Lady Lily MacLeod has had enough of her oldest brother's meddling. While in London, Rory MacLeod, duke of Skye has promised his sister to an earl who is twice her age in hopes of taming his unruly sister. It's an arranged marriage where her husband-to-be views her as simply a broodmare in hopes of producing an heir. To Lily, that's a fate worse than death, and in a desperate attempt to avoid her fate, she flees and finds herself hiding on a train bound for Edinburgh.
Tobias Campbell, duke of Aberdeen is unsure what to make of the filthy stowaway found hiding on his rail car. Part of the well crafted tale she tells rings true, but Tobias is quite certain the chit has secrets--secrets he intends to uncover.
Somehow, despite being betrothed to another, the usually meticulous duke finds himself extending Lily his personal protection, and his home. But the last thing he expects to do is to fall madly in love with his beautiful houseguest.
Now, ddesperate times call for desperate measures and Lily and Tobias aren't the only ones caught up in this battle of strong wills and love.
Release date: February 12, 2021
Publisher: Oliver Heber Books
Print pages: 209
Content advisory: Sizzling scenes
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J R Salisbury
Quietly, Lady Lily MacLeod slipped stealthily into the shadows of the rail station. She shivered at the coolness of the night; her muslin day dress offered little protection. She could see a young man standing in front of the private rail car hooked to the rear of the train.
Edging closer, she saw that through the hustle and bustle of the platform, everyone was ready to depart. Two uniformed footmen stood talking with another man near the front of the rail car. She listened to their conversation. Her heart began to pound. The train was preparing for a trip north to Scotland. Edinburgh to be exact. If she could find a place to hide in the rail car. She would be safe, wouldn't she?
Lily's excitement mounted as she neared. She had no choice but to get away. This was the perfect solution to all her problems. At least her immediate problems.
She prepared to move quickly. She prayed there would be somewhere inside for her to hide. She took a deep, cleansing breath to calm the fear running through her. Before the footmen returned to their places on board, she must find her place. She saw their attention was elsewhere and sprinted for the back of the car. Her feet flew over the wood, her ginger-hued hair swirling around her in a mane of tangles.
She climbed inside and quickly figured out this private carriage belonged to someone of aristocratic blood. It was magnificently furnished. Stealthily, she found a room where trunks and wooden boxes sat. She tried to calm herself as she ducked down behind two boxes and prayed no further trunks or boxes would be added before the train departed.
She heard the men approaching, talking with someone new. The occupant of the rail car? Footsteps followed, and the men disappeared into the interior of the car.
Lily breathed a sigh of relief, hidden behind the boxes. She allowed her exhausted body to slump against one of the crates. She was tired, incredibly worn out. The night had been more tiring that she could have thought possible. Running as far as she could clad in nothing but her dress. Her legs aching as she knew she must get away. With nothing but herself, she found her way to the rail station. She had known this was her chance to get away.
As the cool spring morning began to warm, her tired body relaxed, and she began to sleep. She awakened once when the train stopped at the station to pick up new passengers and for some to depart. Lily was hungry, but relaxed once more as the train pulled out of the station.
The calming rhythm of the train heightened her need to sleep. Her head slumped forward, and her sleep deepened. She began to dream.
She was back at the MacLeod castle making plans for her upcoming wedding to a man she had only met once. Fear surrounded her as she realized what her brother expected of her. She couldn't, no she wouldn't be married to a man like the Earl of Dover. Not even if such an arrangement might benefit her brother, her family. Rory had taken such measures once before. She wouldn't allow it to happen again.
Dear God, her life would be a living hell unless she did something about it before it was too late. The earl was at least twenty years her senior. He made no argument as to why he wanted Lily as his countess. To bear him the heir that had eluded him all his life. After siring six daughters, marriage to Lily was a desperate attempt to keep the family bloodline going long after he departed this earth.
By some miracle, she had managed to flee the family home in London, eighteen hours before her impending nuptials.
She jerked awake from her dream. Her heart was pounding, and her dress was damp from perspiration. She leaned her head against the crate and reminded herself that wasn't her fate. Not anymore and not if she had any say in the matter.
She was free, free of the earl, her brother. Free of a sham marriage. For the moment, it was all she wanted. There would be time to plan and decide what to do. If only she could stay two steps ahead of her brother and the earl.
She had no idea how long she had slept when she was awakened with a fierce jerk to her arm. Two footmen were hauling her upright so roughly her head snapped back.
"Let me go!" she implored. She struggled against one of the footmen, trying to break free from his hold.
"Well, what do we have here? A stowaway," one of the men called out. He wrapped an arm around her waist, forcing her back against his chest. Lily kicked him as hard as she could in the shins. He jerked backward and swore.
Lily looked him in the eye. "Touch me again, and you'll be sorry. Of that I promise."
"Enough." The deep voice cut through the encounter, and both footmen went still. Lily noticed a tall, imposing man who stood in the shadows by the doorway. The owner of the railcar, she presumed. He was dressed in a finely tailored gray suit with a blue silk waistcoat. He looked as though he spent a lot of time outside, his dark chestnut hair queued back with a black ribbon.
"Let her go. She seems quite able to talk. Let's give her a chance to speak."
With some regret, they did so, releasing her arms and taking a step back.
"What is your name?" the tall, well-dressed gentleman asked. "Do you mind telling me what you're doing hiding in my rail car?"
She summoned the lie she had concocted for a moment such as this. She squared her shoulders, and the words came tumbling out of her mouth with surprising ease.
"My name is Lily Winchester, she lied. "I'm neither a thief nor a beggar. I have encountered an unfortunate bit of trouble. I pray that you'll help me."
His black brows drew together. His eyes were dark brown, almost black, at least in the dim light of the room. He looked her up and down, taking in her seedy appearance.
"Come. We can speak in the parlor."
She was surprised at his suggestion. She ignored the disbelieving looks of the footmen and followed him down the hall to a brightly furnished room. She stopped herself at the doorway.
"I appreciate your kindness, my lord. I have a favor I would like to ask."
"You do not have to explain yourself. What is it you wish?"
"A bath, my lord. I can hardly discuss anything as filthy as I am. If you would allow me a bath and a change of clothing, we would both be far more comfortable."
He studied her for a moment, weighing her words. In return, Lily studied him, noting the well-defined angles of his face. He was a handsome man, but there was a hardness that surrounded him, something that warned her to beware.
"Very well, Miss Winchester, you may have your bath." He turned to one of the footmen who stood just a few feet away. "Have cook see to the lady's needs, then have her returned to me."
He turned back to Lily. "I'll await you here." His dark eyes hardened. "I will warn you now, should your tale be anything but the truth, you will find yourself tossed out. Do I make myself clear?"
"Perfectly, my lord."
He nodded and turned to leave.
He blew out an exasperated sigh. "Yes, Miss Winchester?"
"Your name? I'm afraid I don't know your name."
He cocked a brow. "Tobias Campbell, Duke of Aberdeen. At your service, my lady.
He turned and walked away. This time she didn't stop him. The cook appeared a few minutes later, and she was ushered into an elegant bedchamber. Ignoring the disapproving glare of the woman, she continued to follow her to a bathing chamber.
As she awaited her bath, she walked over to a window and looked out. Landscape passed by at a clip. This was magnificent. The bedchamber was done in sapphire blue and cream. She couldn't fault the duke's taste and wondered if this were his own chamber.
The cook's voice interrupted her thoughts. "Your bath is ready. I don't know who you are or how you managed all this, but I would advise you not to take advantage of him. His charity stems from kindness, not weakness."
She knew he was far from weak. She knew that from one look in those hard, dark eyes.
"Don't take too much time. His Grace would not be pleased."
Lily silently heeded the warning, stripping away the dress. She climbed into the steaming copper tub and sank down. Bliss. She let the heat soak into her aching body, the dirt and grime melting away beneath the scent of roses.
She washed her hair with the fragrant rose-scented soap the cook had left. She rinsed her hair, then settled back once more. She would dress in whatever clothing the cook managed to scavenge, and then she would face the duke. Before she did, she would practice the lie that she had prepared. For the moment, she would simply allow herself the joy of sitting in the warm sudsy water.
Seated behind the mahogany desk located in the corner of the parlor, Tobias Campbell leaned back in his leather chair. He steepled his fingers, his mind on the mysterious woman down the hall. In truth, she was little more than a girl. There was something about her, something intriguing. She certainly carried herself as royalty.
She was taller than most women, thinner than she should be. She had ginger hair and firm breasts her dress did not hide. Her speech was that of a lady. He wondered who she really was. What was her story?
A knock at the door brought him back. At his command, the footman pushed the girl into the parlor. Tobias found himself coming to his feet, barely able to believe the woman who stood in front of him was the same person who'd been hiding in the storage room.
Even dressed in his cook's dark brown skirt and white blouse, there was not a doubt she was a lady. The way she set her shoulders, the look in her emerald eyes said more than her words ever could.
"You were right, Miss Winchester. A bath certainly improved your appearance. Why don't you sit down and tell me about yourself?"
She did as he requested, seating herself in a dark blue damask chair across from him. Her back was ramrod straight, her hands folded neatly in front of her. He looked at her, giving her his full attention.
"I'm Lily Winchester as I've already told you. I live in a village outside London. My father was away when I was abducted."
Tobias leaned forward. "Abducted? You're saying someone broke into your home and carried you off?"
She nodded. "Yes, Your Grace. I couldn't say where they were from or why they chose me. I do know they had some unsavory plans for me."
"Indeed. What plans were these?"
She cleared her throat but continued to face him. "I overheard one of them say they were going to take me to Paris."
"I see." Something about her story gave him pause, but at the same time, he was fascinated. She had a cool control as she told him her story. Underneath he could hear her desperation. Assuming she was telling the truth, it was amazing she could hide it as well as she did. "Go on. Please."
"Thank God I escaped," she continued. She spoke in a cool controlled way that made him wonder what emotion it was that seethed just below her surface. Her breeding was evident in her every move, every gesture. He was certain she was a member of the nobility.
"I ran as far and as fast as I could," she said.
"How?" Tobias broke in. "How did you escape them?"
"That's what I asked myself. I was no match for them, yet I got away."
"This is what I asked. How did you escape the men who abducted you? You are a lady and obviously no match. How did you manage to get away?"
Her hands trembled. She took a deep breath, once more in control of her surroundings. "I waited until the cover of night and fled, Your Grace."
Tobias leaned back. "Interesting."
She nodded. "I was desperate to escape. I walked through the night until I came to the railroad station. I was exhausted. Then I came across your rail car and, well, you know the rest."
"Mmmm, I suppose I do." He stood from his chair, stopping in front of her. He stared down at her. "I'm going to presume that you're telling me the truth, Miss Winchester." He looked at her hard and could have sworn he saw the slightest hesitation.
"I'm telling you the truth, Your Grace. I'm asking you as the gentleman you obviously are to help me." She stood up.
Tobias pondered that idea. He had decided to help her the moment she walked through the door of the parlor, perhaps sooner. "All right, once we arrive in Edinburgh, I'll make arrangements to take you home to your father. One of my housemaids can accompany you on the train ride back to London."
"Please, Your Grace. My father is on the continent. I would be afraid to return while he is away. Perhaps we could send word to him, and in the meantime, I could wait in Scotland. He could come and get me."
"Is there no one else you can stay with, go to for help?"
She shook her head. "No. If you send word to him now, he'll either come for me himself or send someone to escort me."
Tobias observed her carefully. He wasn't sure how much of her story he believed. There was something different about the woman he was looking at and the one she described. No, he wasn't convinced she was telling the entire truth. Parts of her story were delivered convincingly enough. As a gentleman, he was obliged to help a lady in distress, and there was no doubt Miss Winchester was. The mystery continued to intrigue him.
"Staying with me isn't a problem. My sister will be home. She can serve as your chaperone. As soon as we reach Scotland, I'll have word sent to your father. You know where he is?"
"Yes, Your Grace."
"My sister can find you more appropriate clothing. You are about the same size as Beatrice. Anyway, you may use the room where you bathed. We'll speak later."
She smiled. "Thank you, Your Grace." She started for the door.
"How long has it been since you ate?"
She turned around to face him. "I can't remember."
Tobias swore under his breath. "I'll have a tray sent to your room."
"Get some rest, and don't worry. You're safe now, Miss Winchester."
She smiled at him, and he thought he saw a hint of tears. He took a deep breath and walked back to his desk. What had possessed him to take her on? He wasn't sure, though he didn't regret his decision.
He grinned to himself. He wondered what his betrothed would say when she discovered Miss Winchester was staying on as his latest houseguest?
Lily slept peacefully. More so than she had in a long time. Last evening she had eaten until she nearly burst at the seams, then climbed between the clean white sheets. They had smelled of lavender as she recalled.
Her bedchamber at home had been even more elegant. Her clothes fashioned with the finest silks and laces, the food rich and expensive. She had taken such luxuries for granted, a normal part of one's life.
Lily glanced down at the borrowed day dress of pale blue and felt the sting of tears in her eyes. It was such a lovely dress and fit her almost perfectly. A few months ago she would have hardly noticed. Now she saw life in a different way.
The tale had convinced the tall, dark duke to take her in. How would she face the duke when he discovered her story was untrue and something far more sinister? By then she would be long gone.
For now, Lily decided she would enjoy the comfort and protection the duke offered. She wasn't certain what she was going to do, but she would find a life for herself.
Unfortunately, with no money and nowhere to go, she would have to make her plans carefully.
Lily sat down at a small dressing table and brushed her hair. When it was free of all tangles and knots, she picked up a pin and sank it into the neat bun she had fashioned at the back of her head.
She silently prepared herself to face the duke in the parlor where breakfast was being served. Standing, she took a moment to pick up the cadence of the train's movement.
The duke of Aberdeen had told her his sister would be her chaperone at the duke's Scottish estate. She didn't know what sort of woman she was or why she was living within the ducal walls. Would she believe Lily's made up story? She had to, or if she didn't, she'd convince the duke to have the authorities brought to remove her.
Taking a deep, cleansing breath, she smoothed the fabric of the borrowed gown and started down the hall.
Tobias Campbell was waiting on her, dressed similarly to what he'd worn the day before. He rose as she entered, smiled, and greeted her.
"Good morning. I trust you slept well," the duke said as he motioned her to a small table set in front of the window.
"I did, thank you."
Last night she'd been strong, having no other choice if she meant to survive. It took her a moment to return the duke's smile.
The duke seated her on his right, and she could feel those dark eyes on her. She observed the man at the head of the table. The tall, dark-haired man had a hard jaw and steely dark eyes and was hardly anything but harmless. She shuddered to think what would happen when he discovered she tricked him.
But she would be gone, miles away by the time he did.
"Please eat," he urged her.
Lily smiled. "It looks delicious," she said, accepting the plate a footman filled and handed her. She glanced up to find the duke watching her with eyes that were unreadable.
She glanced down at the eggs on her plate with the sausage and toast. She finished every bite on her plate.
"More?" the duke asked.
She shook her head. "Thank you, no."
"We'll arrive in Edinburgh shortly. We'll take my carriage to my home from there. I'm having a direct line made to Aberdeen, but sadly it isn't finished."
"I've never been to Edinburgh," she replied with a languid smile. She hated lying to the duke, but what other choice did she have. Certainly, she couldn't have him discovering who her family was.
"It's a beautiful city. I'll be sure to bring you back to town to see some of the sights. While we're waiting, why don't you tell me all about yourself."
Lily felt her insides churn. For a second, she thought she might lose the breakfast she had just eaten. Making conversation about herself was the last thing she wanted, and it meant she would have to lie once again. She didn't want to do that.
She moistened her lips, her heart racing. "Where would you like me to begin?"
By the time she finished, the train had pulled into the Scottish station. She was far less tense after talking to the duke. She had tried to speak in generalities, but questions about her family almost made her cry. The thought of her brother and the toad of a man he'd promised her to. No, more like sold her to the highest bidder. Rory wouldn't do that; he had plenty of money. The entire family and clan lived more than comfortably.
Lily took comfort in the duke's concern. As he guided her from the train to his awaiting carriage, she could feel the heat his firm, muscular body was giving off.
As the carriage began to move into traffic, the duke made sure to point out various things of interest. By the time the city was behind them, the duke smiled and informed her of the time it would take before they arrived at his estate.
"It sounds like a beautiful place. I can't wait to see it," she said.
He laughed. He had a pleasant laugh, deep and melodic. She could only imagine him laughing at something more important.
High Crest Manor turned out to be a huge stone castle which had been added on to over the years. Lily stood and stared at the structure.
"A castle suits you," she mused.
His laughter rumbled from deep in his chest. "Did I mention the castle has beautiful gardens?"
"No, but I look forward to seeing them."
They continued through a massive wooden oak door where a tall, thin older man was waiting. Frazier, the duke's longtime butler, eyed her with disapproving eyes.
Behind the butler a woman appeared, seemingly from out of nowhere. She was a woman in her early forties, Lily thought. Her honey blonde hair was faintly graying, set off by deep-set, green eyes.
"I'd like you to meet my sister," he said. "Beatrice Campbell McGovern, Countess McGovern, may I present Miss Lily Winchester.
Lily curtsied, her palms sweating. "Lady McGovern. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Lady McGovern smiled. She turned to her brother. "I have had her rooms prepared."
Tobias nodded. "Excellent."
"Follow me, Miss Winchester. I'm sure you'd like some time to yourself to bathe and change. I have found some dresses for you I think will be suitable."
Lily paused and looked at Tobias, trying to read his face. The duke, however, had his mind set to do other, more demanding matters. "If you ladies will excuse me. I have some rather pressing matters I need to take care of."
He bowed before taking his leave with Lily watching his back side as he quit the hall.
When supper came around, Lily met the duke in the drawing room where he escorted her into the dining room. Lady Beatrice was feeling under the weather, so they dined alone.
He seated her at the long, dark, ornately carved table. The table was lit by two silver candelabras.
Lily picked up a crystal wine glass of rich red wine the footman had poured.
"I'm sorry your sister couldn't join us."
"Beatrice is subject to headaches. She normally doesn't take to her bed unless it's unbearable," he replied.
The wine glass he held in one hand slowed midway to his lips. His eyes wandered down to the swell of her breasts and lingered on the flesh rising slightly above the neckline. Her breath caught, and her stomach felt odd.
He realized what he was doing and returned his attention to her face.
"What interests you, Your Grace?"
"A number of things interest me, Miss Winchester. I enjoy managing my estates. I like to make improvements in the land and watch the way crops respond to them. I also like horse racing, and I like to hunt."
"Quite a diverse taste."
"I like to think so," he replied with a lopsided grin.
"You're a very busy man."
"Too busy to marry, start a family? Your sister tells me you have not yet married."
He swallowed the bite of roast beef he'd been eating. "Did she mention the situation is to change?"
"No. She must have forgotten," Lily said.
"The fact of the matter is I'm betrothed to Lady Maria MacMillan. We're to wed at the end of the summer."
Lily tried to smile. "How nice. Congratulations, Your Grace."
"Thank you. Lady Maria and I have known each other since we were children. I recently decided I should enter the marriage mart. You know, it's time to produce an heir and such. Lady Maria agreed."
She wondered if the duke's lady held the same feelings. She shivered thinking about her own situation.
It was the following day that Lily got the chance to find out what Lady Maria was thinking.
An elegant black lacquered coach pulled by four black horses arrived early in the afternoon. Lily's heart began to pound at the sound of the commotion outside. Had Rory found her? Her first thought was to race for the door. Instead, she remained seated on the gold brocade sofa.
She'd been enjoying a cup of tea with the duke's sister as they sat in the drawing room. The countess was telling stories of the duke's youth.
Now her words faded, buried in the fear running through her at the sound of voices outside the door.
Lady Beatrice glanced toward the door. "Lady Maria must be here along with her mother, the marchioness. They visit often since the marquis estate is close by."
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were expecting visitors."
Beatrice shook her head and sighed. "I was hoping they wouldn't come, which is why I didn't mention it. All that going on about the wedding with those two puts me out of sorts. What color Maria's gown should be, what decorations to put on the tables, and gossip about the guests. Who should be invited and who should not. But Tobias indulges them when, in truth, he'd rather be off riding."
"Lady Maria is his betrothed. I'm sure he enjoys spending time with her, doesn't he?"
Beatrice sighed and shook her head. "I'm sorry, but the girl is nothing but a silly, empty-headed chit. My brother will be sorry the day he marries her, and I've told him more than once."
"Perhaps he's in love with her."
Beatrice rolled her eyes. "My brother doesn't know the meaning of love. He's never been in love. In case you haven't noticed, the duke prefers an orderly life. Love has a way of making a man lose his head."
Lily found this rather sad. She had always dreamed of falling in love and marrying a man who loved her. But it might not happen now.
"Drat, they're headed this way," Beatrice said.
Lily hadn't thought the duke would want it known she was there, but apparently, he had no such reservations. Or perhaps, just maybe he did, because when the women walked in, the duke was not with them.
"Lady McGovern, how good to see you." Dressed in a confection of pale yellow silk and white lace, the porcelain-faced red-haired girl look like a doll. She was shorter than Lily, not to mention rounder. In all, she was the image of female perfection.
A twinge of jealousy coursed through Lily's body. No wonder the duke had chosen to wed her.
Tea was ordered and introductions made. Lily was introduced simply as Miss Winchester, a friend of Lady McGovern's from London.
The marchioness eyed her with suspicion. "You're not here to visit His Grace?" she asked in a voice that made Lily shiver. The older woman was looking down at her.
She forced a smile. "His Grace and I are scarcely acquainted. He's a busy man and has had little time to visit."
The marchioness smiled as she accepted the teacup Beatrice handed her. "Where is he? He was expecting our call. I thought he'd be here when we arrived."
"Please accept my apologies, ladies." Campbell strode through the door, as imposing as ever. "The meeting with my estate manager ran longer than planned. I hope you can forgive me."
Lady Maria smiled at him. "Of course, Your Grace. We quite understand. A man of your position has a great number of responsibilities."
Tobias gave her an indulgent smile. His eyes lifted over Lady Maria's head and fixed on Lily. His gaze was unreadable. Something tugged at her insides before he returned his attention to his betrothed.
"Your note said there was an important matter you wished to discuss."
"I'm sorry, Your Grace," Lady Maria said. "It's only the matter of Lord Tilly. What he's done isn't a secret."
"Tilly? What does the man have to do with me?"
The marchioness leaned forward. The tight fitting bodice of her lavender silk gown strained. She had an air of authority. "Haven't you heard the news? Tilly lost his fortune in some grand scheme. His creditors have all demanded he pay his bills, but apparently the man is penniless. No one will want to have anything to do with him."
"And?" Tobias tried not to sound impatient.
"We've invited him to the wedding!" Lady Maria cried as though the man were a leper rather than being simply broke and penniless.
"The invitations have been sent," the marchioness put in. "Lady Maria was hoping you, as a man, would contact Lord Tilly and suggest quietly to him not to attend."
Tobias frowned. "It is hardly a matter of importance whether Tilly attend or not. He may have lost his fortune, but he's still a member of the aristocracy. It will be scarcely noted whether or not he attends.
Sitting next to him on the sofa, Lady Maria caught his arm. "Please, Your Grace. Where would we seat him? Someone will surely be offended. Something might spoil the affair."
Lily thought he'd concede to her ridiculous request. She began to reevaluate her opinion of him.
"I'm sorry, my dear," he said as he patted her white-gloved hand. "You are young. In time you'll learn how much money one has is not always the most important consideration. You may approach your father and ask him to uninvite Tilly if you wish; however, I feel he'll think just as I do. I suggest you busy yourself with more important matters, which is exactly what I intend to do."
Rising to his feet, he gave Lily one last glance and started for the door. "I hope you ladies will excuse me. Business awaits."
He didn't wait for their reply; he simply strode across the room and slid open the drawing room doors. Without looking back, he disappeared. Hearing his retreating footfalls, Lily had a new respect for him.
Tobias couldn't sleep. He jerked awake, his mind still spinning. Disturbed by conflicting images, he wondered why they didn't fit together. What pieces of her story were missing? How much had she left out? His instincts told him there was more to her story, and she was only telling part of the truth. How much was a lie?
He intended to find out, whatever the cost. He'd dispatched his messenger a day earlier than he told her. Soon he would know the answers.
The wind blew fiercely, rattling the windows. A half moon hung in the pitch dark sky. Tobias swung his legs to the side of the bed and put his black dressing gown over his naked body. If he couldn't sleep, a good book might be the solution.
He eased open the door, his eyes adjusting to the dimly lit interior. He found a slim figure in his sister's silk dressing gown curled up in the window seat. Her long legs were tucked up beneath her. Resting on the seat beside her, a well worn, leather bound book sat.
Her head jerked up, startled by the sound of his voice. She was so engrossed in the book she was reading she hadn't heard him enter. Her hair was flowing down her back.
"I decided I would rather read than endure the nightmares that sometime surround me."
He walked over, taking in the firm points of her breasts covered by the robe she wore. "This was not the first time?"
She bit her lip and shook her head. "No."
"You speak of your abduction?"
She nodded and glanced away. Her words didn't ring true. "Yes, of course."
Tobias stood next to her, studying her face for any sign of emotion. His cock began to harden, and he cursed himself, taking a step back.
"What are you reading?" He watched her features, her expression. He reached toward her and closed the book so he could see the title.
"Keates?" He frowned as he watched her face.
"Yes. I love his writing."
"I find him a bit boring at times." He stared at her, wondering if what she told him was the truth or a lie. Already his attention had begun to wander from their conversation, to her feet. She was curled up on the sofa, her feet showing from the tucked position she sat. Her ankle was slender, her foot slim and pale. The arousal began to rise up once more. Tobias turned away.
"Perhaps Keates is the source of your nightmares?"
She smiled. "I don't see how."
Tobias didn't reply. She was an odd woman. Too intelligent but at the same time enticing. In the few days she'd been in his home, he’d begun to feel an increasing desire for her, which couldn't happen. He was betrothed to another.
He only wished Lady Maria could stir him as easily as this creature.
Lily had taken her life for granted. The privilege she had come to know. Never again. She would survive without her family, and this new man and his sister she'd come to admire.
She had decided to return to England. Few people would have heard of her family. If she stayed here in Scotland it would only be a matter of time before someone recognized her or figured her out.
She would head to Yorkshire, a northern rural county. She would find a job, make a life for herself, and disappear from the life she'd been raised in. She had a bit of money put aside, but she would have to be frugal to make it last.
Pleading a headache, she took supper in her room. She needed time to think and plan her departure.
A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts. The butler stood before her when she opened the door. "His Grace would like to speak with you in his study."
"It's getting late."
"He wishes to see you. Now."
The butler stood his ground as dread moved through her. His stance warned her perhaps the duke had learned something about her. Perhaps the messenger he'd sent on a wild goose chase had returned.
Her heart was pounding when she walked into the duke's study. He stood at the window, his back turned. She prayed this was nothing more than a social visit.
He turned around after the butler shut the door. His eyes showed unmistakable anger as he stared at her.
"Bloody hell, who are you?" There was anger in his voice, and she took a step back. She wanted to run. Her voice froze.
"You had me send my man halfway across the country. You lied to me. You took advantage of my hospitality. Now, Miss Winchester, I want to know exactly who you are."
She bolted toward the door and jerked it open. Tobias caught her before she could flee, gripping her waist and spinning her around to face him.
"You're not leaving," he said in those dark tones that were far more terrifying. "Not until you tell me the truth."
He had her head against his chest. She could feel his muscle beneath his shirt, the hardness of his thighs pressing against her. Tears burned her eyes.
"I'm sorry I lied to you."
His mouth turned up in a sneer. "Tell me the truth. If not, I can turn you over to the authorities. Your choice."
He didn't release her but closed the door behind them. He inserted a key, locking them both inside.
Lily stared into hardened eyes as defeat washed over her. "Oh, dear God." She lowered herself to the floor. Her eyes filled with tears. "Please, can't you just let me go? I don't have any money, but in time, I'll pay you back."
"Whatever you’ve done, it can't be as bad as you think. Just tell me what it is, and I'll find a way to help," Tobias said gently.
She shook her head.
"I have to know what it is you've done, Lily."
Her hands clenching into fists, Lily shot to her feet. "I've done nothing!"
"If that were true, why are you running?"
She wanted to tell him, wanted to trust him. She bit down on her lip.
He gripped her shoulders with his hands and shook her. "Dammit, tell me!"
She peered up at him. "Very well, I'll tell you the truth—but with one condition."
He sneered. "You're in no position to be issuing conditions."
She said nothing. She would hold her ground and not let him bully her.
"What? What is it?"
She wet her lips. "After you hear my story, if you don't want to assist me, you'll let me go."
She could see he didn't like the condition; his jaw tightened, and a muscle twitched. Finally, he nodded. "You have my word."
Lily sucked in a deep breath. "I'm Lady Lily MacLeod. My brother is Rory MacLeod."
He cocked a brow. "Rory MacLeod is your brother?"
"Do you know him?"
"Yes. He's highly regarded among his peers."
"He's a good man and a wonderful brother. He'd do anything for me, including marry me off to the highest bidder."
"I can't believe that to be the case. I'm sure he would only want what is best for you."
"If only that were the case," she replied softly.
She gazed down at her hands as she smoothed her skirts. "He arranged a marriage for me with a man—an old man."
"How old do you think is old, Lily?"
"Twenty, thirty years older than me."
"So you ran off rather than marry this man?"
"I always believed the MacLeods to have plenty of money."
"We do, but Rory was committed to seeing me marry into the peerage. He was determined I'd marry someone who was settled in his ways. Thus, he arranged a marriage for me."
"Angus Douglas, Earl of Dover."
"I know him fairly well," he replied. "He is a good deal older than you I will admit."
"The earl wants an heir before he dies."
Tobias reached out and took her shaking hand. He squeezed it and shook his head. "So you left your home and went where? London?"
She shook her head, not daring to look at him. "Rory brought me to London. He thought I'd enjoy shopping. He also wanted me to meet the earl on neutral grounds."
"That makes sense I suppose."
She started to cry. She felt the closeness of the duke's body as he sat down beside her and gathered her in his arms.
"Don't cry, Lily. You're safe here." She felt his hands stroking her hair. She could feel the strength of his arms and chest, the comforting warmth of his body. He held her until she stopped sobbing.
"I have nowhere to turn."
"You may stay here while I hire men to look into the matter."
He smiled. "I'll keep you safe. You may stay here until the matter is resolved."
"Thank you, Your Grace. Your kindness means more than you'll ever imagine."
Tobias sat with his friend, Henry Martin, Marquis of Hampshire in front of the fire in his study. Henry stretched his legs out in front of him.
"That is how the girl came to be here," Tobias finished. He leaned back in his chair and looked at his friend.
"It's hard to believe Rory MacLeod would do such a thing. He's always had a reputation for being a fair man. There must be more than she's telling," Henry said. He was a big hulk of a man, shorter than Tobias, but more muscular. They'd been friends since they were boys as their family estates were not far from each other. Tobias wasn't afraid to trust Henry with his secrets, nor his life.
"If you could have seen her the day I found her hiding in my rail car." He shook his head. "She's so young to have gone through so much."
"So much? Being placed in an arranged marriage is hardly the end of life," Henry replied. "You're attracted to her, aren't you?"
Tobias sighed. "Yes, more than I should be."
"Need I remind you you're to marry shortly?"
"No. Maria is different."
"How? You don't lust after her as you do Lady Lily?" Henry grinned broadly. "You want to bed her, don't you?"
"She's an innocent."
"You're certain of that?"
"I'm not certain she still is. Something is missing from her story. Fact remains she's a lady, and I'm betrothed to another."
"That hasn't stopped you or kept you away from that young widow."
Tobias snorted. "A man has his needs, but I haven't seen her lately."
"You mean since Lady Lily came into your life?"
Tobias didn't deny it. In truth, he hadn't been interested in anyone else since Lily's appearance.
"I can't help but feel sorry for her."
"Nor can I imagine the fear she must live with."
"What are your plans?"
"I intend to gather as much information as I can."
"You need to start with finding out if MacLeod and the earl are keeping this low to the ground or if they're openly pursuing their quest to find Lily."
"I plan to hire some men to do that. One to go to Skye and nose around. The other I'll send by the earl's and to London. I believe he spends more time in London than at his estates in the country."
"That's a start. Where is Lady Lily? I'd like to meet her."
"She's in the drawing room with my sister." Tobias nodded.
"Then what are we waiting for?"
They made their way to the drawing room and found both of the women deep in conversation. He'd told his sister the truth about Lily's situation, and she was even more protective of her than Tobias.
The ladies glanced up at their approach. Henry paused in the doorway, surveying Lily MacLeod from head to toe. Tobias could see the elegant, exquisite swells of her body, even dressed in a borrowed peach silk gown. The enticing appeal was painfully obvious. Henry noticed as well.
Striding toward the women, he paused. Lily's look changed to wary as she eyed Henry. Tobias gave her a reassuring smile. To protect her privacy and secret, Lily was introduced not as a MacLeod. It was a ruse but a necessary one at the moment.
"Tobias speaks highly of you. As he rarely goes on in such glowing terms, I hope we might become friends." Henry bowed over her slim, gloved hand.
"Lady Beatrice shared a great number of stories about you and His Grace when you were boys, so I feel as though I know you already."
"Tobias is a dear friend."
"Which is why Tobias brought us all together," Beatrice said.
"Yes," Tobias agreed. "We're here for a purpose. Together we shall all put our heads together and find the best way to help Lady Lily."
Lily looked up at him with gratitude and hope that caused Tobias's chest to tighten. A man would be a fool not to want to help her. Desire surged through him whenever he looked at her. It wasn't the fact he wanted to bed her; that fact was true.
Lily needed him badly. She had no one else to turn to, no one but him. No other woman had ever needed him as Lily did, and he wasn't going to let anyone hurt her.
Returning from her brief visit to see Tobias, Lady Maria untied the fastenings on her cloak and tossed it to the butler. She stormed into the drawing room where her mother sat writing a letter. Her cheeks still burned from the anger she felt.
Her mother looked up from her writing desk. "What is it, Maria? What has you so upset?"
"You were right, Mother. Something is going on. The duke was outside with that woman when I arrived." Maria shut her eyes as though she were trying to blot out the memory.
"She is a guest in his home. I'm sure whatever you saw was harmless. His Grace is a man of honor. I don't believe his intentions of marrying you have changed."
Her mother straightened up and gazed directly at her daughter. "His Grace is a handsome, wealthy man. He would be quite the catch for some untitled nobody. Until the two of you are wed, it's safer to guard against such a potential threat."
"I'll have some friends look into his guest."
Maria knew she could always count on her mother.
"Thank you, Mother," Maria replied. "I believe I'll go up and change. I've yet to wear my new gown. The peach colored one with the silk underskirt."
"I'm sure you'll look quite fetching."
Maria quit the room, her thoughts on that woman residing in Tobias's home. Her mother was in charge, and she would find out everything there was to know about the woman. Her family, friends, past, and possibly her plans for her future. Every dirty secret would be exposed. Her mother would know how to deal with this woman who had obvious designs on her betrothed. She had nothing more to worry about concerning that intruder.
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