Read Once Upon a Tartan Online
Authors: Grace Burrowes
Tags: #Romance, #Victorian, #Scottish, #Fiction, #Historical
Also by Grace Burrowes
The Duke’s Obsession Series
Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish
Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal
Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight
Lady Eve’s Indiscretion
The Duke and His Duchess
The Lonely Lords Series
Scottish-Set Victorian Romance
The Bridegroom Wore Plaid
Copyright © 2013 by Grace Burrowes
Cover and internal design © 2013 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Dawn Adams
Cover illustration by Jon Paul/Lott Reps
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
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An excerpt from
Mary Fran and Matthew
To those struggling with grief. You grieve because you loved, and it’s the love that will abide.
When Tiberius Lamartine Flynn heard the tree singing, his first thought was that he’d parted company with his reason. Then two dusty little boots dangled above his horse’s abruptly nervous eyes, and the matter became a great deal simpler.
“Out of the tree, child, lest you spook some unsuspecting traveler’s mount.”
A pair of slim white calves flashed among the branches, the movement provoking the damned horse to dancing and propping.
“What’s his name?”
The question was almost unintelligible, so thick was the burr.
“His name is Flying Rowan,” Tye said, stroking a hand down the horse’s crest. “And he’d better settle himself down this instant if he knows what’s good for him. His efforts in this regard would be greatly facilitated if you’d vacate that damned tree.”
“You shouldn’t swear at her. She’s a wonderful tree.”
The horse settled, having had as much frolic as Tye was inclined to permit.
“In the first place, trees do not have gender, in the second, your heathen accent makes your discourse nigh incomprehensible, and in the third, please get the hell out of the tree.”
“Introduce yourself. I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”
A heathen child with manners. What else did he expect from the wilds of Aberdeenshire?
“Tiberius Lamartine Flynn, Earl of Spathfoy, at your service. Had we any mutual acquaintances, I’d have them attend to the civilities.”
Silence from the tree, while Tye felt the idiot horse tensing for another display of nonsense.
“You’re wrong—we have a mutual acquaintance. This is a treaty oak. She’s everybody’s friend. I’m Fee.”
Except in his Englishness, Tye first thought the little scamp had said, “I’m fey,” which seemed appropriate.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Fee. Now show yourself like a gentleman, or I’ll think it’s your intent to drop onto hapless travelers and rob them blind.”
“Do you think I could?”
Dear God, the child sounded fascinated.
.” That tone of voice had worked on Tye’s younger brother until Gordie had been almost twelve. The same tone had ever been a source of amusement to his younger sisters. The branches moved, and Rowan tensed again, haunches bunching as if he’d bolt.
A lithe little shape plummeted at least eight feet to the ground and landed with a loud “Ouch!” provoking Rowan to rear in earnest.
From the ground, the horse looked enormous, and the man astride like a giant. Fee caught an impression of darkness—dark horse, dark riding clothes, and a dark scowl as the man tried to control his horse.
“That is quite enough out of you.” The man’s voice was so stern, Fee suspected the horse understood the words, for two large iron-shod hooves came to a standstill not a foot from her head.
“Child, you will get up slowly and move away from the horse. I cannot guarantee your safety otherwise.”
Still stern—maybe this fellow was always stern, in which case he was to be pitied. Fee sat up and tried to creep back on her hands, backside, and feet, but pain shot through her left ankle and up her calf before she’d shifted half her weight.
“I hurt myself.”
The horse backed a good ten feet away, though Fee couldn’t see how the rider had asked it to do so.
“Where are you hurt?”
“My foot. I think I landed on it wrong. It’s because I’m wearing shoes.”
“Shoes do not cause injury.” He swung off the horse and shook a gloved finger at the animal. “You stand, or you’ll be stewed up for the poor of the parish.”
“Are you always so mean, mister?”
He loomed above her, hands on his hips, and Fee’s Aunt Hester would have said he looked like The Wrath of God. His nose was a Wrath-of-God sort of nose, nothing sweet or humble about it, and his eyes were Wrath-of-God eyes, all dark and glaring.
He was as tall as the Wrath of God, too, maybe even taller than Fee’s uncles, who, if not exactly the Wrath of God, could sometimes be the Wrath of Deeside and greater Aberdeenshire.
As could her aunt Hester, which was a sobering thought.
“You think I’m mean, young lady?”
“Then I must answer in the affirmative.”
She frowned up at him. From his accent, he was at least a bloody Lowlander, or possibly a damned Sassenach, but even making those very significant allowances, he still talked funny.
“What is a firmative?”
“Yes, I am mean. Can you walk?”
He extended a hand down to her, a very large hand in a black riding glove. Fee had seen some pictures in a book once, of a lot of cupids without nappies bouncing around with harps, and a hand very like that one, sticking out of the clouds, except the hand in the picture was not swathed in black leather.
“Child, I do not have all day to impersonate the Good Samaritan.”
“The Good Samaritan was nice.
went to heaven.”
“While it is
sorry fate to be ruralizing in Scotland.” He hauled Fee to her feet by virtue of lifting her up under the arms. He did this without effort, as if he hoisted five stone of little girl from the roadside for regular amusement.
“Do you ever smile?”
“When in the presence of silent, well-behaved, properly scrubbed children, I sometimes consider the notion. Can you put weight on that foot?”
“It hurts. I think it hurts because my shoe is getting too tight.”
He muttered something under his breath, which might have had some bad words mixed in with more of his pernickety accent, then lifted Fee to his hip. “I am forced by the requirements of good breeding and honor to endure your company in the saddle for however long it takes to return you to the dubious care of your wardens, and may God pity them that responsibility.”
“I get to ride your horse?”
get to ride my horse. If you were a boy, I’d leave you here to the mercy of passing strangers or allow you to crawl home.”
He might have been teasing. The accent made it difficult to tell—as did the scowl. “You thought I was boy?”
“Don’t sound so pleased. I thought you were a nuisance, and I still do. Can you balance?”
He deposited her next to the treaty oak, which meant she could stand on one foot and lean on the tree. “I want to take my shoes off.” He wrinkled that big nose of his, looking like he smelled something rank. “My feet are clean. Aunt Hester makes me take a bath every night whether I need one or not.”
This Abomination Against the Natural Order—another one of Aunt Hester’s terms—did not appear to impress the man. Fee wondered if anything impressed him—and what a poverty that would be, as Aunt would say, to go through the whole day without once being impressed.
He hunkered before her, and he was even tall when he knelt. “Put your hand on my shoulder.”
Fee complied, finding his shoulder every bit as sturdy as the oak. He unlaced her boot, but when he tried to ease it off her foot, she had to squeal with the pain of it.
“Wrenched it properly, then. Here.” He pulled off his gloves and passed them to her. “Bite down on one of those, hard enough to cut right through the leather, and scream if you have to. I have every confidence you can ruin my hearing if you make half an effort.”
She took the gloves, which were warm and supple. “Are you an uncle?”
“As it happens, this dolorous fate has befallen me.”
“Is that a firmative?”
“It is. Why?”
“Because you’re trying to distract me, which is something my uncles do a lot. I won’t scream.”
He regarded her for a moment, looking almost as if he might say something not quite so fussy, then bent to glare at her boot. “Suit yourself, as it appears you are in the habit of doing.”
She braced herself; she even put one of the riding gloves between her teeth, because as badly as her ankle hurt, she expected taking off her boot would cause the kind of pain that made her ears roar and her vision dim around the edges.
She neither screamed nor bit through the glove—which tasted like reins and horse—because before she could even draw in a proper breath, her boot was gently eased off her foot.
“I suppose you want the other one off too?”
“Is my ankle all bruised and horrible?”
“Your ankle is slightly swollen. It will likely be bruised before the day is out, but perhaps not horribly if we can get ice on it.”
“Are you a priest?”
“For pity’s sake, child. First an uncle, then a priest? What can you be thinking?” He sat her in the grass and started unlacing her second boot.
“You talk like Vicar on Sunday, though on Saturday night, he sounds like everybody else when he’s having his pint. If my ankle is awful, Aunt Hester will cry and feed me shortbread with my tea. She might even play cards with me. My uncles taught me how to cheat, but explained I must never cheat unless I’m playing with them.”
“Honor among thieves being the invention of the Scots, this does not surprise me.” He tied the laces of both boots into a knot and slung them around Fee’s neck.
“I’m a Scot.”
His lips quirked. Maybe this was what it looked like when the Wrath of God was afraid he might smile.
“My condolences. Except for your unfortunate red hair, execrable accent, and the layer of dirt about your person, I would never have suspected.” He lifted her up again, but this time carried her to Flying Rowan, who had stood like a good boy all the while the man had been getting Fee’s boots off.
“I have wonderful hair, just like my mama’s. My papa says I’m going to be bee-yoo-ti-full. My uncles say I already am.”
“What you are is impertinent and inconvenient, though one can hardly blame your hair on you. Up you go.” He deposited her in the saddle, bracing a hand around her middle until she had her balance.
“Oh, this is a wonderful adventure. May I have the reins?”
“Assuredly not. Lean forward.”
He was up behind her in nothing flat, but that just made it all the better. Flying Rowan was even taller than Uncle Ian’s gelding, and almost as broad as the plow horses. Having the solid bulk of an adult male in the saddle made the whole business safe, even as it was also exciting.
He nudged the horse forward. “Where I am taking you, child?”
Fee could feel the way he rode, feel the way he moved with the horse and communicated with the horse without really using the reins.
“That way.” She lifted her hand to point in the direction of the manor, feeling the horse flinch beneath her as she did. “If you go by way of the pastures, it’s shorter than the road.”
“How many gates?”
“Lots. Papa has a lot of doddies.”
“Has your upbringing acquainted you with the equestrian arts?”