Series: Windermeres in Love #3
Genre: Audiobook, Historical
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Italy...fair Juliet...a Scottish laird... This isn't the love story you're expecting!
He loves me…
Scene: The Italian countryside, where Miss Juliet Windermere awaits a confession of love from the man of her dreams. What she gets is a declaration that she looks like the woman of his dreams…who is currently a thousand miles away—in Scotland.
She loves me NOT…
Scene: The Scottish Highlands, where Lord Rory Macbeth, Viscount Kilmuir, has no thoughts of wooing the girl next door. But Juliet doesn’t know that. He’s sure she’s never liked him, but when the talented poet says she’ll help him win his true love, he begins to see a whole new side to her.
The course of true love never did run smooth…
Juliet hopes writing the poem will end her stubborn crush on Rory. Instead, working together leads to new discoveries, and a kiss in the rain reveals the playful passion only they ignite in each other.
But can Rory convince his warrior poet that she, and only she, is his heart’s desire?
It had been a perfect day—the Tuscan sun warm and inviting, tall grasses swaying in the gentle country breeze—the day Miss Juliet Windermere decided Lord Rory Macbeth, Viscount Kilmuir and future Sixth Earl of Carrick, could take a flying leap off a Scottish mountain.
Ben Nevis would do.
She’d been rambling through a small grove of olive trees, taking in the bright Italian air—the feel of it in her lungs, against the bare skin of her arms—the members of their party thrown to the four winds. Amelia painting by a stream. Delilah reciting lines from Marlowe in a field. Archie and his friends charming a passel of opera singers brought over from Florence with their joie de vivre and prosecco.
For her part, Juliet had wandered off—as she was wont to do when the mood struck—to be alone with her own words for a while. Her cousins loved to talk, and she loved to listen and let the words swirl around her mind before committing them to paper. She’d even had a necklace specially made with a large locket containing bits of paper that she wore everywhere. No word—or configuration thereof—would ever be lost.
Then it happened.
In the not-too-far distance, she caught a tree in the periphery of her vision. Not a tree of gnarled twists and turns like the eternal olive, but one thick and solid like an oak one would find in England.
The tree moved.
The tree, it turned out, wasn’t a tree at all, but a man. A rather large hulking man with light red hair that shone the gold of an autumn sunset; bright, opaque blue eyes the hue of a turquoise stone; and an ever-present lopsided smile.
A Scotsman, in fact.
And not just any Scotsman, but the Scotsman with whom she’d been besotted from the time Archie had brought him home from Eton during a school holiday and introduced him as Rory.
And now, she was alone with him.
She caught the instant he noticed her, and the lopsided smile found its way to his mouth. He gave a small wave of greeting, which she returned like for like.
No more, no less.
That was the key to keeping an infatuation secret. Like for like… No more, no less.
No one ever had to know if she never gave herself away.
“A fellow wanderer,” he said, making light conversation in his rumbly Scottish burr that had been known to set butterflies aflight in her stomach.
Her mouth lifted into a smile of greeting—no more, no less. “Ah, yes.”
He drifted toward her, absently snapping a tiny branch off an olive tree. Juliet did the same. Once they’d come within ten or so feet of each other—comfortable talking distance—he stopped, and she stopped. It was close enough that she caught his scent. Clean, as always, with an earthy hint of pine. How was it that he smelled of Scottish pine forests here in Italy?
Sometimes she wondered if she was infatuated with the man himself, or with the idea of him… Then she looked at him and knew it was the man himself. He was so burly and strong and handsome. It was true. But he was also so very nice. An appealing combination in a man, it had to be acknowledged.
His brow crinkled, and his head cocked to the side. He was staring…at her…as if he was only now seeing her for the first time, so centered she felt within his gaze—a place in which she’d never before found herself.
Those butterflies in her stomach multiplied, fluttering through her chest, and making it difficult to breathe.
He closed the distance between them in a few easy strides, and she found herself frozen in place, unable to do naught but wait for his next movement. He reached out and pushed an escaped tendril of hair off her face, and a realization struck her.
This was the moment in the farthest, most secret corner of her heart she’d been waiting for since he’d joined their party in Florence several days ago.
His hand moved down her face…and plucked a dandelion seed off her cheek. He held it up and opened forefinger and thumb, releasing it to the wind.
She emitted a nervous, little laugh that didn’t sound like her in the least. Miss Juliet Windermere was known for her calm nature and quick wit. She was no vapid miss who giggled at the fiddle-faddle of gentlemen. But now, with the object of her secret infatuation standing so near and staring down at her looking serious and intent and so very, very handsome, she hadn’t the faintest notion how to be.
“I’ve never noticed something about you,” he rumbled.
Juliet’s butterflies gave her heart wing. Her palms slicked with perspiration. “Oh?” she asked, breathless.
“You exactly resemble—”
A raven-haired Botticelli? Venus di Milo, but with arms and a head?
“Who?” she breathed.
“Miss Davina Dalhousie.”
Juliet blinked, and whatever dreamy expression she’d been directing at him froze on her face.
Miss Davina Dalhousie.
The lady who had rejected his proposal of marriage before he’d hied off to Italy. Yet…
For a moment, the possibility had existed that his infatuation for Miss Dalhousie had faded—apparently, the young lady had been quite definite in her rejection—and Juliet herself had, at last, caught his eye.
But, alas, that wasn’t the reality.
In an instant, she knew what she needed to do. First, get as far away from this man as quickly as possible. Second, have a good, cleansing cry. And, lastly and most importantly, write a verse where the villain of the piece tragically slips and falls off a Scottish mountain or is rammed in the bum by a het up Highland coo.
The latter scenario held a particular appeal as the butterflies in her stomach were replaced by bats—the sort that gnawed.
“Like Miss Dalhousie?” she said around the unresolved sob in her throat. Somehow, her voice sounded remarkably like hers—cool and composed.
In other words, she sounded remarkably—blessedly—like herself.
“Her hair is dark, like yours,” he said, apparently oblivious to the murderous narrowing of Juliet’s eyes.
“The resemblance sounds uncanny.”
His eyebrows gathered. He might’ve caught the note of sarcasm. “Have I said something to offend you?”
“Of course not.” She pressed a palm to her forehead. “My head has begun to ache, and I would like a lie down.”
It wasn’t a complete fib. She would like to lie down.
He nodded and let it pass.
Amongst the whirl of other emotions, Juliet experienced relief. She simply wanted to ask where he was going and leg it in the opposite direction.
She offered a mumble of farewell and fled, determination pushing through embarrassment and irritation and settling solid and deep inside her gut.
She would leave this secret infatuation with the Viscount Kilmuir here, in this Italian olive grove, and never again give it light to grow.
She’d been an utter fool.
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