Exclusive FREE READ

You read it here first folks! PHS's exclusive Free Read is an extract from

Lara Temple's Unlaced by the Highland Duke.

This month The Pink Heart Society shares an extract from Harlequin Historical author, Lara Temple's coming release, Unlaced by the Highland Duke, which is available now for preorder and releases in May. So you know what the story's about, here's the blurb:

In bed with the duke!

Part of The Lochmore Legacy: a Scottish castle through the ages! Unceremoniously packed off to Scotland to care for the Duke of Lochmore’s young son, practical widow Joane Langdale fears she will be ignored as always. But the deep connection and heated passion that develops between her and Benneit is far more dangerous! When Benneit is expected to propose to another, how dare Jo dream of becoming his duchess?

In this scene plain widow Jo just told her maid Beth that she doesn’t wish to attend the Lochmore Summer’s Solstice Ball despite being given a beautiful dress in the Lochmore clan colors to replace her usual grey dresses. Jo has always hated social events and it has been a very eventful day so far to say the least – Jamie, her charge and the Duke’s son, ran away, she’d nearly drowned, and then she’d managed to argue (and more) with the Duke of Lochmore. But neither the servants nor the duke are letting her off the hook……

‘What?!’ Beth exclaimed and then flushed at her very unservile exclamation. ‘But, Mrs. Langdale, you must go to the ball! What of your beautiful dress?’

‘I have the headache. From the cold water.’ Jo said with dignity. She had been forced to tell Beth what had happened, at least part of it, to explain her salty, dishevelled, and dress-less state. Beth had muttered something about Jamie’s tantrums but had said nothing else as she had ordered up a hot bath and had set about redeeming Jo’s hair from its salty tangle.

Beth planted her fists on her hips and surveyed Jo, her dark eyes like coals from the pits of hell.

‘I’ve not slaved an hour over your hair for you to sit in your room and sulk because Lochmore gave you the scold you deserved, lass! There’s been enough tantrums at Lochmore today!’

Tears stung Jo’s eyes but she drew herself up.

‘I am not sulking. I am tired.’

Beth did not argue. Perhaps recalling her position, she merely curtsied and left the room, but the door closed with a distinct snap and Jo sank back onto the chair in front of the mirror. She could not explain to Beth.

She had no idea how long she sat there when the door bounced open and Benneit strode in without even knocking.

Jo stood and straightened her shoulders. She had been expecting some response, but not the personal appearance of a very irate duke. Especially not after the events of that day.

It was not at all helpful that he looked utterly, breathtakingly, handsome. She had seen him in a short kilt before when he was about the castle and the estate but this was clearly full ceremonial dress, the orange tartan kilt drawn over the dark blue coat and white shirt, its contrasting colours stretched across his formidable chest and over his shoulder, making him look even larger than usual, and the deep, burnt shades orange accentuating the green of his eyes and his raven hair. She had thought him magnificent enough in evening dress, but the Duke of Lochmore in a long kilt was something else entirely.

The annoyance on his face faltered and his forward motion flagged. He stopped in the middle of the room, his gaze raking over her from head to the tips of her kid slippers peeking from beneath the high embroidered flounce.

‘Your grace?’ she prompted as he remained silent.

‘I…’ He took another step forward and stopped again, the frown returning. ‘What is this about not coming down to the ball?’

‘I have decided it is quite unnecessary.’

‘Unnecessary? What on earth does that have to say to anything? In less than an hour half the Highlands will be gathering below.’

‘Precisely. One person more or less will hardly be noticed.’ She did not add – certainly not this person. ‘I am perfectly happy staying…’

Benneit drew himself up, clearly struggling to hold the reins of his temper.

‘The point is not to make you happy, Jo…Mrs. Langdale. The point is that you are Bella’s cousin and it would be considered da…deuced odd of you to be hiding in the nursery while I entertained our neighbours especially when they naturally expect to see you. And Mrs. Merry will be mortally offended that after all the effort she and Beth went to regarding your dress you might as well be feeding it to the sheep. If you wish to sit down to breakfast tomorrow with that on your conscience, then go and hide…No, that is not an option. You will come downstairs right now and smile at the damn guests!’ .

He looked on the verge of stamping his foot like Jamie. She wished he would, because his upward spiral of annoyance was unravelling her discomfort. This, she was familiar with. The impossible embarrassment at the events on the beach receded, revealing the simple truth – she did not want to stay in her room. She wanted to go down into the light and the laughter, dressed in her beautiful dress. She might soon lose everything she cared for but she could take some of it with her, gather her memories like Jamie gathered treasures, and for that she must be brave.

‘Very well.’

‘You will?’

She looked at herself in the mirror.

‘You are right. Mrs. Merry and Beth would be very offended. It would probably affect Beth’s enjoyment of the ball.’

‘I had not realized she is attending the ball as well.’ There was that reluctant smile in his voice that always made her mouth want to curve in response. This time she allowed it.

‘Every servant in the Castle house takes part in it, even if only by listening to what the footmen report when they go to the keep to fetch more food and wine. And Beth is very possessive of this dress having had such a say in its creation. Apparently she has even asked Ewan to tell her who dances with her dress.’

‘You, I hope.’ His smile flashed, easing the glower further.

‘I am merely a vessel. Her dress will be the attraction. As such whoever dances with me becomes Beth’s possession.’

‘Good God, that is mawkish. I hope Mrs. Merry is keeping a tight leash on Beth’s imagination. I don’t want her falling into trouble.’

‘Beth is far too clever. She knows the difference between a dream and a loaf of bread. She has her sights on Angus.’

She did not add – far cleverer than I.

‘Does she? She will have her work cut out for her. He is convinced he is not marriage material with his scars.’

‘She is patient. And determined. She will wear him down in the end.’

‘I hope so.’ He hesitated and then held out his arm. ‘Come.’

She went, stepping into the lie that he wanted her there, that she looked lovely in her borrowed gown, that unlike those horrid balls years ago she would not be invisible, unremarked, overlooked. That she was not merely an impecunious widow-cum-governess invited to the ball as an act of casual kindness but the Jo that Jamie saw in her – wondrous and wise and worth caring for.

Her head dipped and she watched the tips of her slippers. They were the only thing she wore that were originally hers and they were a little scuffed. There would be no hiding them, not even under her lovely dress.

He stopped abruptly at the head of the staircase and she wavered and almost slipped on the top stair. His other hand caught her at the waist.

‘Steady. Not even falling downstairs will be acceptable as an excuse not to attend. Look at me. Are you crying?’

Oh no. She could feel the tears straining to slide down her cheeks. She had not counted on sympathy. She was not experienced enough with it to counter it as she did indifference and criticism and anger. She shook her head.

He led her back to her parlour and her heart and mind raged. She had won her battle not to go to the ball, but she didn’t want to win. She did not quite understand what was growing inside her but it was fierce and hot and it wanted to go down to the ball. With him.

‘Here, look at me.’ His voice was soft and she closed her eyes and shook her head but he raised her face and she felt the cool press of linen on her eyes and cheeks, absorbing her tears.

‘Is it so very bad?’ he asked. ‘I know you never enjoyed balls when Bella was coming out, but it is different now. You aren’t Miss Watkins, being shunted between relations. You are Mrs. Langdale and my guest. I won’t allow you to be slighted, you know.’

‘That isn’t it.’ She touched her fingertips to her eyelids, stopping the tears. She was growing weak. In the past she never would have allowed this to happen. It was his fault.

‘Then what?’ His voice was so gentle it ached.."

‘It is foolish.’

‘Tell me anyway.’

She grasped for something, anything to say. Strangely what came was the truth, just not the whole truth.

‘I never had pretty dresses when I married Alfred. His mother died a week after the wedding and we wore mourning, and two weeks before the year was up he fell from his horse. I thought…I wish he might have seen me in such a dress…’

As the silence stretched she forced herself to look. He was very close, she could see the peculiar grey-green of his eyes, the colours of the cliffs and sea beyond.

‘I am sorry for him, too. But he was a lucky man to have you even so briefly. A smart man, too.’

He raised her hand, just touching it with his lips, his hair dark against the pale orange of her skirts. His words rang inside her like the vibrations of a bell and she fisted her other hand against the impulse to touch the silk of his hair. It was not an effusive testimony to her transformation by the dress, but it struck her as so much more personal. Like Alfred, though in a different way, this man saw her. It was not enough, leagues and leagues from what she craved, but it still warmed her.

‘Thank you, Benneit.’ His hand tightened on hers as he straightened, but he dropped it and stepped back, holding out his arm as he had before.

‘You are welcome, Jo. Come. Now more than ever I will not allow you to hide. Once I do the perfunctory dances with the dragons and their offspring, we will share a dance for your Alfred. Tell me you can waltz.’

‘Yes, your grace, I can waltz.’

‘Good. Your fate is sealed.’

Lara Temple's latest book, Unlaced by the Highland Duke is available for preorder now. You can find out more about Lara and her writing on Facebook and Twitter or on her website.

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