Heaven on Earth

Heaven on Earth

Virginia Brown


July 2015 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-633-8

A prim lady. A Scottish rogue. Heaven help them.

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

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A dangerous ocean voyage . . .

Straight-laced teetotaler Elizabeth Lee and roguish Scotsman Kincade MacKay are bound for the American frontier on the same storm-tossed ship—and it’s not big enough for their battle of wills. 

Two star-crossed strangers . . .

He won’t stand for her lectures on the evils of hard drinking, and she won’t bear his troublemaking ways. Yet she can’t stop thinking about him, and he can’t resist the thought of kissing her until neither of them can remember what they’re fighting about. 

A guardian angel playing Cupid . . .

Tabitha helps them survive the journey, but once the mismatched couple reach shore, still at odds and battling their passions, even an angel will need some help . . .

Virginia Brown has written more than fifty novels. Many of her books have been nominated for Romantic Times’ Reviewer’s Choice awards, Career Achievement Awards for Love and Laughter, and Career Achievement Awards for Adventure. She also writes the bestselling Dixie Divasmystery series.

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Excerpt


Prologue

The Tom Hopkins, Atlantic Ocean—1877

"SORRY I’M LATE, Ian.” Tabitha grabbed the ship’s rail to keep her balance and peered thoughtfully at her companion. A glassed-in lantern swayed wildly from a hook overhead, splashing dim light over his face. "You look a bit green. Shouldn’t, you know. We’re dead. Can’t get sea­sick.”

"It’s not that.” Ian gave a long sigh and shook his head. "I’m afraid I willna be able tae do what I’ve been sent tae do.”

"Nonsense.” Tabitha gave him another sharp glance, taking in his kilt, flowing shirt, and the plaid slung over one shoulder. She lifted a brow. "I’m here. I’ve quite a hand for this guardian-angel business.” She preened a bit, patting the stiff cambric ruff around her neck. Her skirts, flared at the hips by a farthingale, swayed in the wind. "Had quite a bit of success last time, you see.”

"So I was told.” Ian sighed again, but the sound was lost in the wind and the creaking rigging of the ship. The deck rose and fell, and greenish sea froth splashed and swirled across the polished deck. Lantern light swayed erratically across the pair.

Ian clutched at the rail as a wave lifted the ship. "I’m afraid this is a lost cause, coming here.”

"Your descendant, right?” Tabitha nodded understandingly. "Well, let’s give it a look and see what can be done, Ian. No point in wailing unnecessarily.” As they proceeded belowdecks she muttered to herself, "Silly Scots. Always so blasted melancholy about things. No notion of levity at all. Pity.”

The companionway below deck was musty, narrow, and dark. At the far end, a single lantern shed a fuzzy halo of light. Ian led the way while Tabitha struggled with her wide skirts in the narrow passageway, muttering vague maledictions under her breath about the ship’s deficien­cies. When Ian paused in front of a door and turned to give her a doleful stare, she glared at him.

"Really, Ian MacDonald, you have no faith in me at all. Or in your­self. P’raps ’tis why I was sent to help you. With me as your adviser, you cannot possibly fail.”

Even in the dim light his misery was obvious. He shook his head. "Ye canna understand the situation, then. Dinna they tell you about it?”

"Only that I was to help you, as I have experience in these matters.” Tabitha gave him her most confident smile and raised her plucked brows. "I even gave up a concert by Beethoven to help you, so you must know that I intend we shall take care of the problem anon.”

"Anon.” Ian sighed. "As ye say, Lady Tabitha.”

"Yes, as I say. Now, let us enter and see exactly what must be done to help your descendant from trouble.”

The small, stuffy cabin was much darker than the companionway. No light pierced the gloom; a faint glow through a porthole made green­ish by some sort of mold became slowly distinguishable from the anony­mous blur of wall, floor, and ceiling. Scuffling sounds broke the thick quiet, as if someone were disrobing. Then a curse sounded, harsh and a bit hazy. Tabitha glanced at Ian in surprise.

"Some light would help here,” she murmured.

A sudden shaft of moonlight shot through the thick porthole and il­luminated the cabin enough to distinguish the lurching male shape stripped down to buff trousers. Light glinted on his dark hair and the sheen of bare shoulders. He swayed dangerously with the pitching mo­tion of the ship, muttering curses as he stumbled toward a prone figure lying in a narrow bunk. It was obvious he was attempting stealth and just as obvious he was failing.

Tabitha shifted her gaze to the sleeping form and gasped. It was a young woman, her face and pale blonde hair just visible above the blan­kets pulled up to her neck. She looked soft, sweet, and unsuspecting. Tabitha turned quickly to Ian.

"He doesn’t belong in here. He intends to molest that girl.”

"It does look that way,” Ian admitted gloomily.

Tabitha gave a sharp shake of her head and snapped, "Well, this is what you’re here for. He must be stopped.”

"I know.”

"God’s eyes,” Tabitha muttered with a heavenward roll of her eyes. "I see that you are sadly unaware of your abilities. Let me give you a slight demonstration of what we’re allowed to do—keeping in mind that we are not seen and heard unless we allow it, and that we can only ar­range circumstances, not interfere with mortal choices.” She gave a pleased smile. "Horatio would be so pleased that I have finally remem­bered that.”

"Horatio?”

"Never mind. Watch, and learn.”

With a sweep of her hand, Tabitha turned back just as the man reached the bunk and put out a hand to touch the girl. An unlit lantern dangling from the ceiling immediately parted company with the hook holding it and smashed down on the man’s head. He reeled, cursed, and slumped to the cabin floor, groaning.

Tabitha turned to Ian with triumph. "There. See how easy it is? I have rescued your kinswoman quite effectively, and—”

"Nay, she isnamy kinswoman.”

Her mouth still open, Tabitha thought for a moment. "Oh? How unu­sual. I was under the impression that we normally assisted our descendants.”

"Aye.”

A frown creased her brow, and Tabitha glanced back at the man on the floor who was still groaning and holding his head. By this time the woman had awakened, and she let out a piercing scream as she sat up in the bunk and stared at the man in horror. Then she screamed again; the sound was high-pitched and earsplitting.

The thunder of footsteps on the upper deck sounded, and realiza­tion began to dawn as Tabitha glanced back at Ian in dismay. He looked at her and nodded gloomily.

"Aye. My kinsman, the black sheep, the rogue of the MacDonald clan—on his mother’s side, God bless her—this is my descendant. Kincade MacKay—scoundrel, wastrel, and now it seems, a ravisher of women.” His voice betrayed a faint bitterness as he added, "I canna see the sense in helping a man such as this one.”

Tabitha turned to stare. The man on the floor grabbed at the edge of the bunk to haul himself to his feet. His tall frame seemed ridiculously large in the small cabin, and as he stood there with an expression of pain and confusion on his face, he growled at the screaming girl to shut up.

"Stupid doxy,” Kincade MacKay muttered, "why’d you ask me in here if you—” He stopped, peered closely at her in the bright shaft of moonlight, then groaned. "God. You’re not Alice.”

A loud hammering sounded on the cabin door, and the quivering girl glanced toward it with an expression of relief as well as something else. Then she looked back up at the man swaying over her.

"No,” she said on a choked sob, "I’m not Alice.”

"Oh God.” Loud voices lifted outside the door, and it shuddered with the force of fists hitting it. Kincade gave a sigh of resignation, and his mouth twisted with wry humor as he muttered, "I think I’m in trou­ble.”

Tabitha looked at Ian. "Oh, dear,” she said distinctly. "Oh, dear me.”


Chapter One

IT WAS NOT, Kincade reflected as he tested the strength of the bonds holding him, going to be one of his better days. As it looked now, it might be one of his worst, if he survived it at all.

He frowned. His head hurt, his stomach rolled, and the tight ropes holding him pinioned to the side of a damp, stinking cell cut into his wrists quite painfully. No, not one of his better days.

He closed his eyes and leaned his aching head back against the wall, pondering the mistake that had cost him his freedom. Stupid. If he hadn’t drunk so much good Scotch whisky with the first mate, he wouldn’t be here now. Nor would he be here if he’d resisted temptation in the form of a common doxy with a lazy smile and huge breasts. His weakness. One of them, at any rate.

Kincade winced as a pain stabbed through his skull. He felt as if he’d been hit with a belaying pin. He hadn’t; it had been that damned lantern, providentially falling from a hook in the ceiling and smashing his head and waking that silly chit into screaming hysterics. Perhaps if she hadn’t been so rudely awakened, he might have been able to leave without her knowing he’d been there. Or at the least been able to explain his mistake. As it was, she had, and he hadn’t.

Wonderful. Life held such droll twists and turns. It was becoming quite amusing trying to figure out how to survive.

A chill racked his body, and he tried to warm himself by thinking of hot sand and tropical beaches—bloody hell. It was hard thinking of anything except that he was half-naked and tied to a wall in the hold of a stinking ship. The sailors who’d taken such obvious glee in roughly dragging him to the brig hadn’t allowed him to put on his shirt. Or his boots. He glanced down at his bare feet. Damn, thieving jack-tars were probably in the fo’c’sle gambling over who got them. They were good boots, too; he’d taken them from an aristocrat before he’d left London so hurriedly.

Kincade coughed and winced in renewed pain. One of his ribs must be cracked. The sailors had pummeled him quite cheerfully all the way to the brig, since there was nothing a midshipman liked better than a little judicious punishment—as long as it was someone else’s.

A shiver tickled his naked spine as Kincade pressed against the rough wood of the wall and wondered when—or if—someone intended to come and see about him. After all, he was a dangerous felon now, and they needed to keep him in good shape for his trial. That should be another farce. He couldn’t wait to see what Miss Goody Two-Shoes had to say about him.

She’d looked properly shocked at seeing a man in her cabin, espe­cially a man with his pants open and a lump on his head. He must have been a charming sight indeed, sprawled on the floor like a gigged frog. Kincade spared a sigh of regret for his wasted youth. He should have learned restraint instead of the easiest way to part a pigeon from his purse.

There hadn’t been too many choices during his youth, unfortu­nately. He supposed he could have joined the Royal Navy, but he had an aversion to being half-drowned and eating maggots, even in the interest of patriotism. No, he’d avoided that avenue at all costs, having had some narrow escapes from being persuadedto join the navy and see the world.

Instead Kincade had opted for the life of a young man of good birth who had fallen down on his luck. The good-birth part was true enough. Back down the line there were plenty of noble ancestors. Scottish, of course, and probably all mad as loons, but supposedly noble in the inter­est of dying for the Cause, whatever the hell it happened to be at the moment.

Kincade had no such leanings. He was much more interested in sur­vival, which had precipitated his decision to leave Scotland at a quite young age. Scotland, with its cold mountain crags and constant wind, was a mournful place, with few redeeming features as far as he was concerned. He’d come to hate the terrain, climate, and even the food.

The thought of haggis made him shudder. Minced sheep pluck mixed with oats and stuffed inside a sheep gut? Disgusting stuff, in his opinion. Almost as detestable as oatmeal.

The ship heeled sharply, and Kincade slid on the floor and managed to pick up a splinter in his back. Oh yes, he thought gloomily, he was definitely having a bad day. Maybe his worst yet, in fact.

He pressed his feet against the opposite wall and pushed himself to a sitting position. Then he rested his head back against the wall. A fellow prisoner would be nice. Misery may not really love company, but it cer­tainly appreciated a sympathetic audience.

A scuffling sound in the companionway caught Kincade’s attention. A key scraped in the lock, and the door swung open. A midshipman stood outlined in the doorway, peering inside with a doubtful expres­sion.

"Come in, lad,” Kincade said cheerfully. "I seem to be at loose ends for the moment. I would offer you a spot of tea, but seem to be caught out. Did you bring some with you, I hope?” He gazed at the tray in the youth’s hand with aching expectation.

"Yes, sir.” The boy edged closer.

Kincade frowned impatiently. "Come in. As you can see”—he jerked his head toward his bound hands to show that he could not lower them, much less use them—"I am unable to scratch anything that may itch, not to mention actually launch an attack. And bring that tray over here. I’m starving.”

Still approaching cautiously, the boy eyed Kincade for a long mo­ment. "Took four o’ the crew ta git you down ’ere, sir. I don’ want my head bashed in laik th’ second mate’s.”

Kincade gave him a pleased smile. "Did I do that? Good. Haven’t lost my touch.”

The boy glanced down at the tray in his hands. "Brung ye some food, but I don’ knows as to how yer s’posed ta eat, what wi’ yer hands strung up an’ all.”

Kincade looked at him with a speculative gleam in his eyes, then changed his mind. "Where would I go if I did manage to overpower you, my lad? It ain’t like there’s a wide range of choices. After all, we are in the middle of the Atlantic, a bit too far out for me to swim back.”

Still hesitating, the boy shuffled from one foot to the other and stared at Kincade so anxiously that he wanted to throttle him. He waited as patiently as he could, though his stomach was churning and growling at the mere thought of food. Finally, as he seemed to reach some sort of decision, the boy drew near enough to set the tray on the floor near Kincade’s feet.

Kincade looked up at him. "Do I eat this with my toes? Not that I would mind, see, but it’ll prove a bit awkward.”

"Here. Spoon.” The boy picked up a utensil and held it out, then frowned when Kincade stretched his arms to the limits of the rope and still failed to reach him. "Guess it won’t work.”

"No, lad. It certainly doesn’t appear that way.” He leaned forward, sniffing suspiciously at the tray. "What did you bring, anyway?”

"Oatmeal. Has a bit o’ salt pork in it fer ye.”

Kincade sagged back against the wall and closed his eyes again. "Take it away,” he said tonelessly. Oatmeal. As far as he was concerned, it would be like eating premasticated horse fodder. No, definitely not one of his better days.

"Take it away?” There was the sound of scuffling feet on the floor, and the boy repeated slowly, "Take it away?”

Kincade opened one eye to glare at him and said, almost snarling, "Get it out of here.

The boy squeaked with fright and grabbed the tray, then backed from the cell and slammed the door behind him. It was dark and gloomy again, and Kincade gave a vicious kick at the opposite wall. That only succeeded in making his toe throb like the devil, and he contemplated his misery for a brief moment before deciding to sleep.

At least in sleep he would not have to think about his bruises, the cold, or his empty belly.

BY THE TIME THE second mate was sent to escort him topside for judgment, Kincade was almost glad to see him. Anything was preferable to his present misery.

"You won’t look so cheerful soon enough,” the battered second mate said as he tied Kincade’s hands behind him. The ropes were tight and chafing, growing tighter as the mate jerked Kincade abovedeck.

The sunlight stung his eyes but warmed his bare torso. "Easy, old man,” Kincade muttered when the mate half-dragged him, and he nar­rowly missed tangling his feet in a coil of rope on the deck. "Still miffed because of a few bruises? They’ll heal soon, and you’ll feel much better. Besides, it was all in fun, nothing to sulk about.”

"We’ll see how much fun you think it is to swing from a yardarm.”

The mate’s brutal comment caused Kincade some dismay. "Steady on, fellow. Hanging? Because of a misunderstanding? I’m not a member of the crew, you know, but a passenger.”

"Not a payingone, the cap’n says.”

"Oh.” Kincade felt his dismay stir into alarm. "Found out about that, did he? Well, I’m certain we can clear things up with a little—oof!

The second mate’s elbow found Kincade’s stomach with a resound­ing thud that took away his breath. By the time he was able to breathe normally again, they were on the quarterdeck, and the captain was glar­ing at him. Things did not look favorable.

A chill wind whipped at Kincade’s bare chest. His trousers were damp and clung to him soggily. Shivers racked his body. The second mate gave him another vicious shove that sent him staggering forward. He had a vague view of the offended female as she stood just behind the captain, but it was only a brief impression of wind-whipped skirts and sunlight gleaming on pale features before a belaying pin hit the back of his legs with a savage whack, sending him to his knees.

Pain lanced through him, and the harsh comfort of the deck slammed into his knees. He finally managed with some effort to look up at the captain’s severe face.

"You are charged with attempted rape, sir,” the captain intoned. His attitude befitted that of a judge sentencing a murderer.

"I was not—”

"Shut up,” the second mate said and hit him in the lower back with the belaying pin. The pain left him breathless.

When he caught his breath Kincade half-turned, flashing the mate a murderous glance. He wished his hands were free for just a moment. He’d show the damn mate a thing or two that could be done with a belaying pin and a vivid imagination.

"Oh, do stop that,” an indignant feminine voice demanded. Kincade glanced from the second mate to the girl he was accused of raping. Or attempting to rape, that distinction seeming to have escaped the crew, in his opinion.

She twisted her hands together in front of her, and her face turned to­ward the captain. Though she was quite petite, wore a dainty dimity dress, carried a frilly parasol, and pale curls peeked from beneath the brim of her hat to frame a plain little face, there was nothing fragile and feminine in the stern look she gave the captain.

"I see no point,” she said sharply, "in beating a man who has his hands tied behind him. Besides, he looks miserable and wretched enough.”

"Thank you,” Kincade muttered. Miserable and wretched, was he? He’d like to see Miss Fluff look so good after a night and the better part of the morning spent in a dingy cell without a change of clothes.

Matter of fact, he might like that very well.

Captain Hanover snorted derisively. "He’s a felon, miss. And if hav­ing his hands tied is the worst that happens to him, he’ll be lucky. He’ll have a lot more to worry about than a few bruises before the day is over.”

"Captain Hanover,” she continued without glancing at Kincade again, "I must insist that you release this man at once.”

Kincade’s head snapped up.

"Release him, miss?” Hanover scowled. "Why should I do that?”

"Because I retract my charges.” Her brisk tone seemed to confound the captain. There was a moment of awkward silence broken only by the flapping of canvas sails and the snap of loose halyards.

Then the captain shook his head. "No. He’s been accused of a seri­ous charge—”

"I was mistaken. It was dark, and I was frightened and only half-awake. Now, in the bright light, I see my error.”

"Error?” Hanover’s face began to turn a ripe purple. "I don’t see how you can call rape an error, miss.”

Her composure didn’t crack. "In the first place, it was not rape. Not only did he never lay a hand on me, this is my cousin. He must have stumbled into the wrong cabin.”

"Cousin.” The captain looked doubtfully from Kincade’s dark head to the girl’s pale locks.

"Yes,” she said, "third cousin on my mother’s side, twice removed. I haven’t seen him in a long time, you see, so it was easy to mistake him for an intruder in the dark.” She fiddled with the lace on her dress cuff, her little chin held high.

Kincade watched in detached fascination. What a facile little liar she was. He wondered why she bothered, but she continued with hardly a break.

"We’re on our way to visit relatives, and as it was so late when we boarded, I did not have a chance to renew our acquaintance. Due to a raging case of mal de mer, I have not been out of my cabin since boarding. You must excuse all the trouble. Normally I am much more coherent than this.”

"Are you?” Hanover glared at the girl, then back at Kincade, who had the good sense to keep all expression from his face. "You’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest, miss.”

"As I said, Captain, I apologize.” The girl gave him a cold stare that should have frozen Hanover in his boots.

The captain rubbed a hand across his mouth and looked back at Kincade. "I’m afraid that makes no difference. Even if you claim he’s your mother, he hasn’t paid his passage.”

Kincade’s brief flare of hope was quickly extinguished. He would re­member that, the scurvy bastard.

"He didn’t?” Giving a regretful shake of her head, the girl glanced to­ward Kincade. "Silly wretch. You can never remember the most important things.”

He took his cue. "Sorry, my pet.” Kincade wasn’t certain what he was supposed to say—God, he didn’t even know her name and hoped he wasn’t asked for it—so he improvised the best he could. "You know how I forget things since the head injury.”

"No excuse. Let me handle all the details from now on.” She turned to the captain and said brusquely, "Release him at once. If you will send one of your crew to my cabin, I will give you the money for my cousin’s passage.”

After a hesitation, in which Kincade prayed that his luck would hold and this girl wouldn’t change her mind, the captain snarled a reluctant order to release the prisoner.

Kincade sat back on his heels and gave the second mate a promising smile.

"Do untie me, old man. And don’t think I’m the type to carry grudges for long.”

Shifting uneasily, the second mate fumbled at Kincade’s ropes with a few earnest tugs. When he bent to help him to his feet, Kincade added with soft menace, "I usually take care of my debts quite quickly.”

The mate dropped the belaying pin and stepped back. He eyed Kincade warily as he came to his feet and rubbed at his arms, trying to re­store circulation. It hurt as the blood flowed back into starved veins and muscles, and Kincade decided to restrain any notions of justice for the time being. There was always later.

First, he had to find out just what the prissy Miss Whoever-She- Was had on her mind. He didn’t doubt for a moment that she wanted something from him. In his experience, people never admitted mistakes. Or offered aid without the expectation of recompense.

"Cousin, dear,” he said as she passed close by him on her way down from the quarterdeck, "do let me assist you back to your cabin.”

She looked startled. "That’s not necessary. I think it best if you find yours and return to it and put on some clothes. It’s quite chilly in the wind.”

"I agree.” Kincade took her arm. "I just want to express my re­gret—and appreciation—properly.”

"Perhaps later.”

"Ah, but I have had an entire night in which to reflect upon the er­ror of my ways, and I know that you will be most entertained.”

Up close, Kincade decided that she wasn’t quite as plain as she was at first glance. Straight little nose, wide-spaced blue eyes, delicate bones that made her look much more fragile than she behaved—not bad. Skinny, with only the suggestion of female curves under her fluffy dim­ity, but not bad at all.

"Very well,” she said stiffly, glancing at the captain, "come along if you must.”

The wind cut into his bare chest with a vengeance, but Kincade man­aged to keep the shiver out of his voice. "Right-ho, sweet cousin.”


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