A Lass to Love – Tammy Andresen

Miss Fiona MacFarland stood on the dock in Greenoch and stared at her cousin Colin’s ship, butterflies dancing in her stomach. She covered the offending organ with her hands as she straightened her spine. Fear would not rule her life now. But another voice argued back, saying this trip was far too scary and the butterflies beat all the harder. She’d never left Scotland before and certainly never been on a ship this large. Even more terrifying, she’d never been to England, and worst of all, she definitely never attempted to chase down a runaway fiancé. She supposed he hadn’t actually run away. He’d always lived in England. At least since they’d been engaged. But she’d been promised to him for well over three years and he hadn’t even bothered to come meet her. What kind of cad did that? He was an earl, she supposed. And as the Earl of Exmouth, he had a great many duties. Every one of his tenants sang his praises. Thanks to his business in London, they had food on their tables, and buyers for their crops. She knew he engaged in important work but still. Not one meeting? What was more, he’d stopped responding to her letters. They weren’t much. What did one say to a man she’d never even met? But she tried. She drew in a shaky breath. “Ready?” Aunt Edna asked from her right, her cane thumping on the wood of the dock. “I’m not getting any younger and that ramp looks steep.” “Apologies,” she murmured, linking her arm through her aunt’s. “I’ll assist ye.” Her aunt harrumphed. “About time.

What were ye standing there thinking for so long?” “I was…” She paused, aware of how her aunt felt about this journey. Edna was convinced Fiona should have taken it years ago. She was also convinced that the Earl of Exmouth was the best man for her niece. “Wondering if I’d made the right choice.” “Bah.” The old woman thumped her cane again. “That man deserves a good smack upside the head and I’ve got just the piece of wood to do it.” Then she waved her cane in the air, which nearly caused her to topple back. “Aunty. Please.” Fiona gripped her aunt’s arm harder. Privately, Fiona was inclined to agree. The man’s behavior had caused her a great deal of worry and much public humiliation. “Once we’ve taught him how to behave, I’m sure he’ll make an excellent groom. He did provide for us when we needed it most.” And that is where Fiona wasn’t certain that she agreed with her aunt. In Exmouth’s defense, he hadn’t chosen her. She’d been engaged to his cousin, Earl of Exmouth the fifth. Upon the earl’s untimely death, the new earl had inherited the land, the castle, the duties, and the future wife. The current Exmouth likely wanted her about as much as she wanted him. But Gavin, her actual fiancé, had been a wonderful man, and his mother, in a misguided attempt to protect Fiona, had strong-armed her nephew, the new Earl of Exmouth into proposing. What a mess. Just thinking about it made her head hurt and she’d lived through the terrible situation. “Men of his class have the world at their fingertips. It’s natural that they’re a bit wild.

He’ll tame.” Aunt Edna waved the cane again as they reached the top of the plank. “Ye just need to be firm with him.” “Auntie,” Fiona cut the older woman off. She’d grown as salty as the sea in her old age. Fiona worried she was far too advanced for the journey but she had no one else to chaperone such a trip. “Well, it’s the truth.” Aunt Edna stopped and stared at her. “What I still don’t understand is why exactly yer going. Do ye intend to collect him or break it off?” Fiona pursed her lips. Her aunt didn’t know because she herself hadn’t rightly decided. Not that Aunt Edna hadn’t been peppering her with comments about making the marriage work. “I’m going to meet him and then make a decision.” In most of her fantasies, she told the man she’d sooner marry a goat than tie herself to him. But the truth of the matter was, she didn’t have that sort of luxury. Her dowry was inaccessible, and with her mother’s death, she’d moved into Edna’s small cottage. The cottage Exmouth had provided. If he wasn’t her future, she’d better find a new one quickly. At three and twenty, she was fast approaching spinsterhood with no means to support herself. She needed to come up with a plan, and in her mind, that meant either accepting or dismissing the latest Lord Exmouth. Colin approached with a smile and a wave. They’d been close since they were children and his successful shipping business made this journey far easier. But it also came with his opinions as well as her aunt’s. As Colin regularly visited London, he received frequent updates on her fiancé and none of them were good. Yes, the people here in Scotland loved Exmouth, but the rumors in England spoke of a man who was involved in gambling, women, and generally rakish behavior.

Colin had offered to support her himself rather than tie her to a man like the earl. “Ye made it,” Colin called, waving his hand. “Aunt Edna, ye’ve never looked finer.” “Bah.” Her aunt waved the cane again. “I’m too old fer yer charm and too young to believe yer lies.” Colin grinned all the wider. “Fiona, yer looking beautiful as usual.” She wrinkled her nose. “I’ve half a mind to repeat what Aunt Edna said.” But she stepped up to Colin, placing a hand on his arm and leaning in to kiss his cheek. He was the brother she’d never had and she loved him dearly for it. “Well, I see we’ve got to move ye to Greenoch. Living with Aunt Edna is wearing off on ye.” Edna gave him a light tap on the chin with her cane. Fiona had wondered if her aunt actually needed the stick to walk or if she just liked to have it to hit people. “Auntie,” she admonished. “We’ve talked about this.” Edna frowned. “Ye’ve talked. I’m an old woman and I’ll hit who I please.” Fiona sighed and then turned to thread her arm through Colin’s. Now that she’d stepped onto the ship, there was no turning back. Excitement tingled along her scalp. She was off to face her rogue fiancé but she could enjoy the trip from here to London.

As she spun about, a man caught her gaze. He was the sort of handsome devil who made a woman’s breath catch. Dark hair waving in the breeze as his white teeth flashed in the sun. Broad shoulders filled his coat as he waved up. “MacFarland, good to see you, old chap.” “And ye as well.” Colin waved down. “Come meet my family.” “Who’s that?” she asked, surprised by how breathy her voice sounded. “Thomas Mayweather,” Colin replied. “One of the finest wool makers in all of London and one of my best customers.” Colin gave her a wink. “He’s also sinfully handsome and rather popular with the ladies. Try not to fall in love.” She pished, her hand tapping his bicep. “I’ve got enough trouble with men as it is. I don’t need anymore.” “Remember that when ye see him up close.” Colin started walking toward the plank. Fiona made no reply. She was considered by many to be a great beauty and she doubted very much she’d have any problem. She’d meant what she’d said. She had her hands full enough with the Earl of Exmouth. * * * Thomas stood below looking up at Colin, who had a radiant redhead on his arm. Damn.

His friend had already claimed the beauty. To be fair, he couldn’t see the particulars of her features but the generalities were just his taste. Lush thick hair and curvy figure always made for a good tup. Making his way up the plank, he caught sight of her again as he reached the deck. Hell’s bells. She was even more stunning up close. Green eyes, the color of fresh grass, lovely pale skin, high cheekbones, and a set of full, lush lips met his gaze. “Colin,” he called, giving his most alluring grin, one multiple women had fallen for time and again. “You must introduce me to this beauty. Where did you find her?” Whack. His shin exploded in pain. “Mind yer tongue,” A sharp female voice hissed from next to him. Turning his head to the side, he met the crinkled green eyes of an aging woman. Holding a cane, surely the instrument that had just assaulted his shin, she waggled a finger in his face. “And mind the rest of ye too.” “Tom, this is my aunt, Edna MacFarland.” Colin said, barely containing a laugh. “Charmed,” he gritted through his teeth. Colin did laugh then but the sound was joined with a feminine trill of giggles that pulsed straight through him like no sound he’d ever heard before. “And this is my cousin, Miss Fiona MacFarland.” Her bright green eyes met his and held his gaze as she gave him a sweet smile. The sort that warmed a man from the inside out. “Pleased to meet ye, Mr. Mayweather.” He inclined his head.

Being Colin’s cousin, this woman was not one to be trifled with. Tom, at nine and twenty, had little interest in marriage or a family. Having spent the last decade building a business, he enjoyed his life immensely. Now was the time to celebrate his accomplishments, not the moment to add more responsibility. Still, she was beautiful. He scanned her again, drinking in every detail as his body tightened in awareness. Pity she was unavailable for a brief dalliance. “And you as well. Such a perfect day to begin a journey to England.” Her smile widened. “I agree. It’s all very exciting.” Colin gave Tom a subtle wink. “It’s Fiona’s first time out of the country.” “First time…how exciting.” He shifted away from Aunt Edna, sure she could read his thoughts, which were decidedly considering another first for a woman like Fiona. Thankfully, the cane did not smack his shin again. Fiona nodded, but her smile slipped. “I’m sure England will be wonderful.” “Fiona is engaged to be married,” Edna added. “We’re going to meet her fiancé.” Disappointment tightened Tom’s hand into a fist but he forced himself to relax. He didn’t want a woman like Fiona, despite her beauty. It was far better she was a betrothed woman. “Then I must congratulate you.

” Fiona didn’t answer, just gave another jerk of her chin. Edna however, stepped closer. “My niece will be a countess.” The cane gave a tap on the side of his leg. Just enough to keep him wondering what the old woman might do next. “A countess?” He swallowed a bitter lump in his throat, glad he’d already determined he wasn’t interested in the woman. As a maker of fine fabric, he crossed his fair share of ladies. Many of them had wished to share his bed but afterward… “How fortunate for you.” Fiona’s eyes cast down. “I’m sure,” she answered quietly. One of his eyebrows quirked up. Whatever did that mean?


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