Home > The Sinful Ways of Jamie Mackenzie

The Sinful Ways of Jamie Mackenzie
Author: Jennifer Ashley

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

April 1908

 

 

Jamie Mackenzie stood the rail at the Southampton docks and craned his head for a better view of the young woman who strolled down the gangplank of the massive ship moored before him.

The lady was surrounded by chaperones, the tall man and harried-looking woman probably her parents, the other two matronly women likely aunts or a former governess or two.

The liner, the Baltic, the largest in the world, blocked any view of the ocean with its vast, dark bulk. A large opening in its hull disgorged passengers onto the open pier, more than two thousand of them, into the blustery late April day.

The young woman stood out, not only because she wore a gown of soft yellow—not the most practical choice for the sooty pier—but because she carried herself with a grace that set her apart. Golden hair peeped from under a white hat—again a questionable choice of attire for the docks, but perhaps her family had instructed her on what to wear

A black-clad man with a large photographic apparatus bumped past Jamie. “Sorry, guv,” he said cheerfully. “Almost missed her.”

He set up his tripod, unfolded his camera, pointed his long lens at the young woman, and began snapping away.

“Who is she?” Jamie asked.

Click … click … click. “You don’t know? Imogen Carmichael, American heiress, richest woman in the world—so I’m told—come to these shores to land herself a titled husband.”

“Title, eh?” Aristocratic monikers held glamour and romance for Americans, and not only for them, Jamie reflected. So many, even in this country, were entranced by a Lord This or Marquess of That.

As the nephew of a duke and cousin to the duke’s heirs, Jamie knew the true worth of titled gentlemen.

He leaned on the rail, wind tugging at the Mackenzie plaid kilt around his hips. “She is a beauty.”

“She’s fair enough.” The photographer shrugged. “Whether I like her or not, my instructions are to get as many photographs of the lovely lady so those what put pen to paper can write all sorts of guff about her.”

Miss Carmichael turned slightly, and Jamie swore she stared directly at him. He inclined his head, rewarded by a slight flush to the lady’s cheeks. Or maybe that was the sudden wind that streaked down the dock, an icy, briny blast from the Channel.

Never mind that Jamie himself wasn’t titled. Mackenzie was an old name, a revered one—one spoken with awe and a little shiver. He could convince Miss Carmichael she didn’t need a title. Persuade her to let him steal her away, as Old Dan Mackenzie had done with his bride so long ago—

Someone slammed into Jamie’s back with the suddenness of a cannon ball, sending him hard against the railing. He slipped on an oily patch and felt his too-tall body begin to pitch over the side, gravity inevitably taking him down to the black water between ship and dock.

The young woman in drab brown who’d run into him dropped her portmanteau and seized handfuls of Jamie’s coat, sucking in a lungful of air as she hauled him upright.

“Trying to drench yourself again, are you, Mackenzie?” she demanded breathlessly.

Jamie turned when she released him, meeting blue eyes the color of delphiniums. Those wide eyes had gazed at him another day, long ago, on the banks of the Cam, when she’d pulled him to safety as she’d done just now.

It couldn’t be …

She had hair like darkness, cheeks pink from the wind, and was bundled in a practical coat, her hat squashed down over her ears. The brown coat and hat were as dull as their surroundings, but her eyes emerged from them like bright sky after gloom.

Jamie hadn’t seen her in half a dozen years, but her wry smile hadn’t changed. The blasted woman had always laughed at him.

“Evie McKnight.” Jamie took a step back from her, meeting the solid rail. “Trying to push me in again? At least you didn’t bring your oar this time.” He glanced behind her as though searching for it.

“Is that all you remember about me, Mackenzie?”

“It is burned upon m’ memory, McKnight.” Jamie’s backside even now recalled the sharp whap from the oar that had inadvertently landed on it as Evie, on the lady’s rowing team at her Cambridge college, had rushed with it to her scull.

“I didn’t need it today,” Evie said, eyes sparkling. “You were so lost in the famous Miss Carmichael that you could have gone straight into the drink without my help.”

“No, lass, I was minding my own business when a lady barreled into me.”

Evie flushed—she could never control her blushes. “Ogling women will be the death of you, Mackenzie. At Cambridge, it was your interest in girls in rowing costumes that was your undoing …”

“Not ogling,” Jamie said with indignation. “I’d come to cheer on the team.”

“Not what you said when you were climbing out of the river.”

Jamie’s language had burned the air. Evie’s face had been beet red at her blunder, and her fellow teammates had laughed themselves sick.

Jamie Mackenzie, the arrogant Scotsman, up to his waist in muddy water, had cursed and floundered until Evie had lowered her oar to him and pulled him from the river. The mud had made a sucking sound as it disgorged him, which had thrown her teammates into further glee.

“I did apologize,” Evie said.

“I know. Ye did it beautifully.”

Evie’s face went even more red, and Jamie knew why. His own was heating at the moment.

“Well, I am glad that is cleared up,” Evie said briskly. “I recommend you don’t fall in here. Far too dangerous.”

Evie leaned to retrieve her portmanteau, but Jamie beat her to it and held the bag out to her. Her hand closed on the handle, half an inch from his.

“What are you doing here, anyway?” Jamie asked. “Besides trying to push me in … again.”

Evie dithered, her feet shifting as though ready to flee. She glanced at their hands, both still on the bag’s handle. Jamie withdrew unhurriedly, but Evie moved the bag to her other side, as though worried he’d try to grasp it again.

“Returning home from a sojourn in New York with my mother and sisters. My sisters are all grown up now, and Clara is ready to marry. Hence the journey to New York, though both Clara and Marjorie have declared they prefer Englishmen.” She spoke in a rush, the words pat, as though her thoughts roved far from the docks, the shock of running into Jamie diverting her only momentarily.

“I notice you’re not speaking of yourself rushing to America to snare a husband,” Jamie said. “Or did you? Engaged, are you?”

Evie jumped, returning her full attention to him. “I am, as a matter of fact.”

Jamie’s brows rose. “To an American magnate? Ready to bathe in goat’s milk and honey, or whatever American magnates put into their baths?”

“Hardly.” Evie’s sunny smile blossomed. “He’s a respectable Englishman and a gentleman. Mr. Hayden Atherton. We’ve been betrothed nearly a year now.”

“Oh, yes?” Jamie feigned excitement then shook his head. “Never heard of him.”

Evie laughed, her face lighting up and driving everything else from Jamie’s thoughts. “No, of course, you haven’t. He isn’t one of your reprobate university friends. He is kind and genteel. Polite, cultured.”

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