Today, HJ is pleased to share with you Karen Ranney new releaseThe Scottish Duke
New York Times bestselling author Karen Ranney returns with the first novel in a new series about dashing, charismatic dukes—and the women who tame them…
Though raised as a gentleman’s daughter, Lorna Gordon is obliged to take a position as an upstairs maid at Blackhall Castle when her father dies. Alex Russell, the Duke of Kinross, is the most tempting man she’s ever seen—and completely unattainable—until, at a fancy dress ball, Lorna disguises herself as Marie Antoinette and pursues an illicit tryst…with scandalous consequences.
Months after his mysterious seductress disappears, Alex encounters her again. Far from the schemer the distrustful duke assumed her to be, Lorna is fiercely independent and resourceful. She’s the one woman capable of piercing his defenses.
But when danger threatens Lorna, Alex must prove himself not just the lover of her fantasies, but the man who will fight to protect her.
Enjoy an exclusive excerpt from The Scottish Duke:
June was a wet month, storms always chasing across the horizon. Tonight another one was coming, but the people crowded into Blackhall’s ballroom didn’t seem to notice.
Lorna stood at the doorway, mesmerized by the sight. Every woman was dressed in a costume of some sort, and more than a few men were wearing kilts topped with a black evening jacket. One man stood in the corner, a red sash across his chest, evidently accepting the well-wishes of the people clustered around him.
The doors to the terrace had been shut against the rising wind of the storm, making the air even thicker with scents: various French perfumes, men’s pomade, heavily spiced punch, and the musty smell of her hundred-year- old dress.
One did not disturb the Duke of Kinross.
One did not make oneself known to the family.
One did not evince any curiosity whatsoever about the comings and goings of the Russell family, especially not the Duke of Kinross or the Earl of Montrassey.
As she had been told, countless times, not only were they her employers, but the Russell clan was vastly influential in Scotland and the entire empire.
She was not to inquire about the meeting in the duke’s library this afternoon. The staff had speculated that it had to be a secret society of some sort, due to only footmen being allowed inside the room.
Everyone was careful not to talk around certain people at the castle. Mrs. McDermott, for one. The housekeeper was strict about gossip and would take away your half day off for a week if she found you were engaging in it. The second was Matthews, the duke’s valet. He not only gossiped but did so to members of the family.
Lorna knew that because she’d overheard him one night. Every day, after dinner, she escaped to the conservatory, retrieved her father’s journal from its hiding place inside the large pot in the corner, and worked on a sketch from memory. Being in the conservatory served a dual purpose. Not only could she sketch in private, but she might see the duke, who had a habit of walking outside every evening. Sometimes he came inside the conservatory, but not often.
She never spoke. Nor did she ever betray her presence. It was enough to simply remain motionless and silent for those minutes, sharing the space with him.
“You’re going to get in trouble, you are, disappearing like that,” Nan said one night. “If Mrs. McDermott finds out you’re not in bed, she won’t be happy.”
If Mrs. McDermott knew about the times she went to the conservatory, Lorna knew that the housekeeper might well be struck off. And if the housekeeper knew about tonight, there would be no doubt about the repercussions.
Still, she had to take the chance. She might have the opportunity to actually speak to the duke.
The storm was closer. The guests didn’t seem to notice the thunder or the flashes of lightning illuminating the clouds scurrying before it.
She moved toward the terrace doors, taking her time because the dress demanded it. She almost had to walk sideways in order to navigate. How was a woman supposed to tolerate such fashion? With the corset, the wig, and the wire hoops to the sides, not to mention the gold lace at the bodice, she was miserable. At least there was no chance that Mrs. McDermott, or any of the other servants, would recognize her.
She knew, from the earlier briefings, that the housekeeper would be peering through the curtains at the end of the ballroom, just to ensure that everything was going perfectly and that none of the maids or footmen selected to serve tonight were making mistakes. Lorna avoided their eyes, turning away when a maid bore down on her with a tray for the buffet table.
She met the gaze of several gentlemen, more than one interested in the revealing nature of her bodice. She wanted to pull the material up, but it was so tight around her breasts that tugging on it wouldn’t have accomplished anything. No, she was definitely not a fan of these fashions, but she wasn’t all that fond of hoops and crinolines, either.
The two dresses she’d been given on coming to work at Blackhall Castle were comfortable and only necessitated one petticoat. After all, one didn’t expect a maid to be the height of fashion.
After her father’s book was published and she no longer needed to be employed, she was not going to worry about what she wore. She’d wear something both comfortable and pretty.
Turning her head to her right, she watched as lightning illuminated the lawn and the encroaching trees. The woods were so dark and so ominous that she sometimes had the thought that the trees pulled up their roots and made a slight step toward Blackhall each night. All the other plants, plus the undergrowth and saplings, obediently followed their elders. If the gardeners weren’t industrious enough, perhaps one day the forest would be right outside the window when she awoke. Instead of the turrets and the fireplaces of Blackhall, she would see only branches and leaves waving good morning.
A man leered at her. She looked away, only to find herself the object of another man’s stare.
Did they know she was an imposter? A woman in fancy dress who didn’t belong with all these dignitaries and important invited guests?
Excerpt. ©Karen Ranney. Posted by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.
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Meet the Author:
Karen Ranney wanted to be a writer from the time she was five years old and filled her Big Chief tablet with stories. People in stories did amazing things and she was too shy to do anything amazing. Years spent in Japan, Paris, and Italy, however, not only fueled her imagination but proved she wasn’t that shy after all.
Now a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, she prefers to keep her adventures between the covers of her books. Karen lives in San Antonio, Texas.