Mad About the Marquess (Highland Brides Book 2)

Mad About the Marquess (Highland Brides Book 2) by Elizabeth Essex

Book: Mad About the Marquess (Highland Brides Book 2) by Elizabeth Essex Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth Essex
be just another masked girl with her hair in Grecian curls, dressed in ivory-toned muslin drapery that blended with the wallpaper.  
    Perfect. And perfectly anonymous among the crowd of dark dominos and be-wigged cavaliers.
    And there he was—her own cavalier, moving purposefully through the throng, a vision out of another age. She would have known him anywhere—no mask could conceal the glitter of those green eyes, nor any domino shroud the delicious breadth of those strong shoulders. But most of all, not even the wide, plumed leather hat could cover the deep Scots russet of his hair.
    Oh, holy apple carts. With all his staid white powder, she had quite forgotten the blazing glory of his brilliant hair.
    A memory dropped into her mind like a cameo into her pocket—a younger Strathcairn with his bright ginger head bent, earnestly trying to inveigle her older sister into a kiss. A kiss which fussy Linnea had evaded.
    Quince wouldn’t have.
    And she certainly wouldn’t tonight. Not when he looked so gloriously magnificent. So devilishly kissable, with his hat and his plume and his pair of patent flintlock pistols bristling from his belt. The Marquess of Cairn. The man she would soon be enticing into kisses.
    But not up here on the balcony—Plum might have revealed both her hiding place and her costume to Mama by now. Quince bolted for the stair, determined not to waste another minute that could be spent more profitably with Strathcairn, learning everything there was to learn about the taste and texture of his lips. Discovering just how far the sweet joy of kissing—  
    “Lady Quince.”
    She came up short on the second to last step, to find her way blocked not by the man she sought, but by a man she hadn’t thought to avoid. The man who had for three years been the beneficiary of her larcenous largesse, though they had never met—The Reverend Mr. Adam Talent, medical doctor, vicar of the West Kirk of Saint Cuthbert’s, and principal administrator of the Charity Workhouse there.
    Quince felt her face flush scarlet to the roots of her hair. Of all people to recognize her whilst wearing gossamer drapery in the middle of planning a tryst, she had to meet with the only clergyman in all of Edinburgh who seemed to know her by name, though she had taken pains that he should not know her.
    Her heart plummeted to her sandals—her conscience, it seemed, had come to call.
    What on earth had possessed the marchioness to invite such a Friday-faced, sober man to a revel? And what the devil could have possessed a reverend to accept? Unfortunately, Quince could think of nothing that would account for the clergyman’s presence—nothing that didn’t have to do directly with herself.
    The Reverend Talent had planted himself across the foot of the stair like a solid oak tree— Quercus robar, her father would have classified him, tall and dependable. It was the gravely responsible Reverend Talent who tended, body and soul, to the crofters who seemed to be pouring out of the highlands, dispossessed of the hill farms their families had inhabited for generations by what the powers that be were calling “clearances.” Wholesale evictions were what they were, made by landlords eager to “improve” their agricultural yields by turning arable land into more profitable pasturage for sheep. West Kirk workhouse was about as far as people made destitute by dispossession could get.
    And it was there that Quince’s ill-gotten gains were turned into very well spent assistance. She loved the deeply ironic symmetry of it all—stealing from the very people who owned the land and had dispossessed their crofters so they could make more money, and using that stolen money to finance a new start for those same crofters.  
    Justice was indeed blind, and daft to boot, if you asked her. Which nobody did. Nobody except, it seemed, the reverend. Who made her decidedly nervous.
    “Lady Quince,” Reverend Talent repeated, doffing his round-brimmed hat

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