Douglas Allen needs a home for his aching heart
Douglas Allen, Viscount Amery, hates having arrived to his title without knowing how to manage his properties. Guinevere Hollister is a distant family connection raising her daughter in rural obscurity while stewarding the estate. Douglas reluctantly puts himself in Gwen's hands for lessons in land husbandry and discovers beneath her prickly exterior a woman of passion and honor. Yet despite the closeness they find, she will not marry him.
Guinevere Hollister needs a champion
When the powerful Duke of Moreland arranges an engagement between Gwen and his heir, Douglas knows the marriage is not what Gwen wants. In Douglas's eyes, Gwen deserves to make her own choices, and he will take on family, the meddling duke, and Gwen's own lonely, stubborn heart to ensure his lady's happiness.
Another unforgettable Regency romance from award-winning, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Grace Burrowes.
The Lonely Lords series:
Darius (Book 1)
Beckman (Book 2)
Ethan (Book 3)
Nicholas (Book 4)
Gabriel (Book 5)
Gareth (Book 6)
Andrew (Book 7)
Douglas (Book 8)
David (Book 9)
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New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Grace Burrowes' bestsellers include The Heir, The Soldier, Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal, Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish and Lady Eve's Indiscretion. Her Regency romances and Scotland-set Victorian romances have received extensive praise, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. The Heir was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2010, The Soldier was a PW Best Spring Romance of 2011, Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish and Once Upon a Tartan have both won RT Reviewers' Choice Awards, Lady Louisa's Christmas Knight was a Library Journal Best Book of 2012, The Bridegroom Wore Plaid was a PW Best Book of 2012. Two of her MacGregor heroes have won KISS awards. Grace is a practicing family law attorney and lives in rural Maryland.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :
The child was small, helpless, and in harm's way.
As Douglas Allen drew his horse to a halt, he absorbed more, equally disturbing facts:
The grooms clustered in the barn doorway would do nothing but mill about, moving their lips in silent prayer and looking sick with dread.
A woman-the child's mother?-unnaturally pale at the foot of the huge oak in the stable yard, was also likely paralyzed with fear. The child, standing on a sturdy limb of the old tree thirty feet above the ground, was as white-faced as her mother.
"Rose," the woman said in a tight, stern voice, "you will come down this instant, do you hear me?"
"I don't want to come down!" came a retort from the heights of the oak.
Douglas was no expert on children, but the girl looked to be about five years old. Though she stood on one limb, she also anchored herself to the tree with a fierce hold on the branch above her. When she made her rude reply, she stomped her foot, which caused the branch she grasped to shake as well.
Douglas heard the danger before he saw it. A low, insistent drone, one that would have been undetectable but for the stillness of the stable yard.
At Rose's display of stubbornness, the woman's hands closed into white-knuckled fists. "Rose," she said, her voice an agony of controlled desperation, "if you cannot climb down, then you must hold very, very still until we can get you down."
"But you promised I could stay up here as long as I wanted."
Another stomp, followed by another ominous, angry droning.
Douglas took in two more facts: The child was unaware of the hornets' nest hanging several yards out on the higher branch, and she was not at all unwilling to come down. She was unable. He recognized a desperate display of bravado when he saw one, having found himself in an adult version of the same futile posturing more than once in recent months.
He stripped off his gloves and stuffed them into the pocket of his riding jacket. Next, he shed his jacket, slung it across the horse's withers, turned back his cuffs, and rode over to the base of the tree. After taking a moment to assess the possibilities, he used the height of the horse's back to hoist himself into the lower limbs.
"Miss Rose," he called out in the steady, no-nonsense voice his governess had used on him long ago, "you will do as your mother says and be still as a garden statue until I am able to reach you, do you understand? We will have no more rudeness"-Douglas continued to climb, branch by branch, toward the child-"you will not shout"-another several feet and he would be on the same level as she-"and you most assuredly will not be stamping your foot in an unladylike display of pique."
The child raised her foot as if to stomp again. Douglas watched that little foot and knew a fleeting regret that his life would end now-regret and resentment.
But no relief. That was something.
The girl lowered her foot slowly and wrinkled her nose as she peered down at Douglas. "What's peek?"
"Pique"-he secured his weight by wrapping one leg around a thick branch-"is the same thing as a taking, a pout, a ladylike version of a tantrum. Now come here, and we will get you out of this tree before your mama can devise a truly appalling punishment for your stubbornness."
The child obeyed, crouching so he could catch her about the waist with both hands-which did occasion relief, immense relief. The droning momentarily increased as the girl left her perch.
"You are going to climb around me now," Douglas instructed, "and affix yourself like a monkey to my back. You will hang on so tightly that I barely continue to breathe."
Rose clambered around, assisted by Douglas's secure grip on her person, and latched on to his back, her legs scissored around his torso.
"I wanted to come down," she confided when she was comfortably settled, "but I'd never climbed this high before, and I could not look down enough to figure my way to the ground. My stomach got butterflies, you see. Thank you for helping me get down. Mama is very, very vexed with me." She laid her cheek against Douglas's nape and huffed out a sigh as he began to descend. "I was scared."
Douglas was focused on his climbing-it had been ages since he'd been up a literal tree-but he was nearly in conversation with a small child, perhaps for the first time since he'd been a child.
Another unappealing aspect to an unappealing day.
"You might explain to your mama you were stuck," he said as they approached the base of the tree. He slipped back onto the horse, nudged it over to where the woman stood watching him, and then swung out of the saddle, Rose still clinging to his back. He reached around and repositioned her on his hip.
"Madam, I believe I have something belonging to you."
"Mama, I'm sorry. I was st-stuck." The child's courage failed her, and weeping ensued.
"Oh, Rose," her mother cried quietly, and the woman was, plague take this day, also crying. She held out her arms to the child, but because Rose was still wrapped around Douglas, he stepped forward, thinking to hand Rose off to her mother. Rose instead hugged her mother from her perch on Douglas's hip, bringing Douglas and the girl's mother into a startling proximity.
The woman wrapped an arm around her child, the child kept two legs and an arm around Douglas, and Douglas, to keep himself, mother, and child from toppling into an undignified heap, put an arm around the mother's shoulders. She, much to his shock, tucked in to his body, so he ended up holding both females as they became audibly lachrymose.
Douglas endured this strange embrace, assuring himself nobody cried forever. While he waited to extricate himself, several impressions came to him.
The first was of warmth. Douglas had forgotten a human embrace could be warm, and the crying woman was warm indeed. Her body heat radiated against his chest, bringing with it the second impression: fragrance. She smelled of soap and something spicy-lavender with rosemary, at least. The child, whose hair was tickling Douglas's chin, smelled of the same soap and of the out-of-doors and of little-girl sweetness.
Douglas hadn't known little girls had their own scent.
And the final impression, strongest of all, was a sense of pleasure his body took in being close to a warm, adult female, one well formed and unself-conscious of their proximity. Douglas didn't censure himself for this realization-bodies would be bodies, after all-but neither did he allow himself to explore it.
With a sigh and possibly a final, small lean against his shoulder, the woman stepped back, leaving Rose anchored to Douglas's chest.
"Sir, I cannot thank you enough. Will you introduce yourself?"
Now Rose was willing to hop down off his hip, but the girl disconcerted Douglas by taking his left hand and standing beside him. Mother and child wore the same expectant, teary expressions, and Douglas found himself unwilling to shake his hand loose of Rose's. She had, after all, been through an upsetting business-and she was a child.
"Douglas Allen." He bowed over the lady's hand. "Viscount Amery, at your service."
They were both bare-handed, so he dropped her fingers at the first acceptable moment, but not before he noticed even her hands were warm. Not hot, sweaty, or clammy, but warm.
"Miss Guinevere Hollister," she replied, offering him a curtsy, then swabbing her handkerchief over Rose's cheeks. "Will you come up to the house for tea, your lordship?"
"Tea would be appreciated." He slung his jacket over his shoulder, his one hand still held captive by Rose. As they turned to walk toward the house, Miss Hollister aimed a glower at the stable boys standing in the door to the barn.
"For heaven's sake, Ezra, take the viscount's horse and see about that hornets' nest when it is safe to do so."
Douglas heard her ordering the stable help around, but was preoccupied with matching his stride to a small child's.
"You could carry me," Rose said, smiling up at him as if she'd divined his thoughts. She had dark hair in a riot of curls around a gamine face, and guileless green eyes.
"Rose." Her mother's tone portended a sharp rebuke.
Douglas swung the child back up to his hip. "We will have our tea that much sooner," he pointed out. When the girl laid her head on his shoulder and sighed like a tired puppy, he wished he had not been so complicit with her schemes.
This child was the most... presuming person he'd met in recent memory. To his everlasting relief, when they gained the entry to the house, Rose was handed off to a footman with instructions that she be taken to her nurse, there to await her mother's judgment.
Rose turned halfway up the stairs and waved at Douglas with the hand not clasped by the footman. Not knowing what else to do, Douglas offered the child a slight bow in response.
This exchange was not lost on the mother-Miss Hollister, as she'd so boldly introduced herself-but she withheld comment on a grown man who'd bow to a grinning, waving child.
"This way, if you please." Miss Hollister led him down the hallway to a small parlor toward the back of the house. As she rang for tea, Douglas rolled down his cuffs, shrugged back into his jacket, and took in the appointments of the room.
The furnishings were more for comfort than elegance, this being in the way of a family parlor. A small blue velvet sofa was positioned under a window opposite the hearth, and two well-cushioned chairs with a low table of mellow blond oak between them sat along the inside wall. Before the hearth, but angled toward the center of the room, stood a sturdy oaken rocking chair.
Silence had fallen between Douglas and his hostess while he'd inspected the surroundings. She regarded him from her seat in one of the chairs, her expression politely curious.
"I invite you to be seated, my lord. I've taken the liberty of ordering some sustenance with our tea, it being nigh to luncheon and you having ridden out from Town, unless I mistake the matter."
Douglas took the other chair. "You do not. Mistake the matter, that is."
A small, pained smile crossed Miss Hollister's features, suggesting she would somehow rise to the challenge of exchanging pleasantries with a man who regarded small talk with as much affection as he did epidemics of influenza.
"While I know our families are connected," she began, "I am at a loss as to why you would honor me with a call, not, of course, that you are unwelcome."
She looked down at her hands. Douglas feared she was blinking back more tears, contemplating the morning's outcome had he not come to call.
"Miss Hollister, the child is safe, and I have no doubt one of the grooms would have been up that tree had I not happened along. You must not dwell on the miseries that could have befallen you."
Ignoring the miseries that had befallen one could also be useful, though Douglas kept that observation to himself. His hostess offered him a genuine smile for his assurances-false assurances though they were-then rose to accept the tea tray from a parlor maid.
While Miss Hollister fixed the tea, Douglas recovered from that smile, from the sheer, dazzling surprise of it.
His first impression of her had been one of plainness. Her features had been pinched with desperate concern; then she had been crying in relief. As he studied her over the tea service, he surmised that she sought to minimize her feminine attributes.
Her hair, a rich, glossy chestnut, was scraped back in a severe bun. She wore a mud-brown dress, one without a single bow or ruffle. Her attire did the job of decently covering her with a vengeance, the collar coming up to her neck, the sleeves covering her wrists. But she couldn't hide a pair of wide, slanting green eyes, high cheekbones, or a generous, even lush mouth.
Nor could she entirely disguise an amply endowed female figure, though from the cut of her clothing, she tried to.
"How do you take your tea, my lord?"
Her voice was as subtly lovely as the rest of her, a soothing contralto, though her hands had the slightest tremor as she maneuvered around the porcelain tea service. The teapot sported cabbage roses, all pink petals and soft greenery.
She did not strike Douglas as a silver-tea-service sort of woman, which was appealing to a man who'd sold all but one set of good silver.
"Strong, three sugars, no cream." A silence followed, one he knew he ought to fill with... words. Or something.
"Are you always such a serious fellow?"
"I have much to be serious about," he replied, taking the tea from her. Their fingers brushed, and a faint blush crept up the lady's graceful neck. How odd, that a woman in her position would blush so easily.
"You have me at a loss here," Miss Hollister replied, busying herself with her tea. "While you are former brother-in-law to my cousin's wife-do I have that right?-I am not familiar with your... specific situation. May I offer you a sandwich?"
She offered him two, heartily stacked with beef and cheddar, as if she knew the hours since breakfast for Douglas had been long and busy. He dragged his attention from the food on his plate-he even spotted a dab of mustard on the bread-and framed a reply.
"My late brother was married to Astrid Alexander, the woman who is now your cousin Andrew's-Lord Greymoor's-wife," Douglas said. "His countess, rather. I find it curious you and I have not been introduced, but I understand from Greymoor you prefer to rusticate."
With her bastard child, which hardly needed mentioning.
"My doting cousin," the lady said, sipping her tea placidly. "Greymoor probably told you I am his steward here at Enfield-or perhaps he referred to me as his chatelaine if you caught him in a gallant mood." She had watched as Douglas demolished his first sandwich, but now excused herself to murmur something to a footman outside the half-open parlor door.
Douglas waited until she was back in her seat, then got down to business.
"Miss Hollister, I do not know what your cousins have told you about me, but if I am serious, to use your word, it's because I appear here today to solicit your assistance."
She considered her tea with enviable calm. "I am in your debt, my lord. Any assistance I can render you, it will be my honor to provide."
Those words were as much invitation as he'd hear, so Douglas launched into his rehearsed speech. "Your cousin holds your abilities as a manager of this estate in highest esteem. Greymoor says you have taught both him and his brother Heathgate much about the details of profitable landholding."
This was not flattery, but rather, simply stated fact, and it had his hostess looking... bashful. Momentary shyness rendered her beauty even more alluring, lending her an illusion of innocence that made a man want to, well, nuzzle her. To run his nose along the line of her jaw, to inhale the fragrance of her skin and hair. To steal a march on her reserve and tease her into flirtation.
What extraordinary thoughts. Douglas cut them off with brisk self-discipl...
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