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He Guards a Ferocious Secret
In Victorian England, gossip is often as precious as gold. But the Highlanders are a more mysterious bunch. And if anyone found out that Steph...
He Guards a Ferocious Secret
In Victorian England, gossip is often as precious as gold. But the Highlanders are a more mysterious bunch. And if anyone found out that Stephen MacAlasdair really was, he'd be hunted down, murdered, his clan wiped out. As he's called to London on business, he'll have to be extra vigilant—especially between sunset and the appearance of the first evening star.
Mina just wanted to find out more about the arrogant man who showed up in her employer's office. Some might say it was part of her job. She never thought the stranger would turn into a dragon right in front of her. Or that he'd then offer her an outrageous sum of money to serve as his personal secretary. Working together night and day to track a dangerous enemy, Mina comes to see a man in love is more powerful and determined than any dragon.
"A genre-bending, fast-paced whirl with fantastic characters, a deftly drawn plot, and sizzling attraction."—RT Book Reviews on No Proper Lady, a Reviewers' Choice Award Winner
“I need to see Carter.”
The voice was deep, with a pronounced Scottish accent and a distinct sense of urgency. The owner was already speaking before the door to...
“I need to see Carter.”
The voice was deep, with a pronounced Scottish accent and a distinct sense of urgency. The owner was already speaking before the door to Professor Richard Carter’s outer office had closed. The words were all too familiar to Mina by now.
“Professor Carter isn’t in at the moment,” Mina replied without lifting her gaze from the typewriter.
She spoke firmly, with emphasis on the Professor, careful to round off her vowels and clip her consonants and to leave time between each of the words. All of that had taken considerable effort when she’d first taken her position. Now, two years of constant practice—especially with that line—made her speech almost unconscious, like the motion of her fingers over the typewriter keys.
The next line was “If you’d care to leave your card, I can give it to him,” but as she finally looked up, the visitor’s appearance made Mina pause.
He stood in the doorway like a knight out of some storybook illustration, or perhaps an American outlaw from a penny dreadful: someone ready to do battle, at least, and not necessarily someone on the side of the angels. He was tall and dark, broad-shouldered and square-chinned. His clothes were well-tailored and the fabric looked like it was of good quality, but the respectable dark suit looked somehow incongruous on him, as if he were wearing a very expensive costume.
He also didn’t wait to hear Mina’s next line.
“Where is he?” the man asked.
That sort of response was not precisely new either, though it was rarer than the opening gambit. Most people had the sense to realize what not in meant, and the grace to respect it. This man was clearly going to be one of the other sort.
Mina put her papers to one side and fixed her eyes on the visitor. “He isn’t in at the moment,” she repeated, more sternly and with a greater if-you-catch-my-meaning inflection. “But I’d be happy to let him know you called.”
The man crossed the room, moving like a panther—or at least like what Mina imagined a panther would move like, as she’d never seen one of the beasts herself. “I need to speak to Carter,” he said, planting his hands on the edge of Mina’s desk and leaning forward. “The matter is urgent. Now, if he truly is out, you can tell me where he’s gone—”
“I’m afraid Professor Carter isn’t in the habit of leaving me with a detailed itinerary of his movements. Sir.”
“Then tell me the first place he went, and I’ll proceed from there.”
Up close, the stranger’s hair wasn’t just black. There were shades of red to it in the lamplight: not ginger, but true red, like wine. His brown eyes had more than a hint of gold in them, too.
Mina wasn’t sure why she was noticing such things, except that danger was supposed to make one more aware of details, and this man could certainly be dangerous. She shifted one hand to cover the ivory-handled letter opener on her desk.
Then she lifted her chin. “Professor Carter doesn’t employ me to give out his personal information to anyone who asks,” she said. “And there are at least three bobbies on this block, sir. I can scream very loudly.”
“What?” He seemed honestly surprised. Seemed, at least. He did back up a step. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I try never to be ridiculous, sir.”
Unconsciously, Mina had risen to her feet. The new position still left her looking up some distance to meet the visitor’s gaze, and she was by no means a short woman. Against the pale-papered walls and the chairs with their curving limbs and white upholstery, against the faint gray sky that she could see through the window, the man looked even bolder, more vital—as if he’d sucked all the color around him into himself.
She took a breath.
The man let his out. “My name,” he said, as if conceding a point, “is Stephen MacAlasdair. Lord…” Only it came out Laird when he said it. His accent was stronger now. “MacAlasdair. I’m an old friend of the professor’s, and the matter that brings me here is an extremely serious one.”
Every matter that brought someone to the office was “extremely serious,” in Mina’s experience, or at least almost every visitor claimed as much. Most of them sounded sincere, too. Still, if MacAlasdair was an old friend of the professor’s—
She looked around the office quickly. There was nothing particularly valuable or portable. A statuette of Anubis on one of the bookshelves and perhaps a number of the books themselves might have brought more than a few pounds, but the room held nothing whose absence would ruin Professor Carter.
“Have a seat,” Mina said. “Please. I’ll see if he’s come back.”
She waited until MacAlasdair had settled himself before turning and walking through the back door—and she made certain to lock it behind her.
Up a narrow staircase, where the smells of cabbage and bread mingled with that of old brick, she came to another door. This one opened onto a world of bookshelves and curio cabinets, with a desk and chair in the center of the room. The elderly man who sat there was short and stout, with white hair considerably longer than the current fashion. At the sound of the door opening, he looked up, his face lined and leathery and more worried than Mina had ever seen it.
Professor Carter tried to disguise that last aspect when he saw Mina, of course. He’d been trying for the last day and a half, and the strongest inquiries Mina could make had only been met with the staunch insistence that everything was fine, and he’d like a cup of tea when she could manage it, there’s a good girl. Or that there was nothing to worry about, and had the Museum received that letter he’d sent the other day? Why didn’t she go check, just to be sure?
She’d had more pointless errands over the last thirty hours than at any other time in her employment.
Now she knew better than to ask, and she hated to disturb Professor Carter yet again. Still, MacAlasdair probably wasn’t going to leave without some response—and perhaps he’d be a distraction.
“Professor,” she said, “there’s a Stephen MacAlasdair to see you.”
The professor stiffened. “MacAlasdair?”
“Yes, sir. I can send him away, if you’d like, but—”
“No. No, by no means. I’ll see him.” Professor Carter got to his feet, brushed at his coat, and pulled on his tie, the creases in his brow never fading. “Have Mrs. Evans send up tea and scones, Miss Seymour.”
The brief diversion to the housekeeper’s lair meant that Mina entered the office just a step ahead of the professor himself, who looked over MacAlasdair with, to Mina’s eyes, considerable shock. “Good Lord, MacAlasdair, you haven’t aged a day.”
“Flattering,” said MacAlasdair, “but untrue. It’s good to see you looking well, Carter. Professor, I should say.”
They each smiled, but Mina didn’t think either expression genuine. Professor Carter kept playing with the top button on his coat, a sure sign that he was nervous, and MacAlasdair had lost none of the tension in his frame. There was more to this than two old friends meeting again.
When the door closed behind them, she broke her own rules and listened for as long as she was able.
“And when did you post Cerberus at your gates?” MacAlasdair asked.
Mina nurtured a brief but intense wish that he’d trip on the stairs and break his leg, or at least his nose.
Professor Carter made a reproving noise. “I’ve become an object of interest for more than a few people. Antiquities have caught the popular eye, you know. Miss Seymour does an admirable job of keeping the peace. And I daresay she’d have been more amenable if I’d known you were going to call.”
“I didn’t know I was going to call,” said MacAlasdair, and now his voice was grim. “Not until I read the news. I take it you’ve seen the same piece.”
“I—yes—” said the professor. They were climbing the stairs now, and their footsteps drowned out most of the conversation. Mina caught one name, though: Moore.
She stood very still for a second.
She’d read the paper too.
Colonel James Edward Moore, age sixty-three, had been found dead in his flat two days before. The Times said that “signs”—they wouldn’t be more specific, and Mina was glad—pointed to assault with a heavy weapon. Scotland Yard was investigating but had named no subjects.
Apparently the professor had known Moore. Well, that might have explained his mood over the last day and a half. MacAlasdair had known him too. On the stairs, though, they hadn’t sounded like they were discussing a brutal and mysterious crime. They’d sounded as if they might know what was behind Moore’s death, and fear it.
Mina sat down again and resumed her typing. But she kept listening for noises from upstairs, and she kept one eye on the clock.
She knew, therefore, that half an hour had passed when MacAlasdair stormed down the staircase, slammed the back door open, and stalked through the office and out into the street. He didn’t so much as look in Mina’s direction on the way, and she found herself rather glad of that.
As soon as she’d closed the door behind MacAlasdair, Mina started toward the stairs, moving at a fairly rapid clip herself, and ran into her employer as a result. Her “Sorry, sir!” had a distinct note of relief to it.
Mina didn’t think that Professor Carter noticed. He barely seemed to notice the collision. “Miss Seymour.”
“Are you all right, Professor?”
“Yes, quite.” Except that his face was at least a few shades paler than usual, and his eyes did not see her at all. He thrust a hand forward almost blindly, clutching a haphazardly assembled sheaf of papers. “Here are my notes from this morning. The section on Abyssinian relics might be a bit tricky. Let me know if you have difficulties. I’ll be upstairs.”
With the motion, the cuff of his jacket fell back a little, revealing a wide silver band around his wrist. Mina glimpsed strange, angular shapes running down the middle. Then, as Mina took the papers, the professor dropped his hand, somewhat hurriedly, and cloth fell over the bracelet again.
He’d never been a man for much adornment. Not as long as Mina had known him. And she thought she would have remembered the bracelet. “Sir,” she asked, “what’s troubling you?”
The urge to speak showed itself plainly on his face for a moment, as bright and wide as the bracelet—and as swiftly concealed. “An abundance of questions,” he said gruffly, then cleared his throat and patted her shoulder. “You mustn’t concern yourself about me, Miss Seymour. I’ve weathered more storms in my life than you’ve, er, typed notes on Abyssinia.”
Mina smiled, as the professor clearly wanted her to, but shook her head. “If there’s anything I can do—”
“Nothing anyone can do just now, much less a young lady.” He was back to gruff. “Get on with your work, Miss Seymour. The day grows late.”
Before she could reply, the professor turned away. The door closed behind him with a neat click, leaving Mina with unanswered questions and a pile of paper.
At least she could do something about the latter.
Sunday dinners were always a jolt these days. Scrubbed and starched, still with the better part of a week’s pay in her purse, Mina squeezed into her old place at the parlor table on the Sunday after MacAlasdair had entered the office. With Florrie’s gold curls to one side and Bert’s tousled brown mop on her other, she ate beef and Yorkshire pudding under the gaze of her mother, her father, and, from the mantel, a much younger Queen.
It was a world away from either Professor Carter’s book-lined office in Gordon Square or Mina’s own whitewashed, bare-floored room on Bulstrode Street. It was also a world she entered back into easily after the first few moments, all the more rewarding now because she knew things could be different.
At least, her return was usually easy.
Mina ate with as good an appetite as ever. She laughed at her father’s jokes and Bert’s stories, and listened as her mother read a letter from George, whose ship had docked in Shanghai a month ago. It was Sunday, Mina was with her family, and these both were excellent things. Still, the memory of Professor Carter’s troubles weighed on her mind, and so did Lord MacAlasdair’s contribution to those troubles, whatever it might have been.
When the conversation settled for a moment, Mina looked across the table at Alice, another of the Seymour daughters who only came home on Sundays. Alice was a housemaid up in Mayfair and frequently brought home stories that the other servants told, circulating the tales in a web of gossip that reached from one great house to another.
Someone like Lord MacAlasdair would certainly have servants.
“There was a gentleman throwing his weight around in the office the other day,” Mina began, “and I was wondering if you’d heard anything about him. MacAlasdair?”
Alice put down her fork and considered the question. Only for a moment, though. Then she grinned, and her green eyes lit up with the joy of knowing Something Interesting. “The Scottish bloke? New?”
“I don’t know how new. But Scottish, yes.”
“Well, if he’s the same one, he took a house in Mayfair a month ago. Came with just a valet and a housekeeper.” Alice leaned forward. “And do you know what?”
Mina grinned back at her sister. “Yes,” she said, as she’d been saying on these occasions for twenty-three years, ever since she’d started talking well enough to tease her sister, “which is why I asked you. I love hearing answers I already know.”
Alice stuck out her tongue and went on. Around them, the family was listening. Gossip from the city was always interesting.
“Ethel”—another of Lady Wrentham’s housemaids—“walks out with a policeman who knows the cook at MacAlasdair’s.”
“I thought he didn’t have a cook,” said Bert.
“He’d have hired one after he came, wouldn’t he?” Florrie shot back, leaning across Mina to do so. “Stupid.”
“I’m not—” Bert was beginning to raise his voice when a glance from Mr. Seymour stopped the incipient fight. Mina, whose best dress would have been much the worse for intercepting flung peas, sent her father a grateful smile.
“Go on, Alice,” said Mrs. Seymour. “Does he still need servants? Your Aunt Rose knows a girl who’s looking for a place in a kitchen.”
Alice shook her head. “No. Well, maybe. He has already hired maids, though, and”—a significant pause—“Mrs. Hennings, the cook, she says he gives all of them two hours off every night!”
Few Drury Lane actresses could have given a statement more dramatic flair than Alice did with her announcement, and the Seymours, at least, were an appreciative audience. Even Bert, who knew little of domestic service but had heard stories from his sister, whistled—and got a glare from his mother for it.
“Any two hours?” Mrs. Seymour asked, her son’s table manners safely corrected.
“No, just at dusk.” Alice lowered her voice again. “He doesn’t want any of them in the house then. Only he lets Mrs. Hennings stay in the kitchen, as she’s got rheumatism, and any who want can stay there with her. But they’re not to go into the house proper.”
“I bet he’s got a mad wife,” said Florrie, who had been spending her pocket money on penny dreadfuls lately. “And he has to take her out sometimes to…to feed her, I guess, or let her walk around the place, and he can’t let anyone else be around or she’ll tear them to shreds.”
“That’s silly,” said Bert. “Why wouldn’t he just keep her in the attic? Or tie her up?”
“Because…” Florrie hesitated, buttered a roll, and then saw a way out of the problem. “Because he’s still passionately in love with her. Even though she’s mad. And he wants to be kind to her.”
“He didn’t seem the sort to be madly in love with anybody,” said Mina, remembering being called Cerberus and MacAlasdair’s demand that she stop being ridiculous. “And he certainly didn’t seem very kind.”
“His maids probably don’t agree with you there, my girl,” said Mr. Seymour, chuckling. “Still, he sounds like a strange sort.”
“That’s for certain,” Mina said. “Alice, could you talk to Ethel for me? I think I’d like to have a cup of tea with Mrs. Hennings when she has a moment.”
“Inventive and fun, with well-written, wisecracking and well-grounded characters.” - Book Thingo
“Isabel Cooper provides a strong tale that ...
“Inventive and fun, with well-written, wisecracking and well-grounded characters.” - Book Thingo
“Isabel Cooper provides a strong tale that hopefully is the first of a new series.” - Midwest Book Review
“LEGEND OF THE HIGHLAND DRAGON is an entertaining paranormal romance with action, intrigue, and unique characters” - Book Lover and Procrastinator
“Brimming with attitude, a feisty heroine, dragon shifter hero, vengeance, Victorian England, amateur sleuthing, suspense, a well-developed plot, memorable secondary characters, passion, romance and love, this action-packed story quickly draws its readers into this fantastic adventure.” - Blue Ribbon Reviews
“Ms. Cooper has entertained her readers with a story that has fantasy, legends, Scottish myths, and romance. And of course a bit of magical powers.” - My Book Addiction Reviews
“Mesmerizing, ingenious, slyly humorous, and wonderfully romantic, this unusual charmer is a winner for fans of paranormals. A Highland dragon? How can it miss? ” - Library Journal
“This fast paced book is easily addictive if you like dragons and historical romance.” - Tynga’s Reviews
“I fell in love with the characters and the story almost from the very first page. There's a droll humor and witty repartee that I love and the mix of adventure and romance is just perfectly entertaining.” - Star-Crossed Romance
“The mix of hard-headed realism and fantasy in this novel is enchanting... Victorian mores and melodrama are cast in sharp relief when dragons and fantastical quests are thrown into the plot. A B&N Best Romance of 2013” - Barnes and Noble Review
“A very interesting and absorbing read indeed.” - Long and Short Reviews
“I love this book! The historical aspect and the fantasy aspect sold me, but the plot and the romance were so amazing. ” - The Eater of Books
“Magical, fantastic, and a great read for any dragon lover...” - The Romance Reviews
“Romantic, original, magical and has a wonderful HEA.” - Romance Book Junkies
“The slow building friendship and smoldering attraction was captivating. The plot was entertaining and original.” - Tome Tender
“Cooper offers a light romance with strong character development and a plot rich with supernatural themes... Comical and genuine. ” - Booklist
“An outstanding read! A fast-paced, smartly written plot—fraught with danger and brimming with surprises—makes it impossible to put down. 4 ½ Stars, Top Pick! ” - RT Book Reviews
“The plot combines a cross-class romance with a mystical quest, neatly twining discussions of class differences with descriptions of magic. The relationship builds naturally and heatedly...” - Publishers Weekly
“Isabel Cooper tells a delightful tale... ” - Tea and Book
Length: 6.875 in
Width: 4.1875 in
Weight: 8.64 oz
Page Count: 352 pages