Excerpt from Waking the Princess
"Oh, Sir Aedan, the guests are here," the housekeeper said, drawing aside the lace window curtain in the upstairs hallway. "The lady looks a bonny wee lass. And the gentleman is braw and fine!"
"Wee lass?" Aedan Macbride asked, stepping to the window. "Sir Edgar Neaves is sending an antiquarian from the museum, a Mrs. Blackburn, who is likely to be an elderly sort. She is bringing a companion, I thought." Glad to be spared Neaves's company, Aedan was somewhat surprised that a man and a young woman had arrived instead.
"A gentleman and a young lassie. And she looks habbled by the wind. That Tam drives like a madman," Mrs. Gunn said.
Curious now, Aedan looked down over the graveled drive.
Tam Durie, the driver, lifted out some baggage while a gentleman in a bowler hat and brown jacket stepped from an open carriage with the aid of a cane. He turned to assist his companion, a woman, from the carriage.
In the twilight shadows, she was slender and graceful in gray and black. Tucking stray curls under her black bonnet, she glanced up at the house.
She was younger than Aedan had expected, her face serene and lovely. He saw the glint of spectacles on her nose.
Pewter-gray skirts billowed, full and plain, devoid of the flounces and fussy bits favored by his cousins. Wind stirred her short black cape and shivered the ribbons of her bonnet over glossy dark hair. She was a vision of simplicity and grace.
He felt, oddly, that he had seen her before. Had they met at some soiree in Edinburgh or Glasgow? He knew a few of Sir Edgar's acquaintances, but he would have remembered this delicate, bespectacled young woman.
"A wee bit lass." Behind him, Mrs. Gunn peered down with vivid interest. "Could that be her husband?"
"Perhaps," he murmured, as the young woman turned toward her male companion, a hand upon his arm. "Gunnie, do show the guests to their rooms, and give them a chance to rest. They can meet everyone in the morning."
"Very well, sir. Lady Balmossie and Miss Amy will ride over from Balmossie Castle in the morning, likely with that wicked Miss Thistle. The last time she was here, she hit me on the head with a sugar spoon," she complained.
"Thistle can be a bit dangerous at teatime," Aedan agreed.
Mrs. Gunn huffed. "Aye! Well, let yer guests meet the dafties all at once and have done with it."
Aedan nearly smiled. "A good idea."
"Mr. Stewart will be here, too, with his new bride, but they're not so daftie as the rest." Mrs. Gunn's blue eyes twinkled. "Well, then. I'll greet them and ask one of the Jeanies to bring them some supper, how's that?" Mrs. Gunn said.
"Very good." As Aedan watched, the young woman tilted her head to look up at the window. "My God," he murmured.
Seeing the exquisite, familiar curve of her cheek and the line of her throat, he felt as if he took a blow to the midsection.
He had dreamed endlessly of that face.
She looked very much like the lush, mysterious beauty in the painting that hung in his study. The artist, he recalled, had been called Blackburn, and the model had been the artist's wife—who would be a widow now, he suddenly realized, for the fellow had died a few years ago.
Frowning, he watched her in astonishment. When the young woman peered up at the window, Aedan felt a sudden, unmistakable tug of recognition.
Dear God, he thought. Despite the spectacles, the plain bonnet and dress that disguised womanly curves, he knew her. He would know that face, those luscious curves anywhere.
"Oh, my," Mrs. Gunn said. "That lass looks... och, me, she looks like the one in that—that picture!" She clapped her hand on her broad bosom. "Is it so? A Blackburn, you say? Och, me!"
"We do not know that this is the girl," Aedan murmured.
"Are ye blind, sir? 'Tis her indeed! What a kerfuffle! Your auntie will be heart-roasted to have an... artist's model in this house, sir! Heart-roasted!"
Aedan shook his head slightly. "We should not decide hastily what this Mrs. Blackburn is about."
"If she's an artist's model, I can tell ye what she's aboot," Mrs. Gunn said ominously.
"Be nice, Gunnie," Aedan drawled, distracted as he looked downward at the woman who moved out of sight.
Surely, he thought, she was the mysterious, lovely girl in the painting that haunted his dreams.