“Good afternoon.” She managed an awkward curtsy.
He did not answer or bow. Wordlessly, he approached her.
And at the point where a well-mannered gentleman would stop, he drew closer still.
She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, anxious. At least he’d solved her staring problem. She could scarcely bear to look at him now.
He stopped close enough for Maddie to breathe in the scents of whisky and wood smoke, and to glimpse a wide, devilish mouth slashing through his light growth of beard. After long seconds, she coaxed herself into meeting his gaze.
His eyes were a breathtaking blue. And not in a good way.
They were the sort of blue that gave one the feeling of being launched into the sky or plunged into icy water. Flung into a void with no hope of return. It wasn’t a pleasant sensation.
“Miss Madeline Gracechurch?”
Oh, his voice was the worst part of all. Deep, with that Highland burr that scraped and hollowed words out, forcing them to hold more meaning.
He said, “I’m come home to you.”
“H-home . . . to me?”
“I knew it,” Aunt Thea said. “It’s him.”
The strange man nodded. “It’s me.”
“It’s who?” Maddie blurted out.
She didn’t mean to be rude, but she’d never laid eyes on this man in her life. She was quite sure of it. His wasn’t a face or figure she’d be likely to forget. He made quite an impression. More than an impression. She felt flattened by him.
“Don’t you know me, mo chridhe?”
She shook her head. She’d had enough of this game, thank you. “Tell me your name.”
The corner of his mouth tipped in a small, roguish smile. “Captain Logan MacKenzie.”
The world became a violent swirl of colors: green and red and that stark, dangerous blue.
“Did you . . .” Maddie faltered. “Surely you didn’t say Cap—”
That was as far as she got. Her tongue gave up.
And then her knees gave out.
She didn’t swoon or crumple. She simply sat down, hard. Her backside hit the settee, and the air was forced from her lungs. “Oof.”
The Scotsman stared down at her, looking faintly amused. “Are ye well?”
“No,” she said honestly. “I’m seeing things. This can’t be happening.”
This really, truly, could not be happening.
Captain Logan MacKenzie could not be alive. He could not be dead, either.
He didn’t exist.
To be sure, for nigh on a decade now, everyone had believed her to be first pining after, then mourning for, the man who was nothing but fiction.
Maddie had spent countless afternoons writing him letters—missives that had actually just been pages of nonsense or sketches of moths and snails. She’d declined to attend parties and balls, citing her devotion to the Highland hero of her dreams—but really because she’d preferred to stay home with a book.
Her godfather, the Earl of Lynforth, had even left her Lannair Castle in his will so that she might be nearer her beloved’s home. Quite thoughtful of the old dear.
And when the deceit began to weigh on her conscience, Maddie had given her Scottish officer a brave, honorable, and entirely fictional death. She’d worn black for a full year, then gray thereafter. Everyone believed her to be disconsolate, but black and gray suited her. They hid the smudges of ink and charcoal that came from her work.
Thanks to Captain MacKenzie, she had a home, an income, work she enjoyed—and no pressure to move in London society. She’d never intended to deceive her family for so many years, but no one had been hurt. It all seemed to have worked for the best.
Now something had gone terribly wrong.
Maddie turned her head by slow degrees, Miss Muffet fashion, forcing herself to look at the Highlander who’d sat down beside her. Her heart thumped in her chest.
If her Captain MacKenzie didn’t exist, who was this man? And what did he want from her?
“You aren’t real.” She briefly closed her eyes and pinched herself, hoping to waken from this horrid dream. “You. Aren’t. Real.”
Aunt Thea pressed a hand to her throat. With the other, she fanned herself vigorously. “Surely it must be a miracle. To think, we were told you were—”
“Dead?” The officer’s gaze never left Maddie’s. A hint of irony sharpened his voice. “I’m not dead. Touch and see for yourself.”
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