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The devil wears plaid, p.1
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       The Devil Wears Plaid, p.1

           Teresa Medeiros
 
The Devil Wears Plaid


  “TERESA MEDEIROS IS ONE OF MY

  ALL-TIME FAVORITE AUTHORS.”

  —Sherrilyn Kenyon

  Praise for national bestselling author

  TERESA MEDEIROS

  and her red-hot romances

  SOME LIKE IT WILD

  “Wonderfully and wickedly humorous and touching, Medeiros’s sequel to Some Like It Wicked is akin to a banquet filled with luscious and decadent treats that have you longing for more. Storyteller extraordinaire Medeiros creates tales to touch every part of your heart and this is no exception.”

  —Romantic Times

  “This book has it all—sensual tension, sexy romance, adventure and sparkling dialogue.… A story readers won’t want to miss!”

  —Romance Reviews Today

  “What fun it is to sit down and read Medeiros’s latest story!”

  —Fresh Fiction

  The Devil Wears Plaid is also available as an eBook

  SOME LIKE IT WICKED

  “Romance readers delight! Some Like It Wicked is an instant classic. In this ravishing and romantic novel, Medeiros returns to her beloved Scottish Highlands—where bad boys have never looked so good!”

  —Eloisa James, New York Times bestselling author of

  A Duke of Her Own

  “Wickedly clever! Wit, charm and bravery abound”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “A wickedly sexy, delightfully sparkling, utterly ravishing read.”

  —Amanda Quick, New York Times bestselling author of

  The Perfect Poison

  “The characters are real enough to make your heart ache. Try a novel by Teresa Medeiros and you will swear it was written just for you.”

  —Lisa Kleypas, New York Times bestselling author of

  Tempt Me at Twilight

  “Medeiros is magic and so is Some Like It Wicked! Nobody writes humor with more heart or passion with more pleasure.”

  —Christina Dodd, New York Times bestselling author of

  In Bed with the Duke

  “A sweep-you-away book filled with Teresa Medeiros’s trademark magic.”

  —Connie Brockway, New York Times bestselling author of

  The Golden Season

  THE VAMPIRE WHO LOVED ME

  “An enchanted tale!”

  —Sherrilyn Kenyon, New York Times bestselling author of Silent Truth

  “Winning, sexy and saucy. An engaging romp for those who like their Regency with a little bite.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Masterful writing and unforgettable characters. A spellbinding tale filled with worldly and otherworldy desires that, quite simply, mesmerizes.”

  —Romantic Times

  AFTER MIDNIGHT

  “Deftly melds romance and vampire lore. Medeiros’s sunny playfulness cuts the gloom of vampire convention.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “An incredibly hypnotic tale… mesmerizing, tantalizing, simmering with sexual tension and excitement. A true master of her craft, Medeiros again proves her talents by creating another ‘keeper’ and opening a door into a new arena.”

  —Romantic Times

  The sale of this book without its cover is unauthorized. If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that it was reported to the publisher as “unsold and destroyed.” Neither the author nor the publisher has received payment for the sale of this “stripped book.”

  Pocket Books

  A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

  www.SimonandSchuster.com

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2010 by Teresa Medeiros

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or

  portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books Subsidiary Rights Department,

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  First Pocket Books paperback edition September 2010

  POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of

  Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  For information about special discounts for bulk purchases,

  please contact Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-866-506-1949 or [email protected]

  The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your

  live event. For more information or to book an event contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at www.simonspeakers.com.

  Cover design by Lisa Litwack. Cover photo by Barry Marcus.

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  ISBN: 978-1-4391-5788-6

  ISBN: 978-1-4391-7071-7 (ebook)

  To our beautiful nieces Jennifer Medeiros and Maggie Marie Parham. Your grace, compassion for others, and love for the Lord are always an inspiration to me.

  For my Michael, who makes every day of our life together a dream come true.

  Acknowledgments

  A very special thank you to Andrea Cirillo and Peggy Gordijn, who look after me from sea to shining sea and beyond.

  And to Lauren McKenna, for refusing to settle for anything less than my best.

  Chapter One

  AH, JUST LOOK AT the dear lass! She’s all a’tremble with joy.”

  “And who could blame her? She’s probably been dreamin’ o’ this day her entire life.”

  “Aye, ’tis every lass’ dream, is it not? To wed a wealthy laird who can afford to grant her every wish?”

  “She should consider herself blessed to have snared such an amazin’ catch. With all those freckles, it’s not as if she’s any Great Beauty.”

  “I’d be willin’ to wager she couldn’t bleach them away with an entire jar o’ Gowland’s Lotion! And the copper shade o’ her hair does make her look a wee bit common, don’t you think? I heard the earl met her in London during her third and final Season when all hope o’ findin’ a husband had nearly been lost. Why, she’s already one-and-twenty, they say.”

  “No! So turribly auld?”

  “Aye, that’s what I hear. She was on the verge o’ bein’ placed firmly on the shelf, she was, until our laird spotted her sittin’ with the confirmed spinsters and sent one o’ his men o’er to dance with her.”

  Even as she gazed straight ahead and valiantly fought to ignore the avid whispers of the two women gossiping on the front pew of the abbey, Emmaline Marlowe could not deny the truth in their words.

  She had been dreaming of this day her entire life.

  She’d dreamed of standing before an altar and pledging her heart and her lifelong fidelity to the man she adored. She’d never caught a clear glimpse of his face in those misty dreams but there could be no denying the passion smoldering in his eyes as he vowed to love, honor and cherish her for the rest of his days.

  She lowered her gaze to the quivering bouquet of dried heather in her hand, thankful the beaming onlookers who crowded the rows of long, narrow pews flanking the center aisle of the church were attributing her trembling to the joyful anticipation any eager young bride about to speak her vows might feel. She was the only one who knew it had more to do with the chill that seemed to permeate the ancient stones of the abbey.

  And her heart.

  She stole a glance at the churchyard beyond the tall, narrow windows. A sky the color of unpolished pewter brooded over the vale, making the day look more like deep winter than mid-April. The skeletal branches of oak and elm had yet to sprout a single
bud of green. Crooked gravestones lurched out of the stony soil, their epitaphs worn away by the relentless assault of wind and rain. Emma wondered how many of those who now slumbered beneath the ground had once been brides like her, young women full of hopes and dreams dashed too soon by choices made by others and the inescapable march of time.

  The jagged crags of the mountain loomed over the churchyard like monuments to an even more primitive age. These harsh Highland climes where winter refused to yield its stubborn grip seemed a world away from the gently rolling hills of Lancashire where she and her sisters loved to romp with such careless abandon. Those hills were already green and tender with the promise of spring, beckoning home any wanderer foolish enough to forsake them.

  Home, Emma thought, her heart seized by a sharp pang of longing. A place she would no longer belong after today.

  She shot a panicked glance over her shoulder to find her parents sitting in the Hepburn family pew, beaming proudly at her through eyes glazed with tears. She was a good girl. A dutiful daughter. The one they had always relied upon to set a sound example for her three younger sisters. Elberta, Edwina and Ernestine were huddled together on the pew next to their mother, dabbing at their swollen eyes with their own handkerchiefs. If Emma could have convinced herself it was happiness that prompted her family’s weeping, their tears might have been easier to bear.

  More simpering whispers intruded upon her thoughts as the women resumed their conversation. “Just look at him! He still cuts a strikin’ figure, doesn’t he?”

  “Indeed! It does one’s heart proud. And you can tell he already dotes upon the lass.”

  No longer able to deny the inevitability of her fate, Emma turned back to the altar and lifted her eyes to meet the adoring gaze of her bridegroom.

  Then lowered them as she remembered she towered over his wizened form by over half a foot.

  He grinned up at her, nearly dislodging the poorly fitted set of Wedgwood china teeth from his mouth. His cheeks all but disappeared as he sucked the teeth back in with a pop that seemed to echo through the abbey with the force of a gunshot. Emma swallowed, hoping the cataracts that clouded his rheumy blue eyes would render his vision poor enough to mistake her grimace of distaste for a smile.

  His withered form was draped with the full regalia befitting his station as laird of the Hepburn lands and chieftain of Clan Hepburn. A billowing red and black plaid nearly swallowed his hunched shoulders. The matching tailored kilt exposed knees as bony as a pair of ivory doorknobs. A mangy sporran hung between his legs, the ceremonial purse balding in uneven patches just like his skull.

  The two gossiping old biddies were right, Emma reminded herself sternly. The man was an earl—an extremely powerful nobleman rumored to have both the respect of his peers and the ear of the king.

  It was her duty to her family—and their rapidly dwindling fortunes—to accept the earl’s suit. After all, it wasn’t her papa’s fault he had been cursed with a passel of daughters instead of being blessed with sons who could have gone out and made their own fortunes in the world. Emma’s catching the Earl of Hepburn’s eye just before donning the drab mantle of spinsterhood had been a stroke of extraordinary good luck for them all. Thanks to the generous settlement the earl had already bestowed upon her father, her mother and sisters would never again have to be startled from their sleep by the terrifying racket of creditors banging on the front door of their ramshackle manor house or spend their every waking moment in fear of being carted off to the workhouse.

  Emma might be the prettiest Marlowe girl among her sisters, but she was not so attractive that she could afford to turn down such an illustrious suitor. During their grueling journey to this isolated corner of the Highlands, her mother had discussed every detail of her upcoming nuptials with determined good cheer. When they reached the rolling foothills and the earl’s home had finally come into view, her sisters had dutifully gasped with admiration, not realizing their pretended envy was more painful to Emma than overt pity.

  No one could deny the splendor of the ancient castle nestled beneath the shadow of the lofty, snow-capped crag of Ben Nevis—a castle that had welcomed the Hepburn lords and their brides for centuries. When this day was done, Emma would be its mistress as well as the earl’s bride.

  As she blinked down at her bridegroom, she struggled to transform her grimace into a genuine smile. The old man had been the very soul of kindness to her and her family ever since spotting her across that crowded public assembly room during one of the last balls of the Season. Instead of sending an emissary on his behalf, he had traveled all the way to Lancashire himself to court her and seek her papa’s blessing.

  He had conducted himself like a true nobleman during his calls, never once making a disparaging remark about their shabby drawing room with its faded carpet, peeling wallpaper and mismatched furniture or casting a contemptuous eye over her own outmoded and much-darned gowns. Judging by his courtly charm and gracious demeanor, one would have thought he was taking tea at Carlton House with the Prince Regent.

  He had treated Emma as if she were already a countess, not the eldest daughter of an impoverished baronet one ill-considered wager away from the poorhouse. And he had never once arrived empty-handed. A stern-faced footman always followed one step behind the earl, his burly arms laden with gifts—hand-painted fans, glass bugle beads and colorful fashion plates for Emma’s sisters; French-milled lavender-scented soap and handsome bolts of muslin and dimity for her mother; bottles of the finest Scotch whisky for her papa; and leather-bound editions of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence or Fanny Burney’s latest novel for Emma herself. They might have been only trinkets to a man of the earl’s means, but such luxuries had been in scarce supply around the manor house for a very long time. His generosity had brought a flush of pleasure to her mother’s wan cheeks and elicited genuine shrieks of delight from Emma’s sisters.

  Emma owed the man her gratitude and her loyalty, if not her heart.

  Besides, how long could he possibly live? she thought with a desperate twinge of guilt.

  Although the earl was rumored to be nearly eighty years of age, he looked closer to one hundred and fifty. Judging by his grayish pallor and the consumptive hiccup marring each of his breaths, he might not even survive their wedding night. As a fetid blast of that breath wafted to her nostrils, Emma swayed on her feet, fearing she might not survive it either.

  Almost as if she had read Emma’s grim thoughts, one of the women sitting on the front pew whispered primly, “One thing you can say about our laird—he ought to have ample experience in pleasin’ a woman.”

  Her companion failed to smother a rather porcine snort. “Indeed he should. Especially since he’s already outlived three wives and all the bairns they produced, not to mention a gaggle o’ mistresses.”

  The image of her elderly bridegroom gumming her lips in a fumbling parody of passion sent a fresh shudder coursing down Emma’s spine. She still hadn’t quite recovered from having to sit through her mother’s painfully earnest instructions on what would be expected of her on the wedding night. As if the act described hadn’t been horrid or humiliating enough, her mother had also informed her that if she turned her face away and wriggled a bit beneath him, the earl’s exertions would be over that much more quickly. If his attentions became too arduous, she was to close her eyes and think of something pleasant—like a particularly lovely sunrise or a tin of fresh sugar biscuits. Once he was finished with her, she would be free to tug down the hem of her nightdress and go to sleep.

  Free, Emma’s heart echoed with a throb of despair. After this day she would never be free again.

  She averted her eyes from her groom’s hopeful face to find the earl’s great-nephew glowering at her. Ian Hepburn was the only person in the abbey who looked as unhappy as she felt. With his high Roman brow, dimpled chin and sleek dark hair gathered at the nape in a satin queue, he should have been a handsome man. But on this day the classical beauty of his features was tainted by
an emotion dangerously close to hatred. He did not approve of this match, no doubt fearing her nubile young body would produce a new Hepburn heir and deprive him of his inheritance.

  As the minister droned on, reading from the Book of Common Order, Emma looked over her shoulder again to see her mother turn her face into her papa’s coat as if she could no longer bear to watch the proceedings. Her sisters were beginning to sniffle more loudly by the minute. Ernestine’s sharp little nose was as pink as a rabbit’s and judging by the violent quiver of Edwina’s plump bottom lip, it was only a matter of time before she broke into full-fledged sobs.

  Soon the minister’s ramblings would draw to a close, leaving Emma with no choice but to pledge her devotion and her body to this shriveled stranger.

  She cast a wild-eyed glance behind her, wondering what they would all do if she lifted the lace-trimmed hem of her silk wedding dress and made a mad dash for the door. She’d heard numerous cautionary tales of careless travelers disappearing into the Highland wilderness, never to be seen or heard from again. At the moment, it sounded like a wonderfully tempting prospect. After all, it wasn’t as if her decrepit groom could chase her down, toss her over his shoulder and haul her back to the altar.

  As if to underscore that fact, the earl began to croak out his vows. Too soon, he was done and the minister was looking expectantly at her.

  As was everyone else in the abbey.

  As her silence dragged on, one of the women murmured, “Och, the puir lass is overcome with emotion.”

  “If she swoons, he’ll naught be able to catch her without breakin’ his back,” her companion whispered.

  Emma opened her mouth, then closed it again. It had gone as dry as cotton, forcing her to wet her lips with the tip of her tongue before she made another attempt at speech. The minister blinked at her from behind his steel-rimmed spectacles, the compassion in his kind brown eyes bringing her dangerously near to tears.

  Emma glanced over her shoulder again but this time it wasn’t her mother or her sisters who captured her gaze but her papa.

 
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