Never Tempt a Scot by Lauren Smith


August 1821- Bath, England

“Lydia, is that your sister?”

Lydia’s friend Lysandra Russell pointed to a group of young men hovering around a delicate, petite figure in the middle of the crowded assembly room. Even at this distance, Lydia recognized her younger sister’s fine-boned face and far too pretty features: the flaxen hair, the cornflower-blue eyes, and the lovely rosebud mouth that left every man she met ready to come to blows over her attention and her honor.

“Oh heavens, what has Portia gone and done now?” Lydia muttered. She stepped closer to Lysandra, who chuckled and waved her dark-blue silk fan patterned with silver stars.

“I believe she’s convinced the men to wager for spots on her dance card. If anyone discovers that, she might be cast out of the assembly rooms by the master of ceremonies. You know that sort of behavior is strictly taboo.” Lysandra tucked a stray strand of her bright-red hair behind her ear and rolled her eyes. “Well, at least she’s having fun. You and I have been growing petals over here against this wall.”

Lydia giggled at Lysandra’s artful description of them as wallflowers. “Yes, Portia always seems to find friends and aspiring beaux wherever she goes. My father tells me our mother was much the same. A true beauty.”

Lydia’s heart sank a little as she said this. She wasn’t beautiful the way Portia was or their mother had been. She was only a few inches above five feet, and though she had the same flaxen hair as her sister, it lacked her sister’s elegant shine. Her blue eyes were not so bright a blue. Her features, while not unattractive, did not have the same irresistible beauty as Portia’s.

So it came as no surprise that Portia was their father’s favorite. But she could not complain. Her father did love her, and she was not treated as some princess of cinders by her family. She was simply not the favorite. It was no more complicated than that.

“I suppose I ought to free her of the horde she’s collected.” Lydia squared her shoulders, knowing how difficult it was going to be to get her sister away from her group of admirers. They had been in Bath only one week, yet the entire male population was already infatuated with Portia.

“I shall help you.” Lysandra joined her, chin set firmly, as though she was facing down the French army all alone. Lydia adored her friend’s loyalty. When things became serious, Lysandra could always be counted on to help.

They crossed the vast floor of the assembly room, careful to sidestep whenever twirling couples threatened to come into their path. They were also careful to dodge the numerous ostrich plumes that dipped low over the turbans of the older ladies. More than once they were nearly knocked over by an oblivious gentleman making an elegant bow.

Bath was ever a place to see and be seen by the fashionable set and the wealthy in England. Not that Lydia was much concerned with any of that. She had not much desire to marry. Not after her first serious suitor, a gentleman named Frank Ensley, had abandoned her to marry an heiress. The pangs of disappointment had been enough to set Lydia against marriage entirely.

“Look out!” Lysandra gripped her arm and pulled her out of the way of two handsome but clearly foxed gentlemen stumbling past them. They didn’t even stop to apologize.

“Lord, it’s a frightful exercise in patience and perseverance to cross a ballroom.” Lydia collapsed her fan and held it up like a fencer would his foil. It might prove necessary to wallop a few gentlemen in order to arrive at their intended destination.

“Blast. I lost sight of her,” Lysandra hissed. “The men have dispersed, but I cannot see her.”

Lydia swallowed back a lump of panic. She and Portia had both come here under the watchful eye of their great-aunt, Cornelia Wilcox. She would be blamed if Portia were to be compromised.

“Try the corridor just beyond!” Lydia nodded frantically toward a darkened corridor that led to the retiring rooms, a place where ladies and gentlemen could see to their needs.

“Excellent thinking.” Lysandra and Lydia parted around a pair of plump matronly ladies whose chins wobbled as they giggled over the latest on-dits.

“Ah-ha! She’s here!” Lydia gasped in relief as she found Portia alone at the entrance to the corridor. She hugged her younger sister.

Portia raised her chin almost haughtily as she pushed Lydia away. “Lydia, what’s come over you?”

Lydia reined in the frustrated response she wanted