The Seduction of Miss Amelia Bell

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To my Hero…You never fail

Thank you, Dan, Samantha, and Hayley. I love you.

Edmund MacGregor ~
eldest son of Colin MacGregor and Gillian Dearly

Lucan MacGregor ~
eldest son of Tristan MacGregor and Isobel Fergusson

Darach Grant ~
eldest son of Finlay Grant and Leslie Harrison

Malcolm (Cal) Grant ~
eldest son of Connor Grant and Mairi MacGregor

  

Lady Amelia Bell ~
niece of the 2nd Duke of Queensberry

Sarah Frazier ~
her handmaiden and best friend

The Duke of Queensberry ~
her uncle

David Pierce ~
captain of the duke’s garrison

John Bell, Baron of Selkirk ~
her father

Millicent Bell, Baroness of Selkirk ~
her mother (the duke’s sister)

Walter Hamilton, Earl of Seafield and Lord Chancellor of Scotland ~
her betrothed

Ladies Eleanor and Elizabeth and Anne ~
her sisters

William Buchanan ~
Buchanan chief

Janet Buchanan ~
William’s sister

SCOTTISH LOWLANDS
SPRING, EARLY EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

Chapter One

E
dmund MacGregor crept along the hall of Venus’s Flower, a small brothel on Barkley
Lane, and unsheathed his claymore. If he was correct, several members of Parliament
were inside these rooms, helpless with their hose around their ankles and their moral
values cast to the four winds. Colin MacGregor, his father and the greatest spy in
the three kingdoms, had taught him that it was always better to catch victims unawares
and desperate to save their lives. One gathered the most information that way.

And Edmund needed information.

He heard a woman scream down at the other end of the long, poorly lit corridor and
held his breath, knowing that his cousin Lucan had just burst into the room she shared
with Lord Aimsley of Cambridge. The Highland invasion had begun.

They raided often, he and his MacGregor and Grant cousins, invading everything from
brothels to grand balls. They’d even managed to convince several MacKinnons and MacDonalds
to join them on a few excursions to the Lowlands and had succeeded in postponing Scotland’s
union with England twice. They were feared throughout the kingdoms, but no one knew
their true identities. They were outlaws, belonging to a clan almost utterly extinct
and hidden in the clouds.

Edmund kicked open the door in front of him. From the bed, a woman screamed, her shriek
followed by two more from the other prostitutes throughout the brothel. The man who
shared this woman’s mattress paled when he saw the hooded Highlander coming toward
him. Edmund’s smile remained hidden beneath the black linen covering his face. He
raised his sword over his shoulder. “Lord Sunderland. A pleasure to finally meet ye.”

The terrified man pissed the bed that the savage would have the knowledge of his identity.
Aye, Edmund knew who the patron was. Respected baron, member of Parliament.

He moved around the bed and pointed his blade at the naked nobleman. “Who else needs
to put their name to the act? Ye have five breaths to tell me or I’ll take the life
out of ye here and now.”

The baron squeezed his eyes shut and whimpered. Edmund took the moment to flick his
eyes toward the woman, breathless and afraid, in the bed next to his victim.

“I don’t know which act you speak of.”

Edmund moved behind him and pulled him up by the hair. “Then let me be more precise.”
He positioned his blade across his captive’s throat and waited patiently for the nobleman
to cease his hysterics. “Who else needs to sign the Union with England Act, the one
that will put into effect the Treaty of Union, which will join the three kingdoms
and enslave Scotland to England?” He pressed the edge of his blade deeper, wishing
Sunderland hadn’t already signed. There was no longer a reason to kill him. “The act
ye and traitors like ye were bribed by the Duke of Queensberry to sign.
That
act.” He bent to Sunderland’s ear and whispered, “Yer time is running out.”

“Only a few,” Lord Sunderland cried. “The Duke of Roxburgh, the lord chancellor, and
Queensberry himself!”

Only three and it would be done. Edmund’s stomach sank. Were he and his cousins too
late? Could they succeed now? He closed his eyes and called upon his fierce determination
to see this through. He’d done it before. He could do it again.

“When?” He drove the blade deeper still, drawing a trickle of Sunderland’s blood.
“When will it be completed?”

“In one month!” the baron cried.

One month until the bastard traitor, the Duke of Queensberry, had all his signatures
and brought the act before both Parliaments. The Treaty of Union would be enacted
soon after that and Scotland would become part of the new Great Britain.

One month to plan the abduction of the man in charge of procuring the rest of the
needed votes. They wouldn’t kill him. That would only postpone the treaty until England
found someone else to do it. This time, they would do it differently. Many would tell
Edmund it was impossible, but he wouldn’t listen. He would do whatever needed to be
done for Scotland. He would give up anything, including his life, to save his adopted
country from further subjugation to England.

“Don’t kill me!” the baron whimpered.

“Give me a reason not to,” Edmund said over him. “Ye sold yer homeland for a wee bit
more than Judas received.”

“No! No! I’ll help ye!”

When Edmund received the information he needed to move forward, he released his prisoner.
He watched the baron trip over his feet on his way out of the room, trying to dress
as he went. Edmund’s jeer mixed with Lucan MacGregor’s when his cousin met him in
the hall.

“What did ye learn?”

“They need only three more names. We have a month to stop them,” Edmund told him.

Luke shook his head slightly, but he didn’t give voice to the doubt that they could
do it. “I didna get much more than that from Aimsley.”

“I got a wee bit more,” Edmund went on as they walked together. “After Sunderland
begged me to spare his life, he told me that there was soon to be an announcement.”

“Aye?” Luke pulled down his mask and waited.

“The Duke of Queensberry’s niece is to be betrothed to the lord chancellor. They will
both be in attendance in Edinburgh at the same time.”

“Kill them?”

Edmund shook his head. “We’ll discuss the details later with the others.”

“Aye,” Luke agreed. “Should we take the rest of the place? The mistress told me that
there are three other noblemen upstairs.”

Edmund would rather ride straight for Edinburgh, but he knew his cousins were weary
from the trek from Skye to Stirling. They needed a night of drinking and warm, soft
bodies to encourage them in their fight to save their country. “Aye, let’s drive them
out and have the place to ourselves fer the night.”

They caught up with their cousin Malcolm a little while later in the parlor with three
women in his lap.

“Where’s Darach?” Luke asked, his mask tucked into his belt. He accepted a cup of
warm wine from a woman with an even warmer smile.

“He’s takin’ what Lord Lincoln left behind. Bastard might even be makin’ the earl
watch. Now that I think on it, I dinna’ remember seein’ Lincoln leave.”

Edmund didn’t doubt that Darach would do such a thing. He raised his cup with his
two comrades and they toasted, while wine and women flowed, to their enemies’ defeat.
They had a task to see to, and see to it they would. Tomorrow they would set pace
toward Edinburgh in an effort to save Scotland, her rights, and her beliefs. But tonight
they would drink and enjoy laughter and warm bodies.

  

Reining in his mount, Edmund fastened his gaze on the magnificent skyline of Edinburgh
in the distance. Though he’d seen it many times before, the sight of it never ceased
to captivate him. He loved the Highlands, they were his home, and his passion to save
them drew him to the capital city like the North Star on the Holy Night.

“We should arrive at Queensberry House just before dawn.”

Edmund cut his glance to Luke, the least talkative of their scant troupe. Most of
the time, the others welcomed his silence, preferring it to the sharp edge of his
tongue and the zeal of his views on the kingdom and all that was wrong within it.
Luke was passionate about what he knew, and the man knew a hell of a lot, thanks to
his father’s affinity for books. Whenever Edmund grew bored on their journeys, he
counted on Luke to stimulate the conversation. He was ready for something with a bit
more bite after listening to the previous topic of interest between Malcolm and Darach.

“Ye have our thanks fer the information, Luke. We haven’t traveled to Edinburgh enough
times to figure that out fer ourselves.”

Lucan lifted his head to return Edmund’s caustic smile—and with a glint in his eyes
that fired the golden hues within, accepted the challenge. “If ye expect me to apologize
fer thinking the rest of ye too dull-witted to sense time, ye’ll have to do something
more than discuss the shape of a lass’s bosoms fer the last four leagues to convince
me.”

“Has our crude speech offended yer delicate sensibilities, Luke?” Darach Grant, the
youngest among them at nine and ten years this spring, leaped into the fray, unfazed
that Luke was the largest among them. “If ye expect
us
to apologize fer enjoyin’ what is as yet unfamiliar to ye—”

“’Tis unfamiliar to ye, as well, whelp.” Malcolm Grant, cousin to all three and Edmund’s
closest friend, laughed. “The only bosoms ye’ve tasted were yer mother’s when ye were
a babe.”

“And that was what,” Luke quipped, “almost a month ago now?”

“Aye,” Darach told them with a sinister curl tipping the edge of his lips. The lad
never backed down from any man, or any number of them. “’Twas aboot the same time
I proved to yer fair Colleen MacKinnon that some men are better at certain skills
than others.”

Luke tossed him a deprecating smirk before freeing a pouch of water from his saddlebag.
“Being quicker at a skill doesna necessarily make ye better at it, lad. I just hope
ye didn’t get her accustomed to it.”

They shared laughter, and Edmund was thankful, much as he’d been for the whole of
his life for these men he’d grown up with. Men who could take a punch as well as throw
one. Men he loved like brothers, though his bond with them was not forged in blood.
Edmund wasn’t born a MacGregor. In fact, he wasn’t even Scottish. He’d been adopted
into the clan when he was almost four, raised as a son to the man he loved more than
any other, Colin, his father. He shared much in common with his cousins, especially
their love of Scotland, their home on Skye, and their hatred of the renewal of laws
against their name.

“I’d prefer if we ride into Edinburgh and complete our task as MacGregors and Grants,”
Darach said a little while later. “We havena’ had a decent fight in over three months.”

“There’ll be plenty of fighting soon enough,” Edmund told him. He turned in his saddle
and whistled, bringing a large, gangly four-legged beast galloping toward him, long
tongue dangling out of the side of its mouth, tail wagging. “Today we enter Edinburgh
as noblemen. We must not deviate from the plan.” Edmund wouldn’t let them deviate.
He’d thought long and hard on what they should do. Harming their enemies would do
no good. There were plenty more. The only way to save Scotland was to dissolve the
treaty. And there was only one hope of getting that done. They would enter Queensberry
House as guests in disguise and take the duke’s niece, leaving nothing in their wake
but a ransom note. Once they had the girl, they would bring her to Malcolm’s family
holding, Ravenglade Castle, in Perth. She would be released only after the duke and
the chancellor denounced the union.

“’Tis now or never,” he continued. “We must stop the union.”

Things were dangerous enough for the MacGregors since William of Orange renewed the
proscription against them upon his ascension to the throne almost a score years ago.
Few MacGregors ever left the shelter of Camlochlin in Skye. It wasn’t that they were
afraid. They were simply content, certain that the consequences of losing their Parliament
would not reach them so far north.

Edmund wasn’t as sure about their continued security, nor was he content to sit around
in Camlochlin ignorant to the laws being passed against his countrymen. He preferred
to ride with his cousins into England’s tawdry brothels to gather information from
their enemies while their noble heads were absent of wig, and their arses of hose.
Defiant plaids swinging about their brawny knees, they made their points at the end
of a claymore.

The act would soon be signed. They knew who, they knew where, and now they knew when.
They weren’t foolish enough to thunder to Parliament’s doors and expect to take on
the Royal Guard. They were skilled, but none were good enough to fight an army. No,
they had to stop the Duke of Queensberry and the Lord Chancellor of Scotland without
bringing outright war to their kin.

“I want to give bein’ a Gordon a go this time aroond.”

“Nae, Darach,” Malcolm said, “I hold a Huntley title. I should be a Gordon. I know
more aboot them.”

“Ye were a Gordon the last two times, Cal,” Darach argued. “I’m tired of ye winnin’
all the lasses because of yer title.”

“Darach,” Malcolm issued with a slight curl to his lips and a flash of twin dimples,
“my name has nothin’ to do with it.”

“Och, fer hell’s sakes,” Lucan said, “don’t get him started up again about his ‘many
attributes.’”

Malcolm tossed his rakish grin to him. “Luke, unlike in yer case, if I dinna’ boast
of them, others will.”

Luke laughed shortly. “Part of yer predicament is that ye think so.”

“What predicament is that, cousin? That I dinna’ wish to follow yer ancient ideals
and long-dead values? That I believe there are too many women to settle fer just one?”

“Remember that bard in Inverness who sang aboot our Miss Bell?” Thankfully Darach
veered off the topic with a flash of mischief lighting the green of his eyes. “He
sang of how she was lookin’ fer a husband, but none would have her because ill fortune
is said to follow her. We are no’ afraid of such folly, are we, lads? One of us could
court her,” he suggested, without waiting for an answer to his query. “Imagine Queensberry’s
reaction when he learns that after we took her fer ransom, one of us planted our seed
in his garden.”

Lucan cast him a repugnant look and then shook his head at the heavens. “Why did we
bring him again? He’s as senseless as Malcolm.”

“He looks the most innocent,” Edmund reminded him. “Folks are less afraid of us when
they see him and his angelic features.”

Darach immediately took offense. “I dinna’ look angelic. Ye’re the one with them golden
waves springin’ over yer eyes, Edmund.”

“Ye haven’t a hair on yer pretty face, Darach,” Malcolm reminded him while he passed
him on his horse. “And it doesna’ look like any whiskers will be showin’ up anytime
soon.”

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