Bestselling author Valerie Bowman sets the stage in Regency England for her Playful Brides series, where couples' misadventures on the way to the altar are witty, romantic romps based on some of the world's most beloved plays. The sixth charming entry, The Legendary Lord, is inspired by George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.
THE MAKING OF A LEGEND…
When Christian Forester, Viscount Berkeley, flees the stuffy ballrooms of London for his Scottish hunting lodge, the last thing he expects to find ensconced before his fire is an incredibly beautiful woman. But the plight of lovely young Sarah Highgate, who has run away from an unwanted betrothal, inspires an eminently practical exchange. He’ll safeguard her reputation with the ton while she advises him how to best attract a proper bride…
As the undisputed belle of the season, Sarah has enchanted plenty of suitors. Still, she isn’t interested in marriage, especially not to the pompous bore her father has chosen for her. But her hasty escape seems reckless now that she’s estranged from her family and has no one to count on besides Christian. Turning the lucklesslord into such a catch has another unplanned consequence for Sarah: Has he run away with her heart?
The Legendary Lord is the sixth installment of Valerie Bowman's Regency-set Playful Brides series.
About the Author
Valerie Bowman is an award-winning author who writes Regency-set historical romance novels aka Racy Regency Romps! Since her debut in 2012, Valerie's books have received starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus. She's been an RT Reviewers' Choice nominee for Best First Historical Romance and Best Historical Romance Love and Laughter. Two of her books have been nominated for the Kirkus Prize for fiction and New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas calls them, "Too delightful to miss!"
Valerie has a B.A. in English Language and Literature with a minor in history from Smith College. By day, she is a technical editor at a computer software company. By night, she combines her love of writing, history, and romance to craft stories about people falling in love.
Originally from Rantoul, Illinois, Valerie lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her family including her two rascally dogs. When she's not writing, she keeps busy reading, traveling, or vacillating between watching crazy reality TV or PBS.
Read an Excerpt
The Legendary Lord
By Valerie Bowman
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 June Third Enterprises, LLC.
All rights reserved.
Scotland, November 1816
Someone was inside his house. Christian Forester, Viscount Berkeley, stood outside the small hunting lodge and watched as a plume of smoke from the chimney billowed into the darkening sky. He made his way slowly toward the front door, pushed it open with his boot, and tightened his fist around the pistol he kept inside his coat pocket whenever he traveled. He'd spent the last sennight on the road. He was tired. He was dirty. He hadn't shaved. And he was in as foul a mood as he ever got. It was bitter cold. The wind was picking up. And from the looks of things, the sky was about to open up and dump an unholy amount of snow on this place. All Christian wanted was a warm fire and some food. Instead, it looked as though he would first be forced to dispatch a thief. He took a deep, calming breath and slowly pulled the pistol from his inside coat pocket.
He pushed farther with his boot and the front door creaked open, revealing the great room. The empty great room. Christian glanced around the space. There was a fire in the grate, a pleasant woven rug he didn't recognize set in front of the door on the wooden planks, and a boiling pot of what smelled suspiciously like stew bubbling over a fire in the kitchen. Christian stepped inside. Yes. It was obvious. Someone was here. Someone other than Mr. Fergus, the caretaker, and his little black Scottish dog with pointy ears who also happened to be named Fergus. The odd man once explained to Christian that if men could name their sons after themselves, then by God, he could do the same with his dog. Christian had always thought that sounded about right. But no, Fergus I and II (human and canine) weren't here now. In addition to the stew, the room smelled vaguely of flowers. Lilies, to be precise. There were no flowers in the Scottish Highlands at this time of year. He'd made it up here just ahead of the looming storm that was already blowing freezing gusts up the mountaintop behind him. The smell of lilies meant one thing: perfume. A woman was here. An uninvited, unknown, unwanted woman. And he'd left London to get away from women.
He shut the door behind him, stomped his boots on the rug, and cleared his throat. Perhaps she would show herself, introduce herself. Oh, and explain what the bloody hell she was doing here.
There was no movement. No sound. Nothing. He swung his heavy wool overcoat from his shoulders and placed it on the rough wooden coatrack he'd made himself out of a felled oak tree one summer here. He might be Viscount Berkeley in both London and Northumbria, but here in Scotland he was just Christian. Or Master Christian, according to Mr. Fergus. There was no pomp and circumstance at the hunting lodge, which was why Christian liked it so much. One of many reasons.
A small opening in the bottom of the door at the back of the house flapped to and fro for a moment and Fergus II, the canine variety, came rushing into the room like a black dart. He had the manners to stop and shake the snow from his back and paws as Fergus I had taught him when he'd created the little door for him. Fergus II came rushing up to Christian, wagging his tiny tail furiously and hopping about on all four paws. Christian put his hands on his hips and stared down at the handsome little pup. What in the —? Christian nearly rubbed his eyes. Was it his imagination or was Fergus II wearing a small red woolen coat?
"Well, what are you doing?" Was Christian mistaken? Was his caretaker here after all? Had Fergus I begun to do things like cook stew, place homey rugs near the door, and wear perfume? Or had he taken to entertaining a companion? A female companion? Perhaps she had made the stew. Yes, that surely made more sense than Fergus I wandering around smelling like lilies and dressing his dog in sweaters. But knowing the irascible man, Christian decided that scenario was equally implausible. No. More likely a vagrant had happened by the dwelling and, finding no one home, had decided to take up residence. It wasn't uncommon in these parts. But Christian wanted to get to the business of dispatching the drifter (male or female) posthaste.
After sliding his pistol back into his pocket, he leaned down and scooped up the little pooch. Fergus II licked him squarely upon the nose. "Thank you," Christian said, wiping off the slobber with the back of his gloved hand. "I don't suppose you'd be so kind as to tell me who's here?"
The dog blinked at him and cocked his stout head to the side.
"No?" Christian rubbed the back of his neck. "Very well, then. I'll follow you. Lead on."
He set the short, solid dog back down and motioned for him to precede him down the corridor. The entire lodge consisted of a great room with the kitchen instruments in one corner and a sofa and two aged leather chairs near the fireplace in the other corner. A plump cushion for Fergus II sat near the sofa. There was a wooden table and four matching chairs (also made by Christian one long-ago summer) near the kitchen area. A corridor led to two small bedchambers, each populated with a feather bed, a chair, some books, and a rug. If Mr. Fergus was here, he was either outside in the snowy forest or in one of the bedchambers. The man usually slept in the small room at the back of the barn, but Christian had just come from there after seeing to his horse. That room had been empty and Fergus's mount was gone.
"Go on, mate, show me," Christian said. He followed the dog's determined little trot down the corridor to Christian's own bedchamber door. Mr. Fergus wouldn't have any business in that room. Christian frowned. The dog placed his paw on the door and whined.
"Go on, then," Christian prodded, his chin in his hand. Fergus II glanced back at him as if confirming his permission, then he pushed open the door slightly with his paw and trotted inside the dark room. A few moments of near silence passed. The only sound was the dog's toenails clicking against the wooden floor. A moment later, a distinctly female voice floated out into the corridor. "Why, there you are. Are you here to wake me from my nap?"
Christian's eyes widened and his hand fell away from his chin. By God, there was a woman in his bed!CHAPTER 2
Someone was in the house with her. Sarah Highgate's pale hand froze on the dog's slightly rough fur. There was no mistaking it. She'd just heard a man clear his throat. At least she thought she'd heard it. The long shadow moving outside the bedchamber door confirmed it. Someone was there. And the odds of it being the dog's owner were low. Mr. Fergus would have called out, asked her how she was, given her news of Mrs. Goatsocks. No, it was certainly not Mr. Fergus.
Fear clutched at Sarah's heart. It was true that she was in a stranger's house. Well, not entirely a stranger. His name was Master Christian, and Mr. Fergus had assured her that she had nothing to fear from him. He was a gentleman. But the fact was that she didn't know it for certain and Mr. Fergus wasn't here now and neither was Mrs. Goatsocks — and, worse, the shadowy man outside the door could be a stranger, a Scottish ne'er-do-well, a killer. No. No. There went her imagination again. She mustn't overreact. She must keep calm and be reasonable. Perhaps the shadow simply belonged to someone who'd wandered off the beaten path and ended up in the wrong place ... just as she had. Fergus the dog wagged his tail. She envied his calmness. She was anything but calm. What exactly should a lone female with an overly friendly dog do in such circumstances? She could call out and ask the man if he was Master Christian. She quickly discarded that thought. "Of course I am" would no doubt be his answer, and fool that she was, she might just believe him, given that she'd never actually seen Master Christian. She'd already been idiot enough coming here. She needed to gather her wits about her to survive this misadventure and make it back home. Giving a potential murderer the name of someone he should pretend to be was the opposite of wise.
Her heart hammering in her chest, Sarah contemplated the rest of her options. She could call out and ask him to name himself. But if he was a murderer, she would be identifying herself as a female and letting him know she was there, ready to be murdered or raped, perhaps both. Though now that she thought on it, no doubt he'd already heard her speak to the dog. Bother. Bother. Bother.
She held her breath and pressed her shaking hand against her middle. Be calm. Be calm. Be calm. There was only one sane course of action. She must find a weapon. He, whoever he was, would make the first move, and she would not be cowering meekly on the bed when he did.
Resolved, she slid off the feather mattress as quietly as possible in search of a weapon. She tiptoed across the wooden planks, wincing whenever one of them creaked. She glanced around wildly. What looked like a medieval sword was propped against the far wall of the small room. She'd already decided that Master Christian must be an eccentric old man. The sword confirmed it.
Whoever was in the corridor, however, might be a young man. Young and spry and dangerous. Regardless, she would at least attempt to defend herself. For the thousandth time, she cursed her own stupidity over the circumstances that had brought her so far from her home and placed her in so much potential danger. Putting her finger to her lips to shush the dog (as if he knew what that meant), she finished her slow journey to the sword, grabbed it with both trembling hands, and took a deep breath. If only London Society could see her now. Lady Sarah Highgate, eighteen-year-old so-called belle of the Season, wearing maid's clothing, huddled in a Scottish hunting lodge, and arming herself with a broadsword. She blew out her breath from trembling lips. Life could be downright odd sometimes.
Sarah braced her feet apart, adjusted her grip on the sword's handle, and heaved upward just as the door to the bedchamber flew open.
* * *
In his thirty years of life, Christian had never seen a sight quite like the one that greeted him when he kicked open the bedchamber door. A beautiful woman stood there brandishing a sword at him. Well, brandishing might be a bit of an overstatement. She could barely lift it an inch from the floor, but she was obviously attempting to brandish it.
Normally, Christian was at a loss in front of a beautiful woman. Well, other than his friends, of course. And this woman was extremely beautiful. She had lush black silky hair that fell in fat curls past her shoulders. She'd obviously unpinned it for her nap. She had pale skin, red lips, an adorable upturned nose, and eyes of palest green, almost crystalline. They were tilted, like a cat's, and framed by long, sooty lashes. She was dressed as a servant. Had she run away from some estate? Only there wasn't an estate near here. She must have come far. Regardless, whoever she was, she was an incomparable beauty. And a stranger.
"Get out of here right now, or I'll cut you in half." The sword quavered in the woman's grip, but her eyes narrowed to slits. "I mean it. Leave now. You won't want to see me angry. I promise you. I'm quite good with a sword." Again, the sword quivered up another inch.
In other circumstances, Christian would have stuttered in the face of such beauty, wouldn't have known what to say, would have made an ass of himself. God knew such lack of debonair sophistication was a large part of the reason he'd failed to find a wife in London after all these years. But the audacity of this particular woman — or, more correctly, his anger at her audacity — mixed with his exhaustion, made his encounter with this beautiful woman quite different from all the others.
"What if I told you I have a pistol?" he asked dryly, studying her face to gauge her reaction.
She tossed her curls and lifted her chin higher, but her eyes flashed with a hint of fear. "I have a sword," she announced, her voice quavering slightly.
"I see that. But I'd like to think we would both agree that a pistol would trump a sword were this little confrontation to turn into actual combat." He stepped toward her, all the while assessing how carefully and quickly he might disarm her.
Her eyes flashed again. She took a step back. "I ... I don't believe you have a pistol. You'd have shown it by now. And I will slice you in half if you take another step closer."
He pressed his lips together to keep from smiling. "Well, you see," he said, squinting, "I don't usually point pistols at ladies. But I'm quickly beginning to consider making an exception in your case. Especially if you continue to threaten me and refuse to put down that sword."
She did exactly the opposite. She lifted the sword even higher, but the muscles in her upper arms quivered. It had to be a chore for her to keep the thing aloft.
"If you have a pistol, show it. I dare you to," she said, her jaw clenched.
"Oh, my dear Miss House Thief, don't tempt me. Now, I'm going to ask you one more time to put down that sword before I force you to put it down. It's entirely your decision."
"You'll have to kill me first. And I'm no house thief." Her quaking arms lifted the sword even higher, and she had the audacity to jab it toward him slightly.
That was it. Christian was through with this farce. He had to disarm her before she hurt herself or him or, God forbid, the dog, who'd sat in between them watching this peculiar exchange, his ears switching from side to side, no doubt in an effort to hear each of them more clearly.
Christian reached her in two long strides, wrenched the sword out of her hand, twisted her arm behind her back, and pulled her sharply against his chest. "You say you're not a house thief, but let me see if I have the right of it. You've broken into my home and you're trying to kill me? With my own sword?"
The woman struggled to pull her arm free, but Christian held her fast, her backside squirming against him. He wasn't about to allow her to scramble away from him. God only knew what she'd scoop up to fight him with next. The dog, perhaps?
"Your home? How do I know this is your home?" she asked in a tone that was both demanding yet edged with fear. And in an accent that was obviously not that of a maid, but of a lady. Unexpected.
Her breath came in panting gasps, and her breasts — which Christian had quite a good view of, actually, given that he was close to a foot taller than her — were heaving. She was frightened. Good. Thieves shouldn't get too comfortable.
"I damn well know it's not yours, Miss Thief."
"I told you. I am not a thief. Let go of me." She struggled harder to break free of his grasp.
He tightened his hold on her arm. "Is anyone else with you?"
"How long have you been here?"
"This is my third night."
"You have been in my home three nights?" Outraged, he glanced around the room, searching. "What have you taken?"
"Nothing. How many times do I have to say it? I'm no thief." She attempted to elbow him in the ribs. He stepped back just in time, mentally thanking his fencing days at Eton for his quick reflexes.
He secured her elbow so she couldn't do it again. "I don't want to hurt you," he said calmly, "but unless you can tell me in the next five seconds who you are and why the hell you're in my house, I'll be happy to toss you out in the snow, thief or not."
She stopped struggling and made a small gasping noise. That was more like it.
"You're Master Christian?" Her head snapped to the side, and he saw the outline of her patrician profile, though she still had her back to him.
Christian tightened his grip on her warm wrist. "I'm the one asking questions here, not you," he growled near her ear. The lily scent was definitely coming from her. Her ebony hair was giving off the essence. It smelled ... good.
"I'm trying to prove that I'm not a thief," she insisted. She'd stopped struggling for the moment. "How else would I know your name?"
"I'm certain it's written on some paperwork in here somewhere, and it appears you've made yourself at home. But you'll have to do better than toss about a name to convince me you haven't broken into my house."
She took a deep breath. "Mr. Fergus knows I'm here. He said I might stay." She tossed her head after that pronouncement, obviously proud of herself for getting another name right.
Excerpted from The Legendary Lord by Valerie Bowman. Copyright © 2016 June Third Enterprises, LLC.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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