Authors: Karen Ranney
Tags: #Romance, #Historical Romance, #Scottish Highland, #Regency Romance, #love story, #Highlanders
To Connie and Mike
othing about the occasion hinted that it would change Mairi Sinclair’s life. Not the hour, being after dinner, or the day, being a Friday. The setting didn’t warn her; the Edinburgh Press Club was housed in a lovely brick building with an impressive view of the castle.
Still, possessing an inquiring mind, she should have somehow known. She should have seen the carriage pull into the street behind them. She should have felt something. The air should have been different, heavy with portent. Hinting at rain, if nothing else.
Perhaps a thunderstorm would have kept her home, thereby changing her fate. But on that evening, not a cloud was in the sky. The day had been a fair one and the night stars glittered brightly overhead, visible even with the glare of the yellowish gas lamps along the street.
A gust of wind brought the chill of winter, but her trembling was due more to eagerness than cold as she left the carriage. Straightening her skirts as she waited for her cousin to follow, Mairi wished she’d taken the time to order a new cloak—her old black one was a bit threadbare at the hem. She would like something in red, perhaps, with oversized buttons and a hidden pocket or two for her notebooks and pencils.
Her dress was new, however, a blue wool that brought out the color of her eyes and made her hair look darker than its usual drab brown. At the throat was the cameo that her brother and sister-in-law had given her on their return from Italy.
“We saw it and thought it looked like you,” Virginia said.
She’d responded with the protest that it wasn’t a holiday or her birthday.
Macrath had merely ignored her and pinned it on her dress. “The best presents are those that are unexpected,” he said. “Learn to receive, Mairi.”
So she had, and today she was grateful for the thought and the gift. The brooch enhanced her dress.
She didn’t see, however, that the finely carved profile looked anything like her. She didn’t have such an aristocratic nose, or a mouth that looked formed for a smile. The hairstyle was similar, drawn up on the sides to cascade in curls in the back. Perhaps that was the only point of similarity.
Fenella joined her in a cloud of perfume, something light and smelling of summer flowers.
Her cousin was a pretty girl, someone people noted even though she rarely spoke in a group. Fenella’s blond hair created a halo around her fine-boned face, accentuating her hazel eyes.
Mairi had seen a swan once, and the gentle grace of the bird reminded her of Fenella.
In addition, Fenella was far nicer in temperament than she was. Whenever she said that, her cousin demurred, but they both knew it was the truth.
Fenella’s cloak was also black, the severe color only accentuating her blond prettiness, while Mairi was certain that she herself looked like a very large crow. However, she wasn’t going to be deterred by her appearance or any other minuscule concern on this most glorious of occasions.
She strode toward the building, clutching her worn copy of
Beneath the Mossy Bough
in her left hand, her reticule in her right. Her hated bonnet was atop her head only because Fenella had frowned at her in censure. Otherwise, she would have left it behind on the seat.
Before they could cross the street, three carriages passed, the rhythmic rumble of their wheels across the cobbles a familiar sound even at night. Edinburgh did have quiet hours, but normally only between midnight and four. Then, the castle on the hill above them seemed to crouch, warning the inhabitants to be silent and still, for these were the hours of rest.
She knew the time well, since she was often awake in the middle of the night working.
“Are you very certain this is proper, Mairi?” Fenella asked as they hurried across the street.
She turned to look at her cousin. Fenella was occasionally the voice of her conscience, but tonight nothing would stop her from attending the Edinburgh Press Club meeting.
“It’s Melvin Hampstead, Fenella,” she said. “Melvin Hampstead. Who knows when we will ever have the chance to hear him speak again?”
“But we haven’t been invited,” Fenella said.
Mairi waved her hand in the air as if to dismiss her cousin’s concerns. “The whole city’s been invited.” She shook her head. “It’s Melvin Hampstead, Fenella.”
She climbed the steps to the top, opened the outer door and held it ajar for her cousin. Inside was the vestibule, a rectangular space large enough to accommodate ten people. Yellow-tinted light from the paraffin oil sconces illuminated the door at the end, guarded by an older man in a dark green kilt and black jacket.
At their entrance, he stood, folded his arms across his chest and pointed his gray-threaded beard in their direction.
“Is it lost you are, then?”
Mairi blinked at him. “I don’t believe we are. This is the Edinburgh Press Club, is it not?”
“That it is, but you’re a woman, I’m thinking.”
“That I am,” she said, clutching the book to her bodice. “We’ve come to hear Mr. Hampstead speak.”
“You’ll not be hearing him here,” he said. “The meeting is closed to women.”
The man didn’t even look at her when he spoke, but at a spot above her, as if she were below his notice.
“That can’t be true,” she said. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been publicized so well.”
“This is the Edinburgh Press Club, madam. We do not admit women.”
“I’m a miss,” she said, stepping back. “Miss Mairi Sinclair, and I’ve a right to be here. I’m the editor of the
“You’re a woman by my way of thinking,” he said. “And we don’t admit women.”
She had the urge to kick him in the shin. Instead, she batted her eyes ever so gently. She’d been told she had beautiful blue eyes—the Sinclair eyes—plus she was occasionally gifted with the same charm that Fenella effortlessly commanded.
“Are you very certain?”
Evidently, he was immune to both her eyes and her lashes, because he frowned at her.
“It’s Melvin Hampstead,” she said. “I adored his book,” she added, holding it up for him to see. “If we promise to slip in, not speak to anyone, and simply stand in the corner, wouldn’t you allow us to enter?”
No? Just no? No further explanation? No chance to convince him otherwise? Simply no?
She frowned at him, one hand holding the book, the other clenched tight around her reticule and the notebook inside. She carried her notebook everywhere, and the minute she could, she was going to record everything this man said, plus his refusal on behalf of the Edinburgh Press Club to allow her to enter.
“Is there a problem?”
She turned her head to find a man standing there, a bear of a man, tall and broad, with a square face and eyes like green glass.
“No, Provost Harrison, no problem. I was just telling this female that the Edinburgh Press Club did not allow women.”
She’d listened to tales of Scotland’s history from her grandmother, heard stories of brave men striding into battle with massive swords and bloodlust in their eyes.
This was one of those men.
He, too, was attired in a kilt, one of a blue and green tartan with a black jacket over a snowy white shirt. She could almost imagine him bare-chested, a broadsword in his right hand and a cudgel in his left. The sun would shine on the gleaming muscles of his arms and chest. He’d toss his head back and his black hair would fall over his brow.
There were men, and then there were men. One was male only because he wasn’t female. The other was the definition of masculine, fierce and a little frightening, if her heartbeat was to be believed.
He braced his legs apart, folded his arms and regarded her with an impassive look.
She knew who he was, of course, but she’d never seen the Lord Provost of Edinburgh up so close. If she had, she’d have been prepared for the force of his personality.
If he meant to intimidate her, he was doing a fine job of it, but she would neither admit it nor let him see that she was wishing she’d thought to remove her cloak so he could see her new blue dress.
Nonsense. Was she turning into one of those women who couldn’t be bothered with anything more important than her appearance?
Perhaps she should ask herself that question when she wasn’t standing nearly toe-to-toe with the Lord Provost, with him looking half Highland warrior, half gentleman Scot. Or if she could have ignored his strong square jaw, full lips, and his sparkling green eyes.
“Is there a problem, miss?”
At least he’d gotten the miss part correct.
“No problem. But I don’t understand why I can’t attend Mr. Hampstead’s lecture.”
He raised one eyebrow at her.
“The Edinburgh Press Club does not allow women as members, I believe.”
“Mr. Hampstead’s lecture has been promoted throughout Edinburgh.”
“For men to attend.”
She could feel her temper rising, which was never a good sign. She had a tendency to do and say foolish things when she forgot herself.
She was very aware that there were inequities in society. For that reason, Macrath was the titular owner of the Sinclair Printing Company. For that reason, she signed her columns with either her brother’s name or another male’s. For that reason, she pretended Macrath was out of the office temporarily when men came to call to discuss a matter with the owner of the
She always took the information, made the decision, and wrote the supplicant with her answer, once more pretending to be her brother.
She had to hide behind a man to do her daily tasks, run a business, be a reporter, and publish a newspaper, but she’d never been faced with the situation she was in at the moment: being refused admittance solely because she was a woman.
It should have occurred to her, but because it hadn’t, she felt the curious sensation of being blown off her feet.
“What does it matter that I’m a woman?” she asked. “Does Mr. Hampstead’s lecture only appeal to men?”
Right at the moment, she didn’t like the Edinburgh Press Club very much. Nor did she like the gatekeeper or the Lord Provost. Most of all, she didn’t like the burning feeling in her stomach, the one that felt like humiliation and embarrassment, coupled with the knowledge that she wasn’t going to win this skirmish.
Fenella evidently noted the signs, because she grabbed her elbow. “Come, Mairi, we should leave.”
“I believe that would be the wisest course,” the Lord Provost said.
She narrowed her eyes at him.
Did he think he was the first man to have tried to put her in her place? She was faced with criticism every day, and every day she had to deflect it, fight it, or ignore it.
“I would have thought, in your position, that you would speak for all citizens of Edinburgh, not just the men. Or is it because I don’t have the ability to vote that you dismiss me so easily?”
He didn’t say a word, the coward.
“Your silence indicates that you can’t dispute that.”
His lips curved in a faint smile. “On the contrary, my silence might be wisdom instead. I have found that it isn’t wise to argue with those who are overemotional.”
The breath left her in a gasp. “You consider women to be overly emotional?”
“I do not address women, miss. Only you. The club is a private organization, not one funded by or for the citizens of Edinburgh. I have nothing to do with its workings. I am simply a guest. Had I the authority, I would allow you entrance.”
She smiled. “Then you do think women should be admitted.”
“I think it’s the only way to silence you.”
She almost drew her foot back, but a soft sound from Fenella stopped her.
“Thank you, sir,” Fenella said, stepping in and preventing Mairi from responding by grabbing her arm and pulling her toward the stairs. “We’ll be on our way.”
In her daydream, she sailed past the Lord Provost with dignity and poise while he wistfully stared after her. The truth was somewhat different. She left, but when she looked back, he was grinning at her.
ogan Harrison watched as the woman went down the steps, glancing back at him from time to time.
She had high cheekbones stained with pink and a chin that looked stubborn enough to double as a battering ram.
He smiled at her frown, which made her scowl even deeper.
He normally avoided angry women, but something about her made him want to annoy her further, just to see how fast her temper rose.
Her eyes blazed at him and her lush mouth was thinned in irritation. As he watched, she said something to her wiser companion. She evidently didn’t want to leave. She’d probably be content to argue with him all night.
He rarely had the opportunity to argue with people. Gone were the fevered discussions of his earlier political life. He was at the point now that people respected his position too much to counter his pronouncements.
They practically backed out of the room.
Although he was the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, he wasn’t God. Granted, his position dictated that he was also the Lord Lieutenant for the city, which meant he greeted members of the royal family—some of whom did think they were God.