Lady Desiree.

Alex knew she couldn’t be Baron Ledgemont’s mistress. Not if she were a true lady.

He was more stunned than she as he stepped out of the Cock & Bull into her path.

Her jade green eyes were radiant in the bright morning sun and her hair glistened with hints of burnished copper. He was sure she had a joyous smile on her lips ere they collided.

Whatever her relationship with the baron, it was no wonder he looked upon Lady Desiree with scorn. The man would consider her a shameful embarrassment to his family and therefore beneath contempt. Any form of disability heralded less than perfect familial traits. No one would want to risk passing those attributes on to their offspring. Alex didn’t believe for one minute a stutter could be inherited, but too many backward-thinking people were hard to convince otherwise.

His eyes followed her rapid progress until she became lost in the crowd.

Something indefinable drew him to her. Perhaps it was simply that she chose a book by his favorite composer. She must have an interest in music and maybe a love of the arias and sonatas of the musical virtuoso Johann Sebastian Bach.

Alex sighed. Who she was to the baron was no concern of his. He had little time to waste if he were to retrieve Edward and return home within a week. The proprietor of the Cock & Bull hadn’t seen his brother since last year.

He flipped a ha’penny to the grimy lad holding Banshee’s reins, mounted the beast then headed for the east side of the city. Someone there would surely know of Edward’s whereabouts.

Desiree stood with her uncle in the yard of the Black Swan. He held her upper arm in a punishing grip. She tried to yank free, but he dug his fat fingers in deeper. She gritted her teeth and seethed with impotent rage.

Several men eyed her body with lust while John attempted to convince them of her value as good breeding stock. Her beauty alone would be an asset to any he pitched with auction-like enthusiasm. She waited for him to request she open her mouth wide for inspection and expected at least one to grope her shanks for sturdiness.

“What’s wrong with the miss for ye to be out ‘ere trying to sell ‘er to the man what would take the least dowry for ‘er?” The man, clearly of the working class, appeared skeptical and a bit disgusted by the affair. “She may be a real looker, but there must be some deformity.”

“I assure ye, good man, there ish nothing wrong with her form. She hash the body o’ a young filly and I am sure ye’ll get many a fine son on her.” John’s voice had a distinct slur. It was a wonder the man still stood on his feet. He must’ve been drinking all morn.

A hulk of a man piped up. “I’ll give ye a shilling for a toss in the ‘ay with ‘er.” He laughed, and the other men joined in.

A bidding war ensued, each adding a shilling in rapid succession. Desiree was horrified. John had lost control of the situation in his inebriated state. She feared he would give her over to the highest bidder. She had to get away. Life on her own was much preferable to this degradation. She yanked her arm to break the grip holding her at his side. It only served to make his fingers dig deeper into her tender flesh. Tears of frustration clogged her throat as she pulled harder and glared up at the hateful man.

“What is going on here?”

“Dear God in heaven,” Desiree breathed. Of all the people in London, ’twas Mr. Alexander Everdon.

John wobbled on his feet. “‘Tis none o’ your concern. I shall thank ye to stay out o’ it.”

Mr. Everdon clamped his hand around the baron’s wrist. A muscle ticked in the handsome man’s strong jaw. “It appears as though you are conducting an auction for Lady Desiree’s services. I am sure you are aware of the illegality of such an act.”

Her uncle turned purple with rage. “I was doing no such thing. I was merely negotiating a matrimonial proposal for my niece. It got out of hand.”

“A matrimonial proposal?” The appalled disbelief Mr. Everdon slanted the baron made Desiree want to shrivel into a ball and pretend invisibility. “Your niece?”

John realized too late how horrifying it appeared. One did no’ stand in an inn yard begging any man who stepped off the afternoon stagecoach to marry a lady.

“Are you so desperate for a spouse you would agree to this disgusting transaction?”

She kenned he directed the question at her bowed head. She shook it once as she clenched her teeth and yanked her arm free. She glanced up to find a large crowd gathered, stretching their necks to see what all the to-do was aboot. Mr. Everdon grasped her elbow and ushered her through the gathering.

“I say there!” John shouted, drawing even more people into the alleyway. “I shall sue you, Everdon, for interfering with my right to contract my ward’s mar-marriage!” The angrier he grew, the more his inebriation seemed to dissipate.

“Do so, Ledgemont. Then explain to the court why you were conducting an illegal auction for her services in the middle of a public yard.”

Desiree looked back to see if he followed. John threw his hat on the ground and stomped it as Mr. Everdon turned the corner, practically dragging her in his wake. He stopped at the front door of the Black Swan. She said nary a word. What could she say? The job opening at the bookstore was her only option if she were to attain any semblance of happiness. If she had to work as a clerk for the rest of her life, it would be better than life shackled to her uncle—or a wretched stranger.Enraged, Alex deposited her at the entrance door to her inn then stomped through the stinking muck to the Black Bull.

As curious as the next man making his way down the short lane to discern all the fuss, he had been nonplussed to witness Baron Ledgemont auctioning off Lady Desiree. And flabbergasted to find she was his niece. Never in all his life had he seen such a blatant disregard for one’s own family. What was the man thinking? How did he hope to sell her without someone finding out? The man had ruined his own good standing in the ranks of society. Too many people witnessed the event and wagging tongues would eagerly share the sordid tale. It would be smeared across the scandal sheets by evening.

Evans awaited him in the sitting room of his chamber at the Black Bull. “Is all well, my lord?”

“No. What do you know of John Ledgemont’s niece, Lady Desiree?” He shrugged out of his jacket and threw it on a chair then plopped down on an old tufted footstool to yank off his muddy boots.

Evans bent to assist while he spoke. “I know not how accurate the servants’ gossip is, but they say she is touched in the head.”

“When did she become the baron’s ward?”

The valet straightened with both boots in hand, mud oozing through his fingers. “She came to live with them nigh on two months past. Her mother was the wife of a Scottish clan chief, I believe.”

“Baron Ledgemont has a sister married to a Scotsman?” That wouldn’t have gone over well with the baron. Alex didn’t even know Ledgemont had a sister.

Evans shook his head. “No. Baroness Ledgemont had a sister married to a Scotsman.”

“So, Lady Desiree is not related by blood to the baron?”

“No.”

Alex could see his valet’s extreme curiosity, but he couldn’t bring himself to voice Lady Desiree’s disgrace to anyone. “Please clean my boots and have a quick dinner sent up. I shall be going out again this evening.”

Evans nodded and turned with a thoughtful expression on his deeply lined countenance. He left the chamber to see to the tasks.

Alex padded into the bedroom in his stockings and gazed out the window to the one opposite his. She wasn’t touched in the head. She had a speech impediment. What a shame someone with such a striking face and form was so afflicted. He stiffened and pressed his hands to the glass. Baron Ledgemont entered the room opposite and jerked Lady Desiree into Alex’s view, striking her with his closed fist.

“Good God!” Alex tore out of his chamber and down the flight of stairs, raced through the common room and crossed Holborn in a flash, heedless of the cold muck seeping through his stockings. He dashed through the entrance to the Black Swan and climbed the stairs two at a time with shouts from the proprietor ringing in his ears.

The door to the chamber stood open and he darted in on silent feet. The swine was in the act of raising his fist again to strike. Alex wrapped his arm around the baron’s neck, cutting off his wind. Alex used his other hand to add leverage to the choke hold.

“If you ever lay a hand on her again I will tear out your beating heart.” He kept his voice deadly calm. It wouldn’t do for the patrons below to hear.

The baron flailed his arms in the air and made a gurgling noise. Desiree lay sprawled across the bed like a tossed rag doll amidst her valise and spare garments. Men crowded into the room behind Alex and shouted for him to let go.

Damn.

He should’ve shut the door behind him. Half the men from the common room gawked at Lady Desiree’s limp, lush body and shapely legs bared for their lecherous gazes.

Alex released his hold and Ledgemont fell to the floor on his knees. The baron gasped, “Call the watch. Have him arrested.”

Alex stepped to the bedside and tugged the hem of Lady Desiree’s gown over her legs. He was tempted to kick Ledgemont while he was down. Rage roiled in his chest.

The proprietor wrinkled his brow, scrubbing his wet hands with a bar rag. “Now, now. I don’t want no trouble here. If this gentleman leaves peaceable-like I don’t see no need to call the Charlies.” He gave Alex a deferential nod.

“Very shrewd of you, good man.” Alex gave the innkeeper a brief appraisal then scooped Lady Desiree into his arms. He couldn’t leave her to the tender mercy of her uncle.

The baron spoke between retching heaves. “You have no right to take her…to interfere… Leave her…she deserves what she gets…spawn of a devil Scots.”

Alex ignored him. The men crowding the doorway split apart allowing him to pass with his unconscious burden. “Have a maid pack her belongings and send them across the street to the Black Bull.”

“Yes, m’lord.” The proprietor bobbed his head and followed Alex, leaving the baron retching on the worn oak floor.

Alex encountered Evans at the top of the steps still holding his boots. The elderly man’s jaw hung slack.

“Close your mouth, Evans. Pay the good proprietor for his trouble.”

The valet flattened himself against the wall for Alex to pass then followed closely on his stockinged heels. “My lord? What are you doing?”

“What does it look like, man? I am rescuing a damsel in distress.” He continued through the taproom where silence reigned as he and the unconscious lady were gazed upon with astonishment.

“But, my lord, have you taken leave of your senses? What will you do with her?”

They gained the middle of Holborn and traffic came to a halt as he stood there in his shirt waist holding the unconscious lady with his valet clutching his filthy Hessians.

He turned to the shocked servant. “What would you have me do, Evans? Leave her to be beaten half to death by her drunken uncle?”

The valet’s wiry gray brows rose to an alarming degree.

Alex noticed the spectacle they made in the thoroughfare and spun on his heel in the mire. He stepped to the side of the Black Bull’s entrance and jerked his head for Evans to open the door. Curious faces crowded the inn’s windows. He was greeted by the disapproving proprietor.

“I need another room for the lady.”

“We ‘ave no more rooms, m’lord.” The reed-thin man placed his bony hands on his hips and gestured with a nod of his head to the over-flowing common room. “We be stuffed to the rafters. They be tryin’ that ‘ighwayman day after tomorrow and every inn is plumb full with spectators waitin’ for the scaffold to go up.”

Damned highwayman. Alex swept the smoke-filled room with a disgruntled glance. Didn’t these people have work to do somewhere to earn their keep? “Do you have a cot that can be placed in my sitting room?”

“No.”

“A pallet?”

“No.” He eyed Lady Desiree. “I do not allow unmarried persons to share me chambers. This be a respectable establishment.”

Alex’s head began to pound. “Evans, hail a hackney. Then pack my trunk.”

The valet glared at the hawkish proprietor. He stepped back through the door and waved down the nearest hack. It was a dilapidated contraption, but under the circumstances it would have to do.

“Where to, my lord?” Evans clutched the muddy boots in one arm, opened the hack door and braced Alex’s back for him to climb in with Lady Desiree.

“The townhouse.” Alex settled himself as best he could in the cramped space.

“But it is uninhabitable. The roof…”

“We shall have to make do.” Alex shouted his address up to the driver.

Evans shut the door and stepped back.

The thoroughfare was clogged with pedestrians and it took several minutes for the congestion to clear before the hack driver could force his way into the flow.

The cracked leather seat was ice-cold, his feet were numb, and shivers raced up and down his spine where he leaned against the musty black leather squabs. She had yet to stir and he wondered if he should have a physician sent to the townhouse.

Alex rested his head against the seat and contemplated the dilemma he now faced. What was he to do with the woman? Perhaps she had family in Scotland to whom he could send her. Although the thought of abandoning her to possibly face the same ridicule and rejection mêted out by the baron was wholly unacceptable.

Bloody hell.Authorgraph Signature | Lis'Anne Harris

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