Claimed by the Laird (Scottish Brides #3)
Harlequin HQN / July 29, 2014 / $7.99, print & digital
He will expose her as the criminal he seeks, or seduce her as the woman he desires…
An old maid—that's all Lady Christina McMorlan, daughter to the Duke of Forres, is to society now that she's past thirty. She hosts her father's parties and cares for her siblings, knowing she'll never have her own home and family. She has no time to pine, however. By night, she's The Lady, head of a notorious whiskey-smuggling gang that supports her impoverished clan. They're always one step ahead of the revenue man—until Lucas Black shows up.
Rejecting his title and the proper society that disparaged his mother, Lucas earns his living running a successful gambling house. He's also a spy, charged with bringing down the Forres Gang. He thinks The Lady's just a bored society spinster. She thinks he's a lost child playing at rebellion. And when the truth comes out, it's not just their love on the line.
What would a spinster daughter-to-a-duke and a smuggler on the edge of society have in common? More than you would think. They are both living in the shadows. Christina’s brother-in-law Jack tells Lucas that she is “easy to overlook.”
“Christina’s self-effacing, the old spinsterish sister. No one notices her.”
Lucas found that hard to believe when both Lucy and her sister Mairi McMorlan, Jack’s wife, were stunningly pretty, diamonds of the first order. He felt an odd, protective pang of pity for the colorless Lady Christina, living in their shadow, the duke’s unmarried daughter.
But Lucas is on a mission to find out who murdered his younger half-brother, not to look up overlooked older sisters. He suspects whisky smugglers killed his brother, which is why he disguises himself as a servant looking for work at the Duke of Forres’s highland estate. The smugglers are reputed to lurk in the hills above the estate. Lovers of Scotch whisky will want to have a wee dram nearby while racing through Nicola Cornick's Claimed by the Laird because the whisky references are prevalent, informative, and even humorous.
Lucas remembered the whisky he had tasted on the back streets of Edinburgh. They called it the Uisge Beatha in Gaelic, the water of life, but he had thought it was rougher than a badger’s backside.
Also rougher than a badger’s backside was Lucas’s reception by the smugglers—it took the intervention of an authoritative unknown lady, pistol in hand, to stop the smugglers from killing him. Later, recovering at the local inn, Lucas sinks into lethargy, until he is caught up in admiration for the excellent local single malt whiskey.
Contrary to his previous experience, the whisky tasted delicious, warm and deep, once he had got used to the fact that it was strong enough to take the top of his head off. The Kilmory distiller was clearly very talented.
He leaned an elbow on the table, staring into the deep golden liquid. It swirled like magic, like a witch’s spell. This was the whisky’s skill, he thought; it could make you forget, ease you away from all kinds of raw memories and soothe the pain of the past.
It is through tangible details and sensuous descriptions that Nicola Cornick brings this unusual courtship to life. Lady Christina is the composed chatelaine of the ducal estate but her new servant has her contemplating Greek statuary.
She found herself looking at the statue now, though, comparing the cold marble perfection of the high, slanting cheekbones and the sculpted power of the musculature with Lucas Ross’s living, breathing masculinity.
Christina is on Lucas’s mind as well. He decides that she’s probably six years or so older than him, “not a grandmother, but not a debutante, either.” Perceptive Lucas, playing the role of a servant while spying diligently for clues about how his brother met his demise, sees beyond Christina’s plain, no-nonsense appearance.
A man could make the mistake of thinking her features were unremarkable. Yet Lucas could see they were not. Her skin was flawless, pale cream and true rose, a true Scottish complexion with endearing freckles.
Two people, both eyeing each other appreciatively, but separated by rank and by their personal histories, how will they find common ground? Some of Christina’s more sophisticated female acquaintances were in favor of admiring masculine beauty, but Christina, “did not want to feel anything for any man. It was too risky.” This is the crux of the problem for Christina, for not unsurprisingly, she is only the estate’s chatelaine by day. By night she is also The Lady, the leader of the smugglers and even more unusually, the creative artist behind their signature whisky. It is enough for Christina to be a leader of men and continually outwit the pesky revenue officers; she is not also about “to risk her heart again.”
What will cause Christina to risk her heart? Perhaps the view from her window early one morning,
… Christina’s gaze drifted across the tall pines beyond the terrace, skipped over the obelisk sundial and came to rest on the naked torso of Lucas Ross as he reached up to prune the lilacs. His back, broad and muscular, was turned to them. The sun gleamed on his black hair.
So often in romance, it is the woman who is the object of beauty. What a sensuous change to have an older woman admiring a delightful masculine specimen. Also admirable, Christina’s full and meaningful life, albeit a life hidden from her peers. It is a stumbling block for Lucas and Christina, even as they draw closer to each other, that so much of their lives are hidden from the other. So many lies. Lucas
… was disturbed to feel a jolt of guilt. There was something about this woman that seemed to demand honesty, and he could not give her that. He did not even understand why he felt the need to.
Was there such a thing as sexual harassment back in historical times? It seems highly doubtful but lest you worry that Christina is forcing her attentions on an underling, saying to Lucas, “I would certainly dismiss you if you were to kiss me a second time,” there is no need to worry,
“So it is a straight choice between kissing you and my job.” Lucas sounded as though he was genuinely considering whether it was worth it. “Hmm. In that case, there is no real contest.” He reached out a negligent hand and pulled her close to him. Gentle fingers grazed her cheek, titling up her chin. “I enjoy my work,” he said, his lips brushing hers, “but I adore kissing you.”
It will come as no surprise to learn that this intrepid pair ultimately becomes co-conspirators, vainly fighting lust and instead finding love as together they unravel the secrets of Lucas’s brother’s death. One last glimpse of The Lady, taking charge and holding the reins as she tumbles willing into Lucas’s waiting arms:
She had never wanted anything in her life as much as she wanted Lucas now. She was the one who pulled up her skirts, shameless now, brazen. There was a moment of longing, of desperate anticipation, and then he was kneeling between her thighs and sliding inside her. It was fast, fierce and desperate. She came at once in a helpless tumble of ecstasy that would have had her crying out had Lucas not covered her mouth with his.
Learn more about or order a copy of Claimed by the Laird by Nicola Cornick, available July 29, 2014:
Janet Webb aka @janetnorcal has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart. When I rediscovered the world of romance, my spirit guide was All About Romance's Desert Island Keepers — I started with the “A” authors and never looked back.