As part of the blog tour, I have an excerpt of Tessa Dare’s When a Scot Ties the Knot. Enjoy!
Synopsis: On the cusp of her first London season, Miss Madeline Gracechurch was shy, pretty and talented with a drawing pencil, but hopelessly awkward with gentlemen. She was certain to be a dismal failure on the London marriage mart. So Maddie did what generations of shy, awkward young ladies have done: she invented a sweetheart.
A Scottish sweetheart. One who was handsome and honorable and devoted to her, but conveniently never around. Maddie poured her heart into writing the imaginary Captain MacKenzie letter after letter … and by pretending to be devastated when he was (not really) killed in battle, she managed to avoid the pressures of London society entirely.
Until years later, when this kilted Highland lover of her imaginings shows up in the flesh. The real Captain Logan MacKenzie arrives on her doorstep—handsome as anything, but not entirely honorable. He’s wounded, jaded, in possession of her letters… and ready to make good on every promise Maddie never expected to keep.
Dear Captain Logan MacKenzie,
There is but one consolation in writing this absurd letter. And that is that you, my dear delusion, do not exist to read it.
But I run ahead of myself. Introductions first.
I am Madeline Eloise Gracechurch. The greatest ninny to ever draw breath in England. This will come as a shock, I fear, but you fell deeply in love with me when we did not cross paths in Brighton. And now we are engaged.
Maddie could not remember the first time she’d held a drawing pencil. She only knew she could not recall a time she’d been without one.
In fact, she usually carried two or three. She kept them tucked in her apron pockets and speared in her upswept dark hair, and sometimes—when she needed all her limbs for climbing a tree or vaulting a fence rail—clenched in her teeth.
And she wore them down to nubs. She sketched songbirds when she was supposed to be minding her lessons, and she sketched church mice when she was meant to be at prayer. When she had time to ramble out of doors, anything in Nature was fair game—from the shoots of clover between her toes to any cloud that meandered overhead.
She loved to draw anything. Well, almost anything.
She hated drawing attention to herself.
And thus, at sixteen years old, she found herself staring down her first London season with approximately as much joy as one might anticipate a dose of purgative.
After many years as a widower, Papa had taken a new wife. One a mere eight years older than Maddie herself. Anne was cheerful, elegant, lively. Every- thing her new stepdaughter was not.
Oh, to be Cinderella in all her soot-smeared, rag-clad misery. Maddie would have been thrilled to have a wicked stepmother lock her in the tower while everyone else went to the ball. Instead, she was stuck with a very different sort of stepmother— one eager to dress her in silks, send her to dances, and thrust her into the arms of an unsuspecting prince.
Figuratively, of course.
At best, Maddie was expected to fetch a third son with aspirations to the Church, or perhaps an insolvent baronet.
At worst . . .
Maddie didn’t do well in crowds. More to the point, she didn’t do anything in crowds. In any large gathering—be it a market, a theater, a ballroom— she had a tendency to freeze, almost literally. An arctic sense of terror took hold of her, and the crush of bodies rendered her solid and stupid as a block of ice.
The mere thought of a London season made her shudder.
And yet, she had no choice.
While Papa and Anne (she could not bring her- self to address a twenty-four-year-old as Mama) en- joyed their honeymoon, Maddie was sent to a ladies’ rooming house in Brighton. The sea air and society were meant to coax her out of her shell before her season commenced.
It didn’t quite work that way.
Instead, Maddie spent most of those weeks with shells. Collecting them on the beach, sketching them in her notebook, and trying not to think about parties or balls or gentlemen.
On the morning she returned, Anne greeted her with a pointed question. “There now. Are you all ready to meet your special someone?”
That was when Maddie panicked. And lied. On the spur of the moment, she concocted an outrageous falsehood that would, for better and worse, determine the rest of her life.
“I’ve met him already.”
The look of astonishment on her stepmother’s face was immensely satisfying. But within seconds, Maddie realized how stupid she’d been. She ought to have known that her little statement wouldn’t put paid to the matter. Of course it only launched a hundred other questions.
When is he coming here?
Oh, er . . . He can’t. He wanted to, but he had to leave the country at once.
Because he’s in the army. An officer.
What of his family? We at least should meet them.
But you can’t. He’s from too far away. All the way in Scotland. And also, they’re dead.
At least tell us his name.
MacKenzie. His name is Logan MacKenzie.
Logan MacKenzie. Suddenly her not-real suitor had a name. By the end of the afternoon, he had hair (brown), eyes (blue), a voice (deep, with a Highland burr), a rank (captain), and a personality (firm, but intelligent and kind).
And that evening, at her family’s urging, Maddie sat down to write him a letter.
. . . Right this moment, they think I am writing a letter to my secret kilted betrothed, and I am filling a page with nonsense instead, just praying no one looks over my shoulder. Worst of all, I shall have no choice but to post the thing when I’m done. It will end up in some military dead letter office. I hope. Or it will be read and passed around whole regiments for ridicule, which I would richly deserve.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Now the clock is ticking, and when it strikes doom I will have to confess. I will firstly be compelled to explain that I lied about attracting a handsome Scottish officer while staying in Brighton. Then, when I do, I shall have no further excuse to avoid the actual rejection of countless English gentlemen come spring.
My dear imaginary Captain MacKenzie, you are not real and never will be. I, however, am a true and eternal fool.
Here, have a drawing of a snail.
Tessa Dare is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of more than a dozen historical romances. A librarian by training and a book-lover at heart, Tessa lives in Southern California with her husband, their two children, and a big brown dog.