How to Marry a Royal Highlander

How to Marry a Royal Highlander

The Renegade Royals, Book Four
Kensington Books
June 2015
ISBN: 978-1420131284

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Illegitimate yet thoroughly irresistible, the Renegade Royals are leaving behind their careers as daring spies for the greatest adventure of all…

At sixteen, Alasdair Gilbride, heir to a Scottish earldom, fled the Highlands and an arranged betrothal. Ten years later, Alasdair must travel home to face his responsibilities. It’s a task that would be much easier without the distracting presence of the most enticing woman he’s ever met…

After one escapade too many, Eden Whitney has been snubbed by the ton. The solution: rusticating in the Scottish wilderness, miles from all temptation. Except, of course, for brawny, charming Alasdair. The man is so exasperating she’d likely kill him before they reach the border—if someone else weren’t trying to do just that. Now Eden and Alasdair are plunging into a scandalous affair with his life and her reputation at stake—and their hearts already irreparably lost…

“The pair is flirtatious, but the dialogue isn’t corny and over-the-top. Alec and Edie were a light-hearted and level-headed couple, while all of the surrounding characters, from Edie’s mother to Alec’s aunt, were crazy in their own special ways…I’ll definitely seek more of Kelly’s books in the future. Sweet and exciting How to Marry a Royal Highlander would make a spectacular addition to the historical romance-lover’s collection.” ~Manhattan Book Review, 4.5 stars

“Kelly continues her diverting Royal Renegades with a humorous charmer. The delightful characters, witty dialogue and quick pace enliven the plot. Kelly provides plenty of passion and a light dose of Gothic suspense, engaging readers and providing an enjoyable read.” ~RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

“The writing in this novel is absolutely superb! Descriptions are vivid, the romantic plot engaging, and the emotions Ms. Kelly evokes are done so effortlessly.” ~Plot Twist Reviews, 5 stars

“Vanessa Kelly has done it again…she writes beautiful love stories that will bring tears to your eyes.” ~The Reading Wench, 5 stars

“Oh yes, another hit by Ms. Kelly…she’s just awesome and each book is a treat. Highlander offers us yet another chance to enjoy her wit and style, her dynamics and destines of those who some might not consider important. My opinion? Check it out…another excellent story” ~Bodice Rippers Reviews

“Full of complex characters that make it stand out in a room full of other novels. Take this trip back in history if you like complexity, history and true love.” ~Harlequin Junkies, 4.5 stars, Recommended Read

“HOW TO MARRY A ROYAL HIGHLANDER is an absolutely delightful read, one that had me in stitches from the beginning to the end! With a spirited and lovable heroine, a confident and attractive hero, engaging dialogue and lots of fun secondary characters, HOW TO MARRY A ROYAL HIGHLANDER belongs on everyone’s summer reading list!” ~The Sassy Bookster, 4.5 stars

HOW TO MARRY A ROYAL HIGHLANDER enchants with exceptionally appealing characters plus original circumstances.” ~Single Title Reviews

“Fun. Even paced and funny. How to Marry a Royal Highlanderkept me in  stitches! What I found most refreshing was the unique plot which is sometimes difficult to find with these historical romances, as the typical trope is so tried and true. However, Highlander definitely had my rapt attention.” ~Smexy Books, B+

“I have enjoyed this series and like all good series wish it could go on and on. Seeing each of the Renegade Royals gain love and happiness has been a thrill. Ms Kelly spins a tale that has you continuing to turn pages into the night. These characters have become like family members and you will not be disappointed with this latest story.” ~Buried Under Romance, 5 stars

“I have been following this series for a while now and I have to say that this is the best one yet!  I really, really liked this book!  I found it charming and witty…what really drew me into this book (besides the lusty Alec) was the great plot and dialogue.” ~Kilts and Swords

How To Marry A Royal Highlander is an exciting instalment, a feisty yet tender love story, some intense villains, dramatic family displays, and a conflict that will keep you interested…a stunning Highlander romance that is full of sugar and spice!!” ~Addicted to Romance4 stars

“A delicious ending to the wonderful RENEGADE ROYALS series, HOW TO MARRY A ROYAL HIGHLANDER, beautifully penned by author Vanessa Kelly, is a witty, sensual historical romance that I hated to see end.” ~Romance Junkies5 blue ribbons

“A sparkling romance amidst the beauty of the Scottish Highlands…HOW TO MARRY A ROYAL HIGHLANDER is another smashing addition to a superb series: Vanessa Kelly never disappoints!” ~Fresh Fiction

“The gorgeous scenery, tight suspense and complicated plot twists heated up the already taut sexual tension between the characters, making for an exciting and entertaining read. Thanks!” ~It’s About The Book

“I love this series…jumping back in to Vanessa Kelly’s series was like wrapping yourself up in a nice blanket.” ~Ramblings From This Chick, 5 stars

“Full of fun, witty banter – and a touch of mystery, How to Marry a Royal Highlander is a fabulously fun read – as I’ve come to expect from Vanessa Kelly.” ~Books for Her

“I was a late to discover Vanessa Kelly but she has sky rocketed to the top of my anticipated new releases list! Her characters are expertly crafted and her writing absorbing! There is no shortage of action in this author’s work but what really distinguishes Ms. Kelly is her ability to seamlessly illustrate feelings ranging from full on despair to laugh out loud humor. I guarantee that once you read a book by Vanessa Kelly she will become a fixture in your romance repertoire.” ~Jenerated Reviews 2015 Books & Authors Not To Be Missed!

“Eden is a lively and high-spirited heroine and Alasdair a decent fellow, as well as a hunky highlander with a distinguished war record, predictably. And rich, of course. Fans of Regency romances will find much to enjoy.” ~Historical Novel Society

Lost in a Royal KissSecrets for Seducing a Royal BodyguardConfessions of a Royal BridegroomTall, Dark and RoyalHow to Plan a Wedding for a Royal SpyHow to Marry a Royal HighlanderThe Season for LovingThe Buccaneer DukeThree Renegades and a Baby

Captain Alasdair Gilbride, late of the Black Watch, eyed Aden St. George with distaste. “So, if I don’t return to that benighted castle, Dominic Hunter will haul my arse in front of Prinny and have me ordered back to the Highlands. Do I have that right?”

His cousin lifted the glass holding a generous portion of scotch, admiring the rich amber hue within the sparkling cut crystal. “You do. By the way, Alec, this is a very fine whiskey.”

“It should be. It came from one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland.” He didn’t bother to mention that his family owned the distillery. “But you’re dodging the issue, Aden. I refuse to believe that there isn’t some mission you could send me on. Surely there’s still a need for spies, even after we put the boots to Boney.”

Aden’s heavy sigh sounded more like an expression of sympathy than exasperation. Not that sympathy was likely to get Alec where he wanted to be, which was anywhere but Scotland.

The library of his grandfather’s London mansion was a gracious and noble room, if one’s taste ran to styles favored over half a century ago. Although the house was kept spit-cleaned and polished by a small but capable crew of servants, it hadn’t truly been a home in years. Alec couldn’t remember the last time his grandfather had visited London. The only reason the Earl of Riddick had kept the place was for Alec to occasionally camp out there during his infrequent trips from the Continent during the war. As such, the house seemed trapped in another era, even down to the books. Alec was willing to bet that no new volumes had been added to the library since the previous century.

“There will always be a need for spies,” Aden said, “but that doesn’t mean we need you to be running around in disguise, rooting out conspiracies and killers. We have plenty of agents on hand, so we do not need the heir to an earldom risking his life on dangerous missions. You’re getting too old for that, anyway.”

Alec scoffed. “Good Gad, I’m only twenty-six, you idiot. Considerably younger than you.”

“Then it’s time you listened to your elders. And to your superior in the service, I might add. I’m giving the orders now, Alec, and I’m ordering you to go home.”

Alec scowled at this cousin. When Dominic Hunter, the best spymaster England had seen in a generation, had retired, Aden St. George had stepped into his place. He now ran a significant portion of the Intelligence Service, and his word determined whether Alec would stay or go.

Aden stretched out his booted legs and dangled a negligent hand over the arm of one of the leather club chairs that faced Alec’s desk. To the casual observer, he looked like the average Corinthian, entirely at his leisure until he lounged off to a cockfight or to his club. But Alec knew how false that impression was. His cousin was still one of England’s most effective and lethal spies. Neither marriage nor his promotion to head of mission had changed that.

“Alec, you’ve earned the rest,” Aden said. “You spent ten years fighting. You’re heir to one of the most powerful titles in the Union. You have a place in the world and a role to play, and it’s time you faced up to that. And perhaps you could try, for once, to enjoy the privileges inherent in that position instead of running away from them. Most men would kill to be where you are.”

Alec almost inhaled a snort of whiskey at the idea that he would actually enjoy the obligations that awaited him back at Blairgal Castle. And as for whether he had a right to the attendant privileges that remained to be seen.

“Some might not agree that the earldom actually is mine in the first place.”

“You mean you might not agree,” his cousin replied. “To anyone that matters, you are the legitimate son of Walter Gilbride and his wife, Lady Fiona, the only child of the Earl of Riddick. And since Scottish earldoms can pass down through the female line, that makes you Riddick’s heir. Anyone who says otherwise will not just have your grandfather to deal with, but the Prince Regent.”

That was true enough. His grandfather had always stood by his daughter, even after her brief, adulterous affair with Prinny’s brother, the Duke of Kent. And so had Walter Gilbride, her husband and, for all intents and purposes, Alec’s father. Walter insisted that Alec was his true son, and the old earl was just as adamant that his grandson was the rightful heir to Riddick. Alec’s relatives had never been anything but steadfast in their loyalty to him and to his mother’s good name, denying any rumors or gossip that suggested he had been born on the wrong side of the sheets.

Too bad all that loyalty made him feel guilty as hell.

“Alec, it’s time to go home,” Aden went on. “If you give it a chance, you might find it easier than you think.”

“Easy for you to say,” Alec said absently as he swirled the last bit of whiskey in his glass. When he glanced up to catch his cousin’s ironic stare, he winced. “Sorry about that.”

In fact, it hadn’t been easy for Aden St. George to come out of the shadows and rejoin his family. Everyone knew that Aden was Prinny’s bastard, just like they knew that his mother’s husband had resented the cuckoo in his nest. Aden had been estranged from his mother for a long time, and only his stepfather’s death had allowed them to reestablish a relationship.

“You know how bloody difficult it all is,” Alec said. “Families are a royal pain in the arse.”

Aden laughed as he came to his feet. “With the emphasis on royal. But I’ve found it to be worth the effort.”

Alec rose and strolled around the desk. “And how is your wife? I trust Lady Vivien is no longer reaching for a basin every ten minutes.”

His cousin unleashed a grin that on a less imposing man would have looked almost fatuous. “Fortunately, Vivien seems to have gotten over that. Now she’s simply hungry all the time. I suppose she’s making up for two months of bland food and gruel.”

“I’m glad to hear it. I hope the rest of her pregnancy continues without further incident.”

“I’m sure it will. Let me know when you plan to leave London. Vivien and I would like to see you again before you go.”

“You’ll be the first to know,” Alec responded in a dry voice.

Never would be the answer if he had his druthers. But there was no point in delaying. The old earl was in declining health, and Alec would never forgive himself if Grandfather died before he saw him again. Ten years was a long enough time to avoid the inevitable. He needed to return home and face all that awaited him, including a very particular problem that had been a millstone around his neck for ages.

A discreet tap on the library door interrupted their good-byes. Dailey, the butler, soft-footed his way into the room.

“Forgive the interruption, Captain, but you have a most insistent visitor.”

Alec caught the disapproval in Dailey’s voice.

“And who is this visitor, or is it a secret?” Alec prompted after a few moments of fraught silence on the butler’s part.

Dailey finally pried his wrinkled old lips apart. “Mrs. William Endicott, sir. Alone.”

Alec and Aden exchanged a surprised glance. Since Evelyn Whitney’s marriage to Wolf, she’d become like a sister to Alec. Still, it wasn’t quite the done thing for her to come calling alone. It likely meant some sort of trouble with Wolf that she wanted to discuss privately.

“You needn’t worry, Dailey,” Alec said. “I’m not carrying on a madcap affair with Captain Endicott’s wife. Now stop looking like an outraged matron and show the lady in.”

“I would never presume to make such an offensive assumption, Captain Gilbride, you may be sure,” Dailey answered, making a magnificently disdainful bow.

“Excellent. And please bring us some tea,” Alec added. “If you’re not too scandalized by my shocking disregard for propriety.”

Dailey, who’d been with the family since the time of the pharaohs, didn’t bother to respond to that parting shot. It was petty, Alec knew, but twitting the old fellow occasionally was irresistible, a tendency that only showed how poorly suited he was for the life of a rich aristocrat. Alec had gotten used to the stripped down existence of a military spy, and was still having trouble adjusting to all the idiotic trappings and boring social restrictions of the British aristocracy.

Aden regarded him with arched eyebrows.

“Good Lord, you’re as bad as Dailey,” Alec said. “I have no idea why Evie finds it necessary to be making such a clandestine call.”

“Hardly clandestine, since it’s the middle of the afternoon.”

“Still, it’s not her usual style.”

A moment later, Dailey ushered Evelyn Endicott into the room. She halted when she saw Aden, but smoothly recovered, a warm smile curving her lush mouth. Alec got a jolt, both to his brain and to his groin. The latter was an unerring barometer when it came to one person in particular.


The gorgeous young woman who’d just swept into his library was no more the wife of Wolf Endicott than Alec was the King of Spain.

“Mrs. Endicott, what a pleasure to see you,” Aden said with a bow.

The faux Mrs. Endicott dimpled up prettily and returned his greeting with a brief curtsey. “And you, Captain St. George, although I see I interrupted your meeting. Please forgive me.”

She cast what she no doubt thought was a shy, apologetic glance at Alec. He raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest. Her brows, partly hidden by her spectacles, tilted down in a frown.

But a moment later she was directing another charming smile at Aden, who seemed completely taken in by her silly charade. Alec almost laughed out loud at the notion of the outrageous Eden Whitney pulling the wool over the eyes of England’s most accomplished spy.

“No apology necessary, Mrs. Endicott,” Aden said. He nodded to Alec. “I’ll speak with you later.”

Alec answered his cousin with a polite smile, enjoying the prospect of mocking him at a later date. But when Aden reached the door, he glanced over his shoulder, his eyebrows raised and his gaze glinting with laughter.

Clearly, the little minx hadn’t fooled Aden, after all.

The woman who was fast becoming the bane of Alec’s existence flashed him what she probably thought was an innocent, shy smile. It was nothing of the sort, of course. Eden Whitney exuded a mostly unconscious sensuality that could knock a man flat from twenty paces.

“I’m sure you must be surprised to see me,” she said in a sweet, quiet voice.

He had to admit she got the voice right. If he hadn’t been looking straight at her, he would have thought he was listening to Evie and not her diabolical twin.

“Give it up, Miss Whitney.” He took her by the elbow and steered her to one of the club chairs. “You’re not fooling anyone.”

She gaped up at him with astonishment. “Confound it, how do you do that? I haven’t been in the room for more than a minute.”

It wasn’t the first time Edie had switched identities with her twin, but it hadn’t worked any better with him this time than it had a few months ago. There were a dozen differences between the sisters, some quite noticeable. For one, Edie carried herself with a degree of confidence and restless energy her twin lacked. She cut a swath through the ton like a sharpened sickle through a field of ripe wheat.

There were more subtle signs as well, like the way her clothes hugged her generous curves just a little more snuggly than her sister’s. She might think she was fooling him by choosing a modestly cut carriage dress in dove gray, but Edie’s sense of dash always seemed to bleed through. No cautious ponderings or sober second thoughts for Miss Eden Whitney. To her, life was a challenge and a lark, something to be enjoyed to the hilt.

“Never mind that, you daft woman,” he said. “Have you no care for your reputation?”

She let out a disdainful snort. “Reputation? That’s rich, coming from you. You’re constantly doing outrageous things.”

“I’m a man. I can get away with it. You, however, cannot.”

“It’s so unfair,” she grumbled.

He went to sit behind his desk. When it came to Edie, he found it best to always have a large piece of furniture between them. If not, he might be tempted to shake her for acting so foolishly, or do something even stupider, like kissing her. And unless his instincts were completely off, she just might kiss him back.

Then again, she could also take his head off. Though Alec had little doubt that Edie was attracted to him, she’d made it abundantly clear that she found him thickheaded, annoying, and arrogant. On occasion that might be true, but he still didn’t much like that she had so low an opinion of him.

She pushed her borrowed spectacles up her nose and studied him with irritation.

“You can take those ridiculous spectacles off while you’re at it, especially since they’re crooked,” he said. “They make you look like you’re listing sideways.”

When she stuck her tongue out at him, he couldn’t help but laugh. She struggled with her bad humor for a few seconds then gave him a wry smile.

“I think I’ll keep them on, since it’s quite a nice change to be able to see more than ten feet in front of me. Besides, I don’t want to shock your snob of a butler any more than I already have. It wouldn’t do for him to think I’m not Evie, even though I have a perfectly good reason for coming to see you.”

“Did you at least bring your maid with you?”

“I wanted to, but I couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t tell somebody. Like my mother,” she finished in a gloomy voice.

“Good God, Miss Whitney, do you have any idea how much trouble we would both be in if anyone got wind of this little escapade?”

He expected her to starch up, as she usually did, but she just sighed and slumped into her chair. Behind the silver frames, her eyes were drawn and weary looking, and her pink lips were bracketed by unhappy grooves.

“I’m desperate,” she said. “I had to see you before anyone else got to you first, especially Wolf.”

“You can tell me all about it after Dailey brings in the tea. I believe I hear his lumbering footsteps in the hall and, as you so astutely noted, it wouldn’t do for anyone to see past your little deception.” Dailey’s footsteps were anything but lumbering, but Alec had very good hearing, honed by years spent dodging death, French spies, and irate husbands.

“I’d rather have a brandy,” she said, going back to scowling at him.

A moment later, the butler entered the room, followed by a footman carrying a loaded tea tray.

“Mrs. Endicott will pour, Dailey,” Alec said. “I’ll call if we need anything.”

“As you wish, Captain.” The butler radiated waves of disapproval.

He unbent a bit, however, when Edie flashed him a smile calibrated to penetrate the starched shirtfront of even the stuffiest domestic. He gave her a respectful bow before directing a fierce glare at the hapless footman for gawping at Edie.

The woman had a way about her—a way that usually led a man into serious trouble.

As she poured the tea, Alec rose and strolled to the whatnot tucked between a pair of bookcases. He extracted a bottle of brandy from one of the shelves, then returned to his desk and splashed a tot in each of their teacups.

Edie grimaced. “Oh, dear, I must look as dreary as I feel for you to take such pity on me.”

“Not in the least, although, it must be dire if you felt compelled to come to me for help.”

A rush of pink colored her cheeks, a riveting sight. He didn’t think he’d ever seen her blush before. It made her look like a creamy white cake with luscious pink frosting.

Her gaze turned cool and calculating, washing away the brief impression of vulnerability. She was once more the bold young lady who sought to control everything and everyone around her. Alec liked that Edie a lot, but he had to admit he wouldn’t mind seeing more of the sweet girl that sometimes peeked out from behind the dashing façade.

“You’re right,” she said in her usual frank manner. “Of course I’d rather not be coming to you for help. You must be positively deranged to think I’d forgotten how badly you and Wolf behaved with poor Michael Beaumont. You were terrible to him—and to me and Evie.”

Now it was Alec’s turn to scowl. “Are you insane, lass? We saved your precious Mr. Beaumont’s backside. Without us, he would have ended up swinging from the gallows.”

She perched her teacup on her knee and gave a haughty little sniff that he found rather endearing. “Things would have gone much better if you’d told Evie and me the truth.”

He stared at her in disbelief. He and Wolf had been under orders from the Duke of York himself to investigate Michael Beaumont for treason. The fact that the man was Evelyn’s fiancé at the time had made the whole business sticky, but it had eventually come out right. Beaumont had been cleared, and Evelyn had ended up with Wolf. Though Beaumont hadn’t been pleased about that part, it had seemed a small price to pay for his life.

“This may surprise you, Miss Whitney, but spies aren’t usually in the habit of divulging the details of their mission to the people they’re investigating.”

“As much as I would enjoy rehashing the past with you,” she said sarcastically, “I need to explain why I need your help. And not to put too fine a point on it, you need my help, too. This situation is a problem for both of us.”

Now, that sounded interesting, if a tad alarming. “Please proceed.”

For the first time since she’d entered the room, Edie looked uncomfortable. She took a hasty sip of the spiked tea, probably to fortify herself.

“Whatever it is, lass,” he said gently, “you won’t shock me. Just say it.”

Her gaze met his, and she gave him a reluctant smile. “Very well. I got myself into a spot of trouble last night at Lady Charlfort’s ball, and Mamma is furious with me.” She grimaced. “My parents are convinced I need to rusticate.”

Alec wasn’t surprised she’d gotten herself into trouble. As far as he was concerned, she was an accident waiting to happen. But it startled him to hear that Lady Reese was unhappy with her. The woman adored her daughter and, according to Wolf, was convinced that Edie could do no wrong.

“Would I be correct in assuming this trouble involved a man?”

There was that faint wash of pink again. This time, though, Alec wasn’t charmed. The idea of Edie getting into trouble with a man had him clenching a fist against his thigh.

“Who was he?” he asked sharply when she remained silent.

She seemed perplexed by his tone. “Sir Malcolm Bannister, though it really isn’t any business of yours.”

Now both his fists were clenched against his thighs. “Bannister? Are you mad? The man is a notorious rake.”

Edie set her teacup down on his desk with a loud click. Then she crossed her arms over her impressive bosom and gave him an ironic stare. That she was silently but clearly commenting on his reputation as a rake did not improve Alec’s mood. Yes, he liked women, but he never tampered with virgins or innocents.

“Never mind,” he growled. “Just tell me exactly what happened.”

“Nothing. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell everyone.”

“Then why the need for such drastic measures?”

“Well, almost nothing,” she grudgingly admitted. “I’d almost escaped from him when Lady Charlfort and her witch of a mother stumbled upon us.”

Alec closed his eyes, trying to ignore the fury turning his vision blood red. When he opened them, she was eyeing him like he was the one who’d lost touch with reality. And perhaps he had. The notion of Edie in another man’s arms made him want to commit several acts of mayhem.

“Did he hurt you?” he growled.

She blinked as if surprised by the question, then waved an insouciant hand. “As if I couldn’t handle a cad like Bannister. You can be sure he’ll never come within ten feet of me again.”

Her naïveté and reckless self-confidence bordered on criminal. Still, there was little to be gained in pursuing that point. The sooner he got the image of Edie in Bannister’s lecherous embrace out of his head, the better.

“As a result of this unfortunate encounter with one of the ton’s most notorious rakes,” he said, “you now find yourself in an awkward situation. Lady Reese is no doubt focused on the gossip.”

She was obviously irritated by his characterization. “Yes, Mamma is convinced the damage to my reputation will be quite severe. It’s an assessment I don’t agree with, by the way.”

“Imagine my surprise. And yet, your parents want you to rusticate. To Maywood Manor, I assume?” But what did any of this have to do with him?

She pressed her full lips into a grim line.

“Miss Whitney?” he prompted when she remained silent.

“Actually, Wolf suggested another alternative, something you’ll find as displeasing as I do, I’m sure.”

The familiar sense of premonition Alec never ignored prickled along his nerves. “Which is?”

“They want me to go to Scotland with you,” she blurted out. “For the entire winter. Can you imagine? I’d probably kill myself by leaping off the nearest Highland peak. Or we’d kill each other, which is, I suppose, the likeliest scenario.”

She rose from her seat, clearly agitated, then forced herself to sit back down. The air around her practically seethed with emotional disturbance.

“Well,” she snapped, “don’t just sit there gaping at me like the village idiot. You simply must put a stop to this immediately. You have to tell Wolf and my mother that it’s entirely out of the question.”

The wheels in his head—always lagging when it came to dealing with the force of nature that was Eden Whitney—ground into motion. A vague idea began to take form.

“Wolf suggested this?” he asked, playing for time.

She scowled. “Yes, the bounder. I couldn’t believe he was taking Mamma’s side.”

“And your mother thought this was a good idea?”

She rolled her eyes. “For some demented reason she seems to like you. Or perhaps she just likes all your lovely pots of money.”

Alec tried to look soulful. “You wound me, Miss Whitney.”

“You have the hide of a rhinoceros. Besides, what does it matter? It’s not like you’re going to agree to this.”

“I’m simply trying to ascertain the precise circumstances of the situation,” he said. “Presumably, you could only travel with me to Scotland with an appropriate chaperone. Did that come up for discussion?”

Alec prayed it would not be Lady Reese. The idea of spending the winter with Edie’s mother was enough to frighten any sane man. Perhaps it would be Wolf and Evie, although Wolf had a new assignment with the Foreign Office.

“What does it matter?” Edie exclaimed, waving her arms. The fabric of her carriage dress pulled tight over her generous breasts, something that never failed to distract him. “You don’t want me in Scotland, and I have no intention of going. What in God’s name would I even do there for an entire winter?”

Help me with my blasted family.

The wheels in Alec’s head turned faster as he stared at her, perched on the edge of her chair and glaring at him over the top of her crooked spectacles.

Not that he could come right out and ask for Edie’s help—not given how delicate and tricky his domestic problem in Scotland was turning out to be. And the dimensions of his plan were hardly more than a glimmer of an idea, so vague he could hardly articulate them. Besides, he had little hope of getting Edie to agree to anything without a great deal of work and some underhanded manipulation on his part. And for that he needed time, lots of time, with her.

It was a remarkably enticing idea, now that he thought about it.

“Well,” Edie demanded, “don’t you have anything to say?”

“I do,” he said, giving her a roguish smile. “Hasn’t anyone told you that winter is the best time to visit the Highlands?”

Bonus Chapter

This scene takes place during the wedding reception for Evelyn Whitney and Captain Wolf Endicott, the heroine and hero of HOW TO PLAN A WEDDING FOR A ROYAL SPY (Renegade Royals book 3).

Maywood Manor

October 1815

From the secluded window alcove, Edie Whitney studied the man who’d become her nemesis the moment she’d met him. Even in a room full of powerful and wealthy men, Captain Alasdair Gilbride, formerly of the Black Watch, commanded attention. And, as Edie knew all too well, he could do so simply by being himself—big, handsome, and charming, with a smile that could knock an unsuspecting female flat at twenty paces.

Not that Gilbride suffered from false modesty. True, he didn’t boast or preen or make a cake of himself, but he knew very well what a prime catch he was on the marriage mart. If he didn’t, the legions of women who flirted so shamelessly with him would clear up any such misconceptions. And the good captain clearly liked to flirt back with the ladies who flitted around him like brightly colored, exceedingly determined butterflies.

Except for Edie. She never flitted, and Gilbride never flirted with her. Instead, he teased, argued, or laughed at her, as if he found her the most amusing thing on the planet, and not in a good way. Edie had told herself more than once that what he thought of her didn’t matter. She would have had a good chance of convincing herself, if not for the unfortunate fact that her twin sister’s new husband was Gilbride’s best friend. That meant they spent an inordinate amount of time together, whether Edie wanted to or not.

A moment later, her twin bustled across the crowded drawing room to join her, looking resplendent in her beautiful and very expensive wedding gown. Edie knew just how expensive because she’d been there when Evelyn first tried it on. It had been one of the sweetest moments of Edie’s life. Her sister had finally found the happiness she so richly deserved, with the man she’d loved since childhood. Captain Wolf Endicott had, at long last, come home from war to claim his bride.

Sad to say, that life would mostly be lived on the Continent, since Wolf was taking up a career in the diplomatic corps. Edie was determined to be thrilled for them as they embarked on their new adventures. But the truth was, she struggled with a nasty case of something that felt close to panic. As much as she wished nothing but joy for her sister, she hated the idea that Evelyn would soon be mostly gone from her life. They’d been inseparable since birth, and the idea of life without her twin, sharing her every thought and every emotion, was too gruesome to contemplate.

The only time Edie could truly forget her gloom was when she fell into yet another ridiculous dispute with Alasdair Gilbride—something that happened with alarming frequency. And if that was the only thing standing between her and a permanently melancholic frame of mind, she might as well throw herself into the Serpentine poste haste.

“Darling, why are you lurking in this drafty alcove?” Evelyn asked, affectionately scolding her. “You’ll catch a chill if you don’t come away from that window.”

Edie rolled her eyes. “I never get sick, and you know it. Besides, it’s hot as blazes in this confounded room, which isn’t surprising since we’re stacked on top of each other like cords of wood. Mamma seems to have invited half of London. I thought Papa would have a fit when she finally showed him the guest list last week.”

The sisters gazed around the lavishly decorated room. Huge arrangements of flowers covered almost every surface, and light blazed from chandeliers and branches of candles. Their ancestral family home rarely looked as beautiful—or as crowded—as it did today.

“It is quite a crush, isn’t it?” Evelyn said, sounding a tad guilty. “I suppose it’s rather over the top, when one thinks about it.”

Edie linked an arm with her sister. “You can’t fool me. You’re having the time of your life, as you should. No two people fought harder to find happiness than you and Wolf.”

Behind the lenses of her spectacles, Evelyn’s blue eyes grew soft and misty as they fastened on her husband, looking outrageously handsome in his regimentals. “I know it sounds silly, but it’s actually rather overwhelming, I didn’t think I would make it through the ceremony without bursting into tears.”

“Pet, I hate to tell you this, but I could hear you sniffling from the front row.”

Evelyn gave her a sheepish grin. “Oh, dear, how inelegant of me. Mamma must have been appalled at such a lapse in manners.”

They both glanced over at their mother, who was fluttering around Wolf’s father, the Duke of York, like a deranged moth.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Edie said dryly. “Mamma is delirious with joy that she has a member of the royal family staying at Maywood Manor. You could probably set the buffet table on fire and she wouldn’t mind.”

Her twin huffed out a laugh. “I wouldn’t go quite that far.”

Evelyn’s relationship with their mother had always been fraught. Unlike Edie, who was the proverbial apple of her mother’s eye, Evelyn had always drawn Mamma’s unjustified ire. It was lovely to see the two of them getting along, for once.

Edie squeezed her hand. “It doesn’t really matter what Mamma thinks anyway. What matters is that you’re happy.”

Her sister peeked again at her husband, deep in conversation with a guest on the other side of the room. Evelyn’s eyes shone with a love that Edie could only imagine. For a moment, she felt a stab of something that felt too much like fear—fear that she would never know the joy of loving a man so deeply, and seeing that love reflected in return. At her age, she was perilously close to being on the shelf and had yet to experience anything remotely close to that sort of emotion.

Edie ignored the mocking voice in her head that begged to differ, and concentrated on her sister.

“Sometimes it doesn’t feel real that it all worked out,” Evelyn confessed. “Wolf and I are finally together, and our parents actually approve of him. It’s so monumental that I think I’m going to pop with happiness.”

“Ugh. That sounds painful,” Edie said. “You’d better not do that before your wedding night, or I imagine Wolf will be quite annoyed. The poor fellow’s been waiting weeks for the grand occasion, rather like a puppy dog with his tongue hanging out.”

Evelyn’s eyes rounded, then she burst into laughter. “Don’t worry,” she said, when she finally got her giggles under control, “I know exactly how to take care of my husband, I assure you.”

Edie regarded her twin with a jaded eye. “Apparently, you do, since you are entirely lacking in the appropriate display of nerves that one would expect from a gently bred spinster on her wedding night. Which would confirm what I’ve suspected all along—that you and Wolf have already engaged in, er, nocturnal activities.”

Her twin’s cheeks colored a bright pink. “And not just at night,” she blurted out. Then she clapped a hand over her mouth.

This time, it was Edie’s turn to laugh. “I knew it, you wretch. And how beastly of you not to share the details with me.”

“Well, normally I would, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Except to say that it’s lovely.” Her twin breathed out an entirely satisfied sigh that suggested just how lovely those encounters had been.

Edie snorted. “I should expect so, given the way you dissolve into a puddle every time your husband walks into the room. I’m happy for you, dearest, but I must admit to being a tad envious, too.”

Oh, dear. She hadn’t intended for that to slip out.

Her twin pounced on the admission. “Well, you needn’t be, old girl. You have dozens of swains panting after you on a regular basis. I count at least ten in this room right now.”

“And I suspect I wouldn’t want to do the things with them that you do with Wolf.” Edie gave an exaggerated shudder. “In fact, the very notion makes me rather queasy, to tell you the truth.”

“It won’t when it’s the right person.” Evelyn pointedly looked in the direction of a group of men clustered around one of the drinks trolleys—a group that included Gilbride.

Edie forced herself to look, too. At this distance and with her poor eyesight, Gilbride looked rather fuzzy around the edges—which was a shame because she knew he was spectacular in his kilted Black Watch uniform. But she didn’t need her sister’s spectacles to pick him out, since he topped the other men by several inches and his brawny shoulders would be recognizable from across a parade ground. He was so formidably masculine that it made Edie go weak in the knees just looking at him, even if he was fuzzy around the edges.

She’d often imagined how he looked too, particularly when she was alone in her bed late at night. The very fact that she couldn’t seem to stop thinking about Gilbride, almost to the point of obsession, was becoming an extreme nuisance.

Especially given his treatment of her. Since Edie’s suitors generally thought of her as charming and funny and beautiful—if occasionally infuriating—she couldn’t help taking offense at Gilbride’s apparent disregard for her womanly attributes, for lack of a better term.

“Well, old girl, what about it?” Evelyn asked, arching her eyebrows. “Do you think you’d feel queasy if you kissed Alasdair?”

“The only thing I feel when I look at that Scottish oaf is irritation,” Edie said in a tart voice. “I cannot believe you would think such a thing possible.”

Evelyn studied her for a few moments, then shrugged. “Sorry, I thought you and Alec were on better terms these days. I do hope you eventually forgive him for spying on us and telling so many whoppers. He really didn’t have much choice, you know.”

“You weren’t exactly skipping for joy when you found out, as I recall.” Both Gilbride and Wolf had been spying on them, under orders from the prime minister and the Duke of York.

Evelyn grimaced. “Don’t remind me. But you must admit they did save the day.”

“Yes, I know.” Edie sighed. “And I’m eternally grateful that they saved your life. Both Wolf and Gilbride are well deserving of their accolades.” She gave her sister a flourishing bow. “All hail the conquering heroes.”

Evelyn lifted a quizzical brow. “Then what still bothers you, dear heart? About Gilbride, I mean.”

“I suppose it was the way he tricked us, especially me,” she finally admitted. “Playing the dolt with that ridiculously thick brogue. It’s like he expected us to all fall for it like a pack of idiots.”

“Some of us did,” her sister replied.

“Yes, I fell for it. You, however, figured out that there was more to Gilbride than appearance suggested.” Edie shook her head with disgust. “It’s humiliating that you had to tell me.”

In fact, Edie had been dismayed that she’d been attracted to a man who was so thickheaded. When she discovered Gilbride was nothing of the sort, she’d been both dismayed and infuriated. It made absolutely no sense. One would think she’d be pleased that the most handsome and charming man in London was not, in fact, a dimwit, but intelligent, resourceful, and brave.

“I wonder what kept you from seeing that?” her twin mused.

Edie gave a casual shrug. “I suppose I didn’t care enough to really find out.”

“Liar. You know very well that—”

“Oh, dear,” Edie interrupted with a concerned frown. “Do you think Mamma is annoying Wolf’s father? She’s been fluttering around him for ages. That can’t be good.”

Evelyn blinked, then peered across the room at her royal father-in-law. “He is looking rather testy, isn’t he? I suppose I’d better do something about that. Mamma would be crushed if the duke snapped at her.” She gave Edie a quick hug. “Now, please stop hiding away, dearest. It’s a splendid party, and you should be enjoying yourself.”

“I promise to have a good time even if it kills me,” Edie said, crossing her heart.

Her twin rolled her eyes and rushed off, and Edie let her gaze start drifting again. Not that she could see all that much, since their best drawing room was very large. But she could see enough to know that Gilbride was no longer where he’d been a few minutes ago. He’d probably wandered off to flirt with some gaggle of adoring—

“Good God, why are you hiding in this stuffy little hole?” came a deep, Scottish burr from behind her. “One would think you were the spy, not me.”

Edie practically leaped out of her silk evening slippers. She spun around, scowling up at the brawny Highlander who was regarding her with predictable amusement in his glittering gray eyes.

“Well, speak of the devil,” she muttered.

His dark brows went up in a slow, interested arch as he studied her. “Were you? Do tell, Miss Whitney.”

“Never mind,” she said grumpily.

He let out a low, rumbling laugh that seemed to wrap around her like the softest of Scottish plaids. God help her, she even had to repress a shiver.

“So that’s why my ears were burning,” he said. “You and your sister were talking about me.”

She half-turned her back on him. “As if we don’t have better things to do than talk about an oversized oaf.”

“Ah, that’s better. I was beginning to worry about you.”

Edie glanced over her shoulder at him, surprised at his thoughtful tone. “What do you mean?”

“It’s fairly obvious, isn’t it? You and Evelyn are as thick as thieves, and I suspect you’re feeling a wee bit anxious about what life will be like without her.”

She stared up into his handsome face, taking in his uncharacteristically serious expression. The sympathy she saw in his gaze made her throat go tight, and she had to look away again. Blast him, how had he figured it out when nobody else had? She hated the idea that he might think she was jealous of her own twin, or afraid of being alone.

Damn him to hell for reading her so easily.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, forcing out a careless laugh. “I’m thrilled for Evie and Wolf. And I expect life will go on as it always has—parties, balls, reading, shopping, trips to the country—“

“And men throwing themselves at your feet like witless fools,” he finished sardonically.

Edie cast him an irritated glance. “Except for you, of course. You’re much too busy flirting with all the women throwing themselves at your feet.”

Something flickered in his gaze. “I do no such thing,” he finally replied in a mild voice. “Besides, I had no idea that you wished me to, er, throw myself at your feet. Not that the notion doesn’t have a certain appeal.”

A certain appeal? How flattering.

“Don’t strain what little brain you have on my behalf,” she said. “And of course you’re a flirt. The most dreadful one I’ve ever known.”

He snorted. “After yourself, of course. You could teach classes in how to lead men around by the nose. Miss Eden Whitney’s Academy for Turning Gentlemen into Morons.”

Scowling, she whipped up a hand and pointed her finger at his face. “Now, you listen to me, Captain Alasdair Gilbride—”

When he gently curled his hand around her fingers, engulfing them in his big fist, Edie’s words died on her lips.

“Ah, lass, you know I was just teasing, fool that I am,” he said in a husky voice laced with an enticing hint of brogue. “Can we not cry peace on your sister’s wedding day? Just this once?”

Then he smiled at her, and Edie’s heart skipped like a stone across a pond. With the part of her brain that could still function, she noted that the floor seemed to be collapsing under her feet, as if a slow, deliberate earthquake rumbled up from the center of the earth.

Gilbride had an arsenal of smiles in his repertoire, each more charming than the next. The ones he reserved for her were usually mocking, but this one dazzled with genuine emotion and seductive masculine warmth. And something even more alluring—something that turned her world upside down and made her forget everything but him.

Good Lord, she could barely remember her own name when he looked at her like that.

“Och, you’re a bonny lass, and that’s a fact,” he murmured, his brogue thick and dark.

She stared at him, unable to force a word from her throat. Even though she had to tilt her head back to meet his gaze, Edie felt like she was falling. Her perspective—everything—suddenly seemed turned on its head.

It was an absolutely terrifying sensation.

“Don’t flirt,” she finally managed to whisper.

His gaze flickered down to her bosom, then back to her face. “I’m not,” he whispered back.

When his hand tightened on hers and he pulled her closer, sanity returned in a rush. Good God, he was flirting with her, and in front of a room full of people, including her parents. How utterly vulgar of both of them. She’d almost fallen for it, too, just like all the other foolish women who’d tumbled at his oversized feet.

Edie jerked her hand away. “And for heaven’s sake, please spare me that ridiculous brogue and your thick-headed Highlander routine. I swear it makes me want to do something desperate.”

He studied her for a few moments before letting out a soft, mocking laugh. “You and me both, Miss Whitney, I assure you.”

“What in Hades do you mean by that remark?” she asked. “I swear, you’ll drive me demented one of these days.”

“Again, let me just say that pot is calling kettle black.”

Edie started to turn on her heel. “So much for calling a truce. If you’re just going to poke fun at me—”

He gently reeled her back in. Edie reluctantly allowed it, mostly because she didn’t want to cause a scene. It was a nice bit of sophistry that even she didn’t believe.

“I do want to call a truce,” he said. “And I’m sorry if I insulted you. I didn’t mean to. Truly.”

She narrowed her gaze, ignoring the thumping of her heart. “Oh, very well. I suppose you can’t help it. I must say, for a spy you certainly can make a hash of things.”

“Don’t I know it,” he said.

She crossed her arms under her chest and started to tap her foot. When his gaze again fastened on her breasts, she hastily dropped her arms to her side.

“Have I told you that you’re looking very fetching this evening?” That slow, seductive smile once more curved up the corners of his mouth. “As lovely as the bride.”

“Well, we are identical twins,” she replied, trying to be practical as she ignored a silly flutter of pleasure. “Honestly, sir, you have to do better if you’re truly intent on flirting with me.”

He clapped a hand to his chest, pulling a sad face. “You wound me, Miss Whitney, you do.”

“I doubt it. But if you’re just going to stand there and spout nonsense, you’ll have to excuse me. We’ve been alone in this alcove long enough.”

His eyebrows arched. “Are you afraid the other guests will start gossiping?”

“Yes,” she said bluntly. That would be most unfortunate, because there would be little, if any, truth to the no-doubt lurid talk. Alasdair Gilbride was no more serious about her than she was about him.

Except she was beginning to think she was serious about him. Very serious, and that was very awful.

“And would you mind if they did?” he asked in a curiously reserved tone.

“Well, of course I would mind. It’s generally considered a bad thing for a single young woman to be the subject of salacious gossip. Or did they not teach you that in the Highlands?”

He smiled. “Oh, you’d be surprised what they teach you in the Highlands.”

“Do tell. I’m all-ears,” she said with a sugary-sweet smile.

“Perhaps another time.” He flicked a glance over her shoulder, as if checking to see if anyone could overhear. As far as Edie was concerned, it was a little late for that.

“Actually, I do need to speak to you about something,” Gilbride said.

He’d gone back to being serious again. Lord, he was beginning to make her heard whirl. Cautiously, Edie gave him a nod.

“In private,” he said. “Without fear of being disturbed.”

She stared up at him, disconcerted. His request bordered on the scandalous, if not the positively indecent. What was the confounded man up to now?

“Whatever for?” she blurted out, unable to keep suspicion from coloring her voice. “So you can tell me I’m a bonny lass again?”

His gaze went as cold as the North Sea. “No, because I need to talk to you, you daft woman. And you’ve made it abundantly clear that you have no interest in flirting with me, as you call it, so I won’t waste my bloody time.”

On you. Edie heard it in his voice, plain as day.

He realized his mistake a moment later. “Dammit, Edie, I didn’t mean—”

“Get out of my way, you lummox,” she managed as she shoved past him.

As she stalked across the room, blinking back the hot sting of tears, Edie made a solemn vow to never, ever be a fool again—especially when it came to Captain Alasdair bloody Gilbride.

How to Marry a Royal Highlander

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