Title: Attired in Highland Gold (Colors of Scandal #15)
Author: Sandra Sookoo
Genre: Regency romance
There’s no such thing as perfection but being stuck in the Scottish Highlands with a shot at a dream comes close.
Caelan Stewart—Lord Everly—only son to the Earl of Breckenridge, is in Scotland on a hunting holiday, but when an accidental tumble on a hike gives him a badly sprained ankle and injures his wrist, the remainder of his holiday looks dull… until two red-haired scamps play Halloween tricks on him while he’s preoccupied by their attractive mother.
Widowed two years and still battling grief, American Clara Snyder needs a distraction. Spending several weeks on an estate in the Highlands that will end with a lavish ball on All Hallows Eve might be just the thing. She barely settles into life there with her two small children when an intriguing Scotsman literally falls at her feet… and feelings she thought long dead come alive again.
As Caelan fills his time by bedeviling the intriguing widow and planning a few Samhain tricks, she falls under his spell. Desire grows, as does the bond between him and her children. But he’s not keen on offering up his heart again after the violent death of his first betrothed while Clara is leery of loving someone else for fear they’ll leave. The only way to a happily ever after is to jump in with eyes wide open… and a bit of innocent, ghostly manipulation won’t hurt either.
The errant breeze ruffled through her hair and clawed at her serviceable navy skirts, but the air was fresh and crisp, and there was a hint of woodfires in it that beckoned. It would feel wonderful to stretch her legs with a walk after being confined to the traveling coach for the last five days.
“Jacob! Susan! Let us go inside and find our rooms. Then you can play.” As Mary led the way into the building, Clara trailed after her. The twins bounced in around her, and then she was struck dumb by the circular reception hall that was just as her friend had described it. “How lovely and quaint.” The black-and-white checkered marble floor lent the area an air of whimsy, and all around there were doors that led to different rooms, curved just as Mary had said. “This is wonderful.”
Various people milled about. Some eyed them with curiosity, and a few of the men had expressions of admiration.
“I told you.”
The twins took up an impromptu game of tag, twisting in and out of the people filling the hall. From the corner of her eye, a flash of color tugged at her attention. When Clara glanced in that direction, a tall man with a wrist and ankle heavily wrapped with bandages tried to hobble across the hall. As he grew closer, it was inevitable that one of her children would collide with the slower moving adult. His good foot caught against one of Jacob, and despite the fact the poor man hopped about in the attempt to remain upright, he eventually lost the battle.
He tumbled to the floor, coming to a halt at Clara’s feet. “Well, damn.”
As snickers issued from a few of the men who had gathered, she stared down at him. Chestnut hair a tad longer than fashion dictated curled about his ears. Hazel eyes reflected pain. Aristocratic features spoke to English traditions and bloodlines. A trace of a flush rose above his cravat while he lay sprawled inelegantly on the floor.
“My apologies,” he uttered, and the baritone of his voice sent a few shivers up Clara’s spine. “Still trying to learn how to navigate with the bum ankle.” The bottle green jacket he wore fit the breadth of his shoulders and chest like a dream. A brown velvet waistcoat drew her gaze to his flat abdomen. Buff-colored breeches clung to his legs and highlighted how fit he was, while scuffed Hessians spoke to his penchant for spending time outside.
“Cousin Caelan?” The surprise in Mary’s voice was all too evident as she peered at the unfortunate man. “I’ve heard of men throwing themselves at women before, but never have I seen it happen.”
Belatedly, Clara could see hints of her friend in this man’s face that no doubt spoke to their relationship.
Laughter followed her statement as if the men there had never heard anything quite so funny in their lives.
But her children were apparently not done causing havoc. The instant she went to kneel by the fallen man’s side, Jacob crashed into her side as he ran away from his sister. His momentum knocked her off her feet, and with a squeal, Clara pitched forward, landing squarely into the man’s lap just as he’d struggled into a sitting position.
“Oh, dear heavens.” The heat of embarrassment invaded her cheeks while even more hearty laughter went through the hall. “Now it’s my turn to offer apologies.”
“Think nothing of it.” His arms went around her as if to steady her. A shiver went down her spine, for it had been a long time indeed since she’d been in such a position. “I’ve passed worse days than this.”
“Yes, like falling down the hillside two days ago,” one of the men said to the renewed laughter of the company. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were in your cups, Everly.”
The man who currently held her sighed. He met her gaze. “I apologize for them. I’m not drunk, but I am apparently unlucky, for ever since I arrived here two days ago, I’ve met with misfortune.”
“Ah.” That voice, coupled with the tiny grin that barely curved his sensuous mouth and the strength in the arms he still had around her all worked to send awareness crashing over her. His scent of sandalwood and citrus teased her nose. “I, uh, should let you up. This isn’t exactly proper.” With a nod of gratitude, she accepted the hand Mary gave her and quickly regained her feet. Then she glared at Jacob. “You know better than to act the hooligan. Much more of this behavior, and you’ll be kept in your room for the duration.”
Grins and chuckles went through the assembled company while Jacob hung his head and eked out a barely audible apology.
Then the man who spoke before assisted the fallen man to his feet—or rather his good foot—and remained there for support. “Since it seems we’ve found our long-lost cousin Mary, this is a day for celebration.” He winked at Clara. “I’m Benedict Buchannan, and this unfortunate bit of manhood,” he hooked a thumb at his hobbled friend, “is Lord Everly. He’s yet another cousin from a separate branch. Give us a chance to organize ourselves into some semblance of proper gentleman.”
One of the other men—this one with shaggy black hair and days’ worth of stubble clinging to a strong jaw—ambled over. He leveled a look of blatant interest on Mary before saying, “I’ll summon the butler and housekeeper. Meanwhile, Benedict can take you to the parlor until we can sort things out.”
“Thank you.” With one last parting glance at the man in whose lap she’d briefly sat, Clara followed the man who’d introduced himself as Benedict.
At all costs, she had to ignore that initial reaction, for she wasn’t of a mind to involve herself with a man at this time when she hadn’t properly said goodbye to her husband.
Everything else was folly.
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It takes place in the Scottish Highlands during Halloween celebrations. Plus, who doesn’t like two mischievous twins?
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Sandra Sookoo is a USA Today bestselling author who firmly believes every person deserves acceptance and a happy ending. She’s written for publication since 2008. Most days you can find her creating scandal and mischief in the Regency-era, serendipity and happenstance in the Victorian era, or historical romantic suspense complete with mystery and intrigue. Reading is a lot like eating chocolates—you can’t just have one book. Good thing they don’t have calories!
When she’s not wearing out computer keyboards, Sandra spends time with her real-life Prince Charming in Central Indiana where she’s been known to bake cookies and make moments count because the key to life is laughter. A Disney fan since the age of ten, when her soul gets bogged down and her imagination flags, a trip to Walt Disney World is in order. Nothing fuels her dreams more than the land of eternal happy endings, hope and love stories.
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