The Seduction of Miss Amelia Bell
Book#1 in the Highland Heirs series
A HIGHLAND ROGUE
Edmund MacGregor will do anything to save Scotland from English rule-even kidnap Lady Amelia Bell for ransom. As the daughter of a duke and the chancellor's betrothed, she's the perfect pawn in this game. But from the moment he first lays eyes on his spirited captive, he can't resist stealing a kiss . . .
AN ADVENTUROUS LADY
Lady Amelia's duty is to marry well, but that hasn't stopped her from fantasizing about true love. So when a sexy Scot appears in her home, she's beguiled. When he kidnaps her, she's furious. Yet as Edmund introduces her to a world of passion beyond her wildest dreams, can she leave her family behind for this handsome Highlander? And will Edmund risk the only true home he's ever known to capture the heart of this lovely lass?
4 1/2 stars from RT Book Reviews
"Quinn captures the aura of the Highlands and its people as well. Her portrayal of the Scots and English’s conflict and contentious history is so well told that readers will feel they are a part of the events. Honorable, smart, dedicated characters fill the pages of this memorable tale as much as the sexual tension and nonstop action."
5 Stars TOP PICK from Night Owl Reviews
"Quinn created wonderful characters that pulled me in deep, and already has me hungering to learn more about the new generation of MacGregors. The story had plenty of passion, romance and adventure.The Seduction of Miss Amelia Bell is all about loyalty, honor and love. I felt it was one of the best books I've read in a long time. I will surely be recommending it to everyone and their cousin. It is worthy of 5 flying stars from this happy reader!!!"
Spring, early 18th Century
Edmund MacGregor crept along the hall of Venus’s Flower, a small brothel on Barkley Lane and unsheathed his claymore. If he was correct, several members of Parliament were inside these rooms, helpless with their hose around their ankles and their moral values cast to the four winds. Colin MacGregor, his father and the greatest spy in the three kingdoms had taught him that it was always better to catch victims unawares and desperate to save their lives. One gathered the most information that way.
And Edmund needed information.
He heard a woman scream down the other end of the long, poorly lit corridor and held his breath knowing that his cousin Lucan had just burst into the room she shared with Lord Aimsley of Cambridge. The Highland invasion had begun.
They raided often, him and his MacGregor and Grant cousins, invading everything from brothels to grand balls. They’d even managed to convince several MacKinnons and MacDonalds to join them on a few excursions to the Lowlands and had succeeded in postponing Scotland’s union with England twice. They were feared throughout the kingdoms, but no one knew their true identities. They were outlaws, belonging to a clan almost utterly extinct and hidden in the clouds.
Edmund kicked open the door in front of him. A woman screamed from the bed, her shriek followed by two more from the other prostitutes throughout the brothel. The man who shared this woman’s mattress paled when he saw the hooded Highlander coming toward him. Edmund’s smile remained hidden beneath the black linen covering his face. He raised his sword over his shoulder. “Lord Sunderland. A pleasure to finally meet ye.”
The terrified man pissed the bed that the savage would have the knowledge of his identity. Aye, Edmund knew who the patron was. Respected baron, member of Parliament.
He moved around the bed and pointed his blade at the naked nobleman. “Who else needs to put their name to the Act? Ye have five breaths to tell me or I’ll take the life out of ye here and now.”
The baron squeezed his eyes shut and whimpered. Edmund took the moment to flick his eyes to the woman breathless and afraid in the bed next to his victim.
“I don’t know which Act you speak of.”
Edmund moved behind him and pulled him up by the hair. “Then let me be more precise.” He positioned his blade across his captive’s throat and waited patiently for the nobleman to cease his hysterics. “Who else needs to sign the Union with England Act, the one that will put into effect the Treaty of Union, which will join the three kingdoms and enslave Scotland to England?” He pressed the edge of his blade deeper wishing Sunderland hadn’t already signed. There was no longer a reason to kill him. “The Act ye and traitors like ye were bribed by the duke of Queensberry to sign. That Act.” He bent to Sunderland’s ear and whispered. “Yer time is running out.”
“Only a few,” Lord Sunderland cried. “The duke of Roxburghe, the Lord Chancellor and Queensberry himself!”
Only three and it would be done. Edmund’s stomach sank. Were him and his cousins too late? Could they succeed now? He closed his eyes and called upon his fierce determination to see this through. He’d done it before. He could do it again.
“When?” He drove the blade deeper still, drawing a trickle of Sunderland’s blood. “When will it be completed?”
“In one month!” the baron cried.
One month until the bastard traitor, the duke of Queensberry had all his signatures and brought the Act before both Parliaments. The Treaty of Union would be enacted soon after that and Scotland would become part of the new Great Britain.
One month to plan the abduction of the man in charge of procuring the rest of the needed votes. They wouldn’t kill him. That would only postpone the Treaty until England found someone else to do it. This time, they would do it differently. Many would tell Edmund it was impossible, but he wouldn’t listen. He would do whatever needed to be done for Scotland. He would give up anything, including his life to save his adopted country from further subjugation from England.
“Don’t kill me!” the baron whimpered.
“Give me a reason not to,” Edmund said over him. “Ye sold yer homeland for a wee bit more than Judas received.”
“No! No! I’ll help ye!”
When Edmund received the information he needed to move forward, he released his prisoner. He watched the baron trip over his feet on his way out of the room, trying to dress as he went. Edmund’s jeer mixed with Lucan MacGregor’s when his cousin met him in the hall.
“What did ye learn?”
“They only need three more names. We have a month to stop them,” Edmund told him.
Luke shook his head slightly, but he didn’t give voice to the doubt that they could do it. “I didn’t get much more than that from Aimsley.”
“I got a wee bit more,” Edmund went on as they walked together. “After Sunderland begged me to spare his life, he told me that there was soon to be an announcement.”
“Aye?” Luke pulled down his mask and waited.
“The duke of Queensberry’s niece is to be betrothed to the Lord Chancellor. They will both be in attendance in Edinburgh at the same time.”
Edmund shook his head. ”We’ll discuss the details later with the others.”
“Aye,” Luke agreed. “Should we take the rest of the place? The Mistress told me that there are three other noblemen upstairs.”
Edmund would rather ride straight for Edinburgh but he knew his cousins were weary from the trek from Skye to Stirling. They needed a night of drinking and warm, soft bodies to encourage them in their fight to save their country. “Aye, let’s drive them out and have the place to ourselves fer the night.”
They caught up with their cousin Malcolm a little while later in the parlor with three women in his lap.
“Where’s Darach?” Luke asked, his mask tucked into his belt. He accepted a cup of warm wine from a woman with an even warmer smile.
“He’s takin’ what Lord Lincoln left behind. Bastard might even be makin’ the earl watch. Now that I think on it, I dinna’ remember seein’ Lincoln leave.”
Edmund didn’t doubt that Darach would do such a thing. He raised his cup with his two comrades and they toasted, while wine and women flowed, to their enemies defeat. They had a task to see to, and see to it, they would. Tomorrow they would set pace toward Edinburgh in an effort to save Scotland, her rights, and her beliefs. But tonight they would drink and enjoy laughter and warm bodies.
Reining in his mount, Edmund fastened his gaze on the magnificent skyline of Edinburgh in the distance. Though he’d seen it many times before, the sight of it never ceased to captivate him. He loved the Highlands, they were his home, and his passion to save them drew him to the capitol city like the North Star on the Holy Night.
“We should arrive at Queensberry House just before dawn.”
Edmund cut his glance to Luke, the least talkative of their scant troupe. Most of the time, the others welcomed his silence, preferring it to the sharp edge of his tongue and the zeal of his views on the kingdom and all that was wrong within it. Luke was passionate about what he knew, and the man knew a hell of a lot, thanks to his father’s affinity for books. Whenever Edmund grew bored on their journeys, he counted on Luke to stimulate the conversation. He was ready for something with a bit more bite after listening to the previous topic of interest between Malcolm and Darach.
“Ye have our thanks fer the information, Luke. We haven’t traveled to Edinburgh enough times to figure that out fer ourselves.”
Lucan lifted his head to return Edmund’s caustic smile-and with a glint in his eyes that fired the golden hues within, accepted the challenge. “If ye expect me to apologize fer thinking the rest of ye too dull-witted to sense time, ye’ll have do something more than discuss the shape of a lass’s bosoms fer the last four leagues to convince me.”
“Has our crude speech offended yer delicate sensibilities, Luke?” Darach Grant, the youngest among them at nine and ten years this spring, leaped into the fray, unfazed that Luke was the largest among them. “If ye expect us to apologize fer enjoyin’ what is as yet unfamiliar to ye—”
“’Tis unfamiliar to ye, as well, whelp,” Malcolm Grant, cousin to all three and Edmund’s closest friend laughed, “The only bosoms ye’ve tasted were yer mother’s when ye were a babe.”
“And that was what,” Luke quipped, “almost a month ago now?”
“Aye,” Darach told them with a sinister curl tipping the edge of his lips. The lad never backed down from any man, or any number of them. “’Twas aboot the same time I proved to yer fair Colleen MacKinnon that some men are better at certain skills than others.”
Luke tossed him a deprecating smirk before freeing a pouch of water from his saddlebag. “Being quicker at a skill doesn’t necessarily make ye better at it, lad. I just hope ye didn’t get her accustomed to it.”
They shared laughter, and Edmund was thankful, much as he’d been for the whole of his life for these men he’d grown up with. Men who could take a punch as well as throw one. Men he loved like brothers, though his bond with them was not forged in blood. Edmund wasn’t born a MacGregor. In fact, he wasn’t even Scottish. He’d been adopted in the clan when he was almost four, raised as a son to the man he loved more than any other, Colin, his father. He shared much in common with his cousins, especially their love of Scotland, their home on Skye, and their hatred of the renewal of laws against their name.
“I’d prefer if we ride into Edinburgh and complete our task as MacGregors and Grants,” Darach said a little while later. “We havena’ had a decent fight in over three months.”
“They’ll be plenty of fighting soon enough,” Edmund told him. He turned in his saddle and whistled, bringing a large, gangly four-legged beast galloping toward him, long tongue dangling out of the side of its mouth, tail wagging. “Today we enter Edinburgh as noblemen. We must not deviate from the plan.” Edmund wouldn’t let them deviate. He’d thought long and hard on what they should do. Harming their enemies would do no good. There were plenty more. The only way to save Scotland was to dissolve the Treaty. And there was only one hope of getting that done. They would enter Queensberry House as guests in disguise and take the duke’s niece, leaving nothing in their wake but a ransom note. Once they had the girl, they would bring her to Malcolm’s family holding, Ravenglade Castle in Perth. She would be released only after the duke and the chancellor denounced the Union.
“‘Tis now or never,” he continued. “We must stop the union.”
Things were dangerous enough for the MacGregors since William of Orange renewed the proscription against them upon his ascension to the throne almost a score years ago. Few MacGregors ever left the shelter of Camlochlin in Skye. It wasn’t that they were afraid. They were simply content, certain that the consequences of losing their Parliament would not reach them so far north.
Edmund wasn’t as sure about their continued security, nor was he content to sit around in Camlochlin ignorant to the laws being passed against his countrymen. He preferred to ride with his cousins into England’s tawdry brothels to gather information from their enemies while their noble heads were absent of wig, and their arses of hose. Defiant plaids swinging about their brawny knees, they made their points at the end of a claymore.
The Act would soon be signed. They knew who still needed to sign it, they knew where it would be signed, and now they knew when it would be completed. They weren’t foolish enough to thunder to Parliament’s doors and expect to take on the Royal Guard. They were skilled, but none were good enough to fight an army. No, they had to stop the Duke of Queensberry and the Lord Chancellor of Scotland without bringing outright war to their kin.
“I want to give bein’ a Gordon a go this time aroond.”
“Nae, Darach,” Malcolm said, “I hold a Huntley title. I should be a Gordon. I know more aboot them.”
“Ye were a Gordon the last two times, Cal,” Darach argued, “I’m tired o’ ye winnin’ all the lasses because o’ yer title.”
“Darach,” Malcolm issued with a slight curl to his lips and a flash of twin dimples, “My name has nothin’ to do with it.”
“Och, fer hell’s sakes,” Lucan said, “dinna’ get him started up again about his “many attributes”.
Malcolm tossed his rakish grin to him. “Luke, unlike in yer case, if I dinna’ boast of them, others will.”
Luke laughed shortly, “Part of ye predicament is that ye think so.”
“What predicament is that, cousin? That I dinna’ wish to follow yer ancient ideals and long-dead values? That I believe there are too many women to settle fer just one?”
“Remember that bard in Inverness who sang aboot our Miss Bell?” Thankfully Darach veered off the topic with a flash of mischief lighting the green of his eyes. “He sang of how she was lookin’ fer a husband, but none would have her because ill-fortune is said to follow her. We are no’ afraid of such folly, are we lads? One of us could court her,” he suggested without waiting for an answer to his query. “Imagine Queensberry’s reaction when he learns that after we took her fer ransom, one of us planted our seed in his garden.”
Lucan cast him a repugnant look and then shook his head at the heavens. “Why did we bring him again? He’s as senseless as Malcolm.”
“He looks the most innocent,” Edmund reminded him. “Folks are less afraid of us when they see him and his angelic features.”
Darach immediately took offense. “I dinna’ look angelic. Ye’re the one with them golden waves springin’ over yer eyes, Edmund.”
“Ye haven’t a hair on yer pretty face, Darach.” Malcolm reminded him while he passed him on his horse. “And it doesna’ look like any whiskers will be showin’ up anytime soon.”
“Don’t fret,” Edmund amended, not wanting to rile Darach up before they reached their destination. “I said ye looked innocent. Everyone here knows ye’re a deviant miscreant with horns beneath that bonnet ye wear.
And everyone knew Darach was just that. But those who knew him best, like Edmund and the others with them, knew that hidden deeply beneath his rough veneer, Darach enjoyed reciting deeds and facts, much like his father, Camlochlin’s beloved bard, Finlay Grant. Oftentimes, when he thought he went unnoticed, he sang. The men found no fault in the desires his heritage spawned. If Darach wanted to someday be a great bard, they would not see him as less than a warrior. Darach could play the pipes better than anyone Edmund knew. And he could fight better too.
“By the way,” he added looking the lad over with a closer eye, “Make certain ye change into yer Lowland attire before we get there and don’t ferget, ye cannot wear yer bonnet over yer wig.”
“I dinna’ want to wear a wig…or hose,” Darach complained. “They make me hot and itchy.”
“We don’t have invitations to the celebration,” Edmund reminded him. “After we find another way in we will mingle. We can’t do that in our plaids. Just wear the wig and quit yer grumbling.”
“Are ye my faither now?”
Edmund tossed him a wry look barely discernable in the moonlight, but audible in his voice. “Why? D’ye want me to sing to ye before ye lay yer head down tonight?”
“If ye sang like my faither,” Darach countered, “ye would likely have a wife by now, or a betrothed…or someone’s warm body to lay yer head doun on at night besides that mongrel dog of yers.”
Edmund smiled—more at Malcolm rounding on his younger cousin. He watched, wearing the slightest satisfied grin when Malcolm shoved out his fist and knocked Darach clean off his horse.
Edmund’s shoulders tightened around his ears at the loud thunk of Darach’s arse hitting the dirt.
The other reason they liked having the youngest Grant along on their excursions was because he had something to prove, and there were none better to help him prove it than his three companions. They helped make a man out of him.
Edmund didn’t participate as often as his Scottish kin did, but he enjoyed a bit of sport as much as the rest of them did. For now though, he had a task to plan and see through. He would do what had to be done to stop the signing. Of that, he had no doubt. Scotland depended on it. According to Lord Lincoln, the duke was away from the castle so this was the best time to go in and take what was his. The four of them would have no trouble taking all of Queensberry House down if they had to. The challenge of avoiding that scenario was more exciting to Edmund than tossing his sword around and hacking off the fingers of men who loved to point them. Thankfully, most of the men who rode with him agreed.
“The lad speaks true.” Luke rode up beside him while Darach leaped back to his feet and swore oaths at all three of them.
“About what?” Edmund asked with a bit of a drawn out sigh. He knew what his cousin meant. They’d had this conversation a hundred times before.
“When d’ye think ye might start looking fer a wife and quit fighting Scotland’s battles?”
“Someone needs to do it, Luke. We’re being swallowed up by England. We’re about to lose our Parliament. The nobles tell us about the advantages of a political union with England, declaring that ‘tis in our best interest fer peace and wealth. But ‘tis the Protestants who will gain security in the realm, and we, the Catholics who will lose all our rights. As MacGregors, have we not lost enough already? Our name is once again denied us and forbidden from being spoken. Everything our grandsire fought fer has been lost once again.”
“Aye, I know this, but we’re safe in Camlochlin.”
“Fer how long?” Edmund asked him. His cousin couldn’t answer, “’Tis not just about us, Luke. Scotland will suffer. Sir George Lockhart of Carnwath is openly against the Union and has stated that the whole nation appears against it, but Queensberry and Lord Chancellor Seafield and their commissioners—all bought and paid fer—don’t listen. Other negotiators to the treaty have observed that ‘tis contrary to the inclinations of at least three-fourths of the kingdom. But petitions from shires, burghs, and parishes have all but been ignored.” He set his determined gaze toward his destination. “Someone must make the men in power listen.”
Keeping his horse at an even pace with Edmund’s, Luke smiled at him. “Ye’re not Scottish.”
“It matters not. Scotland is my country.” Edmund glanced at him and scowled. “What the hell are ye still smiling about?”
“Ye’re more committed to Scotland and her sovereignty than most men who were born here. Fer ye, ‘tis a choice to adopt her ways, and ye have. ‘Tis an honorable thing, Edmund. I’m proud to call ye my kin. Unlike I am about those two.”
“Och, hell, Luke,” Darach complained, back in the saddle and riding up behind them. “Ye’re not goin’ to start in with all yer honor and knightly virtues drivel, are ye? Cal’s correct aboot ye.”
Luke laughed softly, letting Darach pass him. “Ye would do best to learn some of the drivel if ye ever mean to sing in Camlochlin’s halls.”
Darach swore something about singing that was lost on the wind as he kicked his stallion into a full gallop.
The dog that traveled with them had been Edmund’s from the moment it left its mother’s body. Ears perked at Darach’s furious departure, the beast merrily joined in the chase, catching up quickly with its prey.
“Sometimes,” Edmund said over Grendel’s loud barking and Darach’s subsequent shouts for the mongrel to let him go. “I think Darach enjoys having his arse removed from his saddle several times a day.”
“Aye,” Malcolm agreed, taking Luke’s place beside Edmund and watching the commotion ahead. “He’s the source of every silver hair on his mother’s head.”
Edmund laughed and then cringed a little at the oaths spilling from Darach’s lips, so unlike the eloquent poetry his father produced.
“Grendel!” He called out to the monstrous hound running away with Darach’s bonnet between his teeth and Darach losing ground behind him. “Good boy!”
Malcolm cheered the dog then turned to his best friend. “If only we could get Grendel to close his jaws around Queensberry’s throat. After the Duke shyt his breeches we could convince him not to sign.”
Edmund shook his head and smiled watching his dog run in wide circles while Darach chased him. “Grendel wouldn’t harm a fly,” he said, his smile fading, “’Tis me whom the duke should fear.”