The Baron’s Saving Grace by
Raven McAllan & Cassie O’Brien
General Release Date: 17th May 2022
Word Count: 40,362
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Grace Foston concocts an audacious ruse that will enable her sister to marry her one true love. However, it goes awry when she finds herself misguidedly rescued by the chivalrous intervention of George Armstrong, Baron Renfrew. Grace is not impressed and tells him so. She needs neither rescuing nor saving and doesn’t appreciate his interference.
George is intrigued by this feisty lady and determined she won’t fall into the clutches of scoundrel Adrian Corbett. When Grace informs him just why she is with Corbett, George realizes they need to work together to foil the man. Love and life work in mysterious ways, and they manage to achieve what they set out to do.
Falling in love wasn’t on their agenda. How could it be? When Grace is already married…
The inn was well presented, had a good menu and served excellent ale. To say nothing of providing a supply of whisky he was certain had never been within scent of an exciseman.
George Armstrong, who following the death of his father now bore the title Baron Hexham, winced at the squawk the feet of his chair made as he pushed it back a few inches to allow him to cross one knee over the other and not upturn the nearby table. He sniffed the spirit in his glass, savoured the peaty aroma with appreciation and took a sip.
“Douglas, ‘tis as good as ever,” he said to the anxiously awaiting landlord. “You are a genius in securing something so special. What I wouldn’t do for a cask of this at home.” He laughed at the landlord’s agonised expression. “No, I will not ask you to facilitate that. I imagine it is fraught enough getting sufficient for your needs.”
“That it is, indeed, my lord. But if you wish I…”
George took pity on the man. He had been only half-serious when he’d said he wished he had some at home. It would have put the noses out of joint of the people who worked on his estate and had their own stills secreted away. They may lie south of the border, but their appreciation—and copying—of the water of life was alive and kicking. He had no idea where they secreted the still whose results he regularly acquired, but he hoped it was never discovered by the powers that be. The resultant whisky was as good as the one he now savoured. “Do not worry yourself. It’s another good reason to visit you. Along with your wife’s cooking and a comfortable bed on my journey.”
“That’s grand. May I ask how t’house is comin’ on?”
George sighed. His Corbridge home had been razed to the ground by his laudanum-addicted father, and his addlepated sire had perished in the blaze. “Slowly, Douglas, very slowly. The one redemption from the whole sorry state is no one but the late baron was hurt when he ventured too near the flames.” He chose not to mention the man had been as naked as a jay and waving a bottle of port, or that he could never forgive himself for not remembering that whilst under the influence Gordon, his late father, had been irrational and likely to fall into a rage. The conflagration had been because George had foiled his parent’s plans to ruin a man whose long-dead ancestor, his father had believed, had caused a curse to be laid upon the Armstrong family. In his drug-clouded mind, Gordon had invented a ruinous theory of the curse being broken by way of a marriage between the two families, and had stooped to the lowest form of blackmail to bring this about. That was the manner of man he had been. George hoped and prayed he had none of the man’s unpleasant traits in him. “He thought he saw someone or something inside.” A lie, but who was to confront him over it?
“Ah, good man, sorry ending.” The landlord shook his head in sorrow. “Life must go on though, eh? You off north?” Douglas’ voice penetrated George’s mind, and he brought himself back to the present.
George nodded. “To the Trossachs, to see a good friend who lives there. Then I’m away to the Tay for the fishing before the season ends.”
“Then I’ll wish ye well,” Douglas replied. “I’d not be wantin’ to go so far m’sen but I know you gentry folk are happy wi’ all t’travel. Will you be using the private parlour later this evening?”
Amused at the idea that only those higher up the social ladder travelled, George blinked at the change of topic and considered the question, while pondering the types of people who also travelled. What about salesmen? Servants changing jobs? Drovers, herders and itinerants? The list could be endless. He mentally laughed at himself and let the thoughts go.
As to his present abode, he was comfortable where he was. The room was aptly named the snug. Three tables, two benches and four high-backed armchairs with padded seats. Set in front of a crackling fire with a bell pull for service. What more could he want? Except for a warm and willing body and that was as unlikely as a Stuart returning to the throne. “Not if you need it for someone else. I’ll be as happy here.”
“Then I’ll tell the gentleman who wishes to use it with his ward that he may.” The landlord sounded relieved. “The lass has had a touch of nausea after travelling, so they’re biding the night. Last two rooms, they got. We’re mighty busy this day. The sheep sales, you know.”
George nodded. Not that he did know a lot, but he’d intended to take a look at the sales and see if anything there interested him. His estate in the Cheviots would stand a few additions to the flock and Callum, his shepherd, was due the following day to look the animals over. They’d been told some of a flock with outstanding pedigrees would be up for auction. A couple of rams and an ewe or two wouldn’t go amiss.
George would leave everything to Callum, hand him the cash they had decided on and keep well away. Callum was an unknown in the area—George himself was not. He wouldn’t put it past some farmers to collaborate to push the prices up if it were known he was bidding. His father hadn’t shown their family in a good light in the area. George accepted he would have an uphill struggle to rectify it.
He settled down in front of the fire, legs crossed at the ankle, and steepled his hands on his chin. Deep in thought, he studied the flames for a while and pondered on how fire could be both good—here at that moment—and bad—the way his home had ended up as ashes.
With another dram and several of the landlady’s famed-throughout-the-area singing hinnies, he contemplated all he needed to do in the next few weeks. Singing hinnies, sweet griddle cakes, which George, along with a large percentage of the local population, were partial to, were a local favourite, and everyone guarded their own specific recipe jealously.
George’s mind moved from the future to the past as he mused over the previous twelve months. They had been frenetic, worrying and, thankfully at times, uplifting. With the exception of the fire and the tragedy of his father’s death, there had been more positives than negatives, and at last George felt his life was on an even keel.
Apart, of course, from his still being unwed. Not something that had overly bothered him in the past, but now seeing new—but good—friends happily settled, he was aware he thought he would like a wife. Children. A family. An heir.
How he was to achieve that he had no idea. A season paying court to the well-brought-up young ladies on the marriage mart held little appeal—even if he’d been so inclined. His father’s antics, plus his own once well-deserved but no longer relevant reputation as a rake, would ensure no parent worth their salt would consider him a good bet as a husband for their daughter.
He sighed and stared into his tankard of ale as if it had all the answers.
It didn’t. He took one mouthful, twisted the tankard around and watched the contents froth. How long before it fell flat? A bit like he felt at that moment.
George was not the sort of person to think every solution was found in the bottom of a jug of ale or a flagon of whisky, and had no idea how long it was before he became aware of voices from the adjoining room. Seconds probably. He put his drink down and debated whether to scrape his chair over the floor to show the occupants the private parlour, it seemed, wasn’t exactly private.
Whether it was due to the way the chimneys met and merged or doors ajar he had no idea, but two voices could be clearly heard.
“I told you I’ll come with you and marry you, so why all this farridaddle?” a female voice asked. “If you don’t think I’ll be true to my word, lock me in my room. Try to make me share yours, and I’ll bring the roof down and cause such a scandal you won’t have a hope of your plot succeeding. Your choice.”
“You better be on the level.”
George decided not to announce his presence and narrowed his eyes, as if by doing so he could see though walls or even identify the speaker. Did he know him? He certainly had never heard the female voice before, but the deeper baritone sounded familiar.
“I am as on the level as you are,” the lady—he was certain she was a lady, a gently reared female—continued. “I would do nothing to harm my family, even if you are not so scrupulous. I will not let any scandal stick to Papa or the memory of my late mama, and you know that fine well. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have thought up this insidious plan. One, I might add, only a scoundrel would choose to carry out. Now, kindly go and locate the landlord and discover which room I have been allocated so I may retire for the evening. Alone.”
For a few seconds there was silence, then the male answered.
“Very well. Wait here. But remember…” The tone George supposed was meant to be menacing had more than a hint of a whine in it. And now he recognised it.
Adrian Corbett, by God. The blaggard! What is he up to?
“Oh, I remember it all. You can be sure I will go to my room, but do not think to accompany me to it, because if you do, I will…” There was a pregnant pause. “Create. A. Scene.”
George mentally applauded the lady. Not many well-bred females of his admittedly limited acquaintance would have the sense—or temerity—to act in such an assertive way.
A door creaked open and footsteps sounded on the wooden boards of the hallway outside the snug. George considered not just the words he’d overheard but also the disdain and loathing in the female’s voice. Whoever the lady may be, she was obviously being coerced into a marriage against her natural inclination. She had sounded feistily determined to stand her ground, but would her words be enough to hold a man like Adrian Corbett at bay should he decide to enter her room after imbibing a couple of brandies?
The thought turned George’s stomach. The man was certainly foul enough to physically force his presence on a slighter-built female. He would probably excuse himself doing so without a second thought if she was destined to be his wife. It was not to be borne. No female should be forced into marriage. With anyone. George set his glass on the table, walked quickly to the door and left the room.
About the Authors
After 30 plus years in Scotland, Raven now lives near the east Yorkshire coast, with her long-suffering husband, who is used to rescuing the dinner, when she gets immersed in her writing, keeping her coffee pot warm and making sure the wine is chilled.
With a new home to decorate and a garden to plan, she’s never short of things to do, but writing is always at the top of her list.
Her other hobbies include walking along the coast and spotting the wildlife, reading, researching, cros stitch and trying not to drop stitches as she endeavours to knit.
Being left-handed, and knitting right-handed, that’s not always easy.
She loves hearing from her readers, either via her website, by email or social media.
Being with family and friends.
Writing and having the freedom to do so now child four of four has passed her driving test and is off to uni later this year.
Any excuse to throw a party.
Any excuse to open a bottle of fizz.
Shoes in vast quantities – the higher the heel the better.
To write many more books.
To own a pair of Louboutin’s.
To never go near an iron or a hoover again.
You can find Cassie on Facebook and follow her on Twitter: @cassieo_author
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