Authors: Hero of My Heart
Hero of My Heart
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Loveswept eBook Original
Copyright © 2013 by Megan Frampton
copyright © 2013 by Megan Frampton. Originally published in 2013 by William Morrow Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Along Came Trouble
by Ruthie Knox copyright © 2013 by Ruth Homrighaus
The Notorious Lady Anne
by Sharon Cullen copyright © 2013 by Sharon Cullen.
by Linda Cajio copyright © 1989 by Linda Cajio.
All Rights Reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Cover design: Lynn Andreozzi
Cover illustration: Aleta Rafton
To Scott, who is my own wonderful
Thanks to Louise Fury, my incredible, persistent agent, my editor Sue Grimshaw, Myretta Robens, Robin Bradford, Kwana Minatee-Jackson, and Carolyn Jewel. This would not be possible without any of you. Thank you.
“She’s a virgin, gentlemen. And she’ll be sold to the highest bidder.”
Alasdair raised his head from the worn wooden table, struggling to open his eyelids. He lifted his hand from where it had been dangling by his side and pried his left lid open, propping his head up on his right hand. The words had registered only vaguely, but they were enough to pull him from his miasma.
The man who’d spoken was standing on the largest of the tables in the pub, his loud, checked waistcoat and overoiled hair proclaiming his gentlemanly aspirations. The man bowed, spreading his hands wide and smiling.
“Allow me to introduce myself; my name, fine sirs, is William Mackenzie, and I am in the fortuitous position of offering something very rare, very special to you this evening.” His overdone accent almost disguised his Scottish burr. “If you’ve got the blunt,” Mackenzie added, clearing his throat. The clamor in the pub did not abate. “Gentlemen! If I may have your attention,” the man repeated in an even louder voice.
Alasdair wished he’d just shut up. It wouldn’t be possible to slide back into oblivion, not while the loudmouth was yelping. At least the rest of the customers had quieted, waiting to hear what it was the Scot was selling.
Alasdair watched as Mackenzie leaned down and pulled on something—an arm? While he pulled, another man—a younger one, his face contorted in a sneer—shoved a woman onto the table where Mackenzie held her, tightly, around the waist. She didn’t struggle, just gazed at the assembled crowd with a blank expression on her face. Too blank.
Alasdair sat up. His head throbbed from the effort.
“What’ll you bid?” Twenty or thirty men were watching—no,
—the woman on the table. Alasdair wiped a hand over his face, clearing his bleary eyes.
She was medium height, with dark, curly brown hair. Her gown was modestly cut, but tight, as if it had belonged to someone else, and her breasts strained at the fabric. Her figure looked lush and inviting, the kind of figure men slavered after.
The kind of figure that would make every man in the room want her.
“Untouched.” Mackenzie winked, a grotesque leer, and then bent down and inched her skirt up slowly until her entire ankle and part of her shin was showing. She wasn’t wearing shoes or stockings, and the pale, white flesh of her leg gleamed in the candlelight.
Alasdair stared, transfixed by the lovely curve of her calf, the delicate bones of her ankle. His eyes traveled up, taking in the much-washed fabric of her gown, her luscious breasts, the graceful column of her neck.
He noticed a dark area on her shin. A trick of the light? A birthmark marring that otherwise perfect skin?
He glanced at her face, dreading what he would see there, but knowing he had to look anyway.
As he’d expected, no emotion registered there. Her eyes were dull, her pupils huge and dark.
It was worse than if she’d been frightened or trembling—she was so distant from what was happening, he doubted she even comprehended it. And that blankness, that empty gaze, cut through to the heart he’d thought was blackened forever.
Damn it. He was going to have to do something.
“How do we knows she’s a virgin?” a voice asked. “Who’s to say she ain’t just pulled a fast one on you?”
Mackenzie let go of the woman, who wobbled unsteadily as her skirt tumbled down. The Scot rolled his head back and laughed, hooking his thumbs in the waistband of his trousers. He bobbed forward and eyed the crowd. “ ’Cause she’s a vicar’s daughter, my lords. And she comes straight from church, pure as an angel. God’s honest truth,” he finished, chuckling at his own wit.
There was a moment of silence—Reverence? Appreciation?—and then the bidding started.
“Two pounds!” a gruff voice shouted from behind Alasdair.
“She’s worth more’n that,” the younger man said from behind Mackenzie, his voice tinged with desperation. Mackenzie turned around to shush the man, and then faced the crowd again with that patently false smile plastered on his face. He clasped the woman to his side.
Not that she was struggling. Alasdair doubted she even could.
“Two pounds three shillings!” A large man to Alasdair’s right flung his hand in the air, then swept off his hat and bowed toward the table. “Although the lady might want to consider paying me after I’m done with her,” he added. The men in the room laughed. A few derisive comments followed.
The woman didn’t react at all.
Anger roiled in his gut, anger at the crowd, the greasy Scot who had her on the table, the man standing behind her, even anger at her for allowing herself to be put in this position.
She needed rescuing. And he was the furthest thing from a knight in shining armor anyone could possibly imagine.
“Three pounds, gentleman, for the pleasure of taking this dell’s virtue. For the pleasure,” Mackenzie said, running his hand from her waist up her side, “of owning her.” He slid his hand forward and placed it on her breast, squeezing it, stroking it, his eyes closed in exaggerated ecstasy, his other hand reaching toward his crotch.
She remained still. Not looking in any particular direction, just—placid. Calm. As though she weren’t being eyed by a group of lusty farmers while being fondled by a crass, pretentious Scot with suspect fashion choices.
Alasdair jumped up before he could stop himself. “Five pounds!” he barked, thumping on the table with his closed fist. The men in the room glanced around in surprise, obviously wondering where the real gentleman had come from.
Alasdair hadn’t spoken more than a few mumbled words since arriving at the pub—he hadn’t wanted to be noticed. But now every man in the place was gawking at him, his accent giving him away as Quality.
There was a low murmur as hands were shoved back into pockets and the men began to shuffle from side to side. Alasdair had won the bidding, as much with his accent as with his money.
The auctioneer’s eyes opened and his hand dropped back to the woman’s waist. “Well, then, my lord,” he said, “she’s all yers. Provided, of course, you’ve got the ready?”
Alasdair didn’t bother replying to Mackenzie’s implied insult. He shoved his fingers in his pockets for his money as he stepped forward. He’d planned exactly how much to spend tonight—enough to get deliciously deadened, but not enough to actually kill him. And then, because old habits die hard, he’d stuck some more bank notes in his pocket in case of emergency.
This, he reasoned, was an emergency.
He strode up to the table, unsteady on his feet at first. The room was silent, so quiet the rustle of the money in his hand echoed like a hammer in Alasdair’s brain.
The man waited for Alasdair to place the note on the table, then removed his hand from the woman’s waist, pushing her forward until she teetered on the edge of the table. She stepped forward so that one foot dangled off the table, then Mackenzie gave her a push, and—
She fell into Alasdair’s arms.
It was not an elegant rescue, the kind where the noble prince gathers the humble milkmaid gently in his arms and consecrates the moment with a kiss. Her elbow landed smartly on his head, his arm muscles stretched and protested under her weight, and for a moment he was convinced they were both going to end up in a heap on the sawdust-strewn wood floor.
He staggered, sliding her down his body until her feet touched the floor and she was able to stand on her own. He reached up to rub the sore spot on his head, and then clasped her by the arm to keep her from falling over. “Are you all right?”
She shook his hand off and nodded, but he wasn’t sure she had really heard the question. He needed to get her out of here before she emerged from her stupor.
Before she realized what had happened to her.
And then what the hell was he going to do?
“Come along,” he said. He could hear his own rough tone, the voice he’d used with green recruits. He was lucky he was staying in the inn upstairs—she had clearly been drugged, and was unsteady on her feet.
They mounted the small wooden staircase in silence, Alasdair holding her upright as she shuffled along. He dug into his pocket for the room key, and then held her close to his body as he opened the door.
He held the door open for her, then slammed it behind them and gestured toward the narrow bed. “Sit down there.”
The covers were in disarray from where he’d thrashed about in the throes of one of his nightmares, but of course she didn’t notice. She sat where he’d indicated, her hands folded demurely in her lap, her eyes fixed on a point in the distance. Some of his men had worn that same look in battle. He sat down beside her, unutterably weary. So much for his glorious plans of oblivion.
He could tell when she began to emerge from whatever it was that had possessed her—her eyes, the stormy dark blue of an angry sea, began to focus. Her pupils narrowed. Her entire body began to tremble.
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. She was shaking so hard it jarred him, and he put his other arm across her chest to gather him to her. Then he began to lie down, still holding her, wrapped up in his body.
“Shh,” he said, wishing that she had someone else to take care of her. The bed was narrow, barely big enough for his large frame, much less another person. He tried to make himself as small as possible—not easy, considering his size—while also trying to keep himself as distant from her as he could.