Bloody hell!” A deep British male voice barked
from behind Allison Moore. “Have you lost
your mind? Get down from there.”
She gasped as powerful hands encircled her
waist. “How dare you. Who do you think you are?”
“Don’t you have better sense than to stand on
this wall? It’s already crumbling. You could fall.”
The fierce words were whispered close to her ear.
Allison forced herself not to struggle as her
work boots dangled a moment before coming to
rest on the slate roof of the castle. “Didn’t your
mother teach you never to manhandle a woman?”
“I’m not manhandling, just making sure you’re
safe.” He rasped.
“I’ve no intention of falling. Let me go.” Allison
worked to keep her words even as she made
another useless effort to get a good look at the man.
Just as quickly as she had been seized, he released
her. The air at her back cooled. Allison swiftly
Tall and lean, he stood a head above her. A gust
of wind whipped at the toffee-colored locks on his
forehead despite his effort to push them into place.
He wore a business suit that could have only been
tailor-made from the way it fit across his broad
shoulders. Everything about him exuded authority.
And sex appeal.
Allison retreated a step.
Offering an upturned hand, he said, “Don’t
move. You’re not far from the edge.”
She glanced over her shoulder, past the hiphigh
stone wall to the circular gravel drive sixty feet
below. A gray roadster sat parked next to her blue
rental car. She shifted to a safer position.
His forceful expression eased, making him
even more handsome. His full mouth quirked
upward on one side. “Are you the new contractor?
My estate manager said I would find you up here.
I’m Ian Chalmers, Earl of Hartley.”
So, this was the owner of Hartley Castle. The
newspapers pictures didn’t do him justice. He
appeared more impressive in person. Allison
straightened her shoulders and extended her hand.
“I’m Allison Moore, with Historic Restorations and
Designs. My company has been retained to restore
He took her fingers in a firm grasp. “Surely,
you know it’s unsafe to walk on the walls.”
When he released her hand, she had a fleeting
sensation of disappointment. “I’m experienced at
doing so. It’s part of my job.”
“That may be true,” he gave her a pointed glare,
“but accidents do happen. I’d rather one not occur
from the top of my castle. What exactly do you do at
“Historic Restorations and Designs. I’m the
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structural engineer in charge of this project. I’ll be
overseeing the reconstruction.”
“Is that so?” His forehead wrinkled as he
studied her. “You aren’t at all what I had expected.”
Allison stopped herself from rolling her eyes.
That wasn’t the first time she’d heard something
He continued to watch her. “You don’t fit the
“Is that so?” Allison mimicked his words
knowing full well he referred to her gender. Men
generally made up the world of historical
reconstruction. She and her partners continued to
work hard to change that perception.
His lips twisted slightly, not quite becoming a
smile. “For one thing, you’re a woman. And since
you are from America where there are no ancient
keeps, I’m not sure how knowable you can be about
Allison nodded, then swallowed the words
begging to bubble out. She met his chauvinistic
remark with a bold one of her own. “Lord Hartley, I
can assure you that I’m more than capable of
handling this job. Despite my nationality and sex.”
He held up his hand. “I didn’t mean to insult
you. I merely made an observation. As the head of
the Hartley family, I’m responsible for seeing our
heritage is maintained and restored in the most
skilled and factually accurate manner possible. I
take my duty very seriously.”
Allison lowered her chin. His questioning of
her skills grated on her nerves, but she would let
that go for now. And prove him wrong. “I
understand your concerns.” She waited until his
beautiful ice-blue eyes met hers again. “Lord
Hartley, I assure you I’m capable of overseeing this
He lifted a brow. “You have experience
repairing fourteenth century keeps?”
“I do. Years’ worth.” The temptation to stomp
her foot in frustration filled her. Instead, she stayed
cool and professional. “Before I started my
company, I worked with a number of well-respected
historical architectural firms all over the world. I’ve
been a partner and founder in my own business for
the past six years. And by the way, you don’t need
to live in or own a castle to appreciate how they’re
The lord’s expression turned thoughtful. “That
was quite an impassioned speech, but I’m still not
convinced your company’s right for this job.”
“Is that based on our resume or my
appearance? I understood that my company had
already been approved. We have a contract. I have
supplies ordered and stone masons lined up.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.” A drop of moisture
hit her cheek and she wiped it away. Another late
spring rain. Something else she’d have to contend
with if she managed to keep this project.
The lord’s intent gaze shifted to the sky. “Let’s
get out of the wet. We can finish this discussion in
Allison glanced around the castle roof, then
refocused on him. “By the way,” she tilted her head
to the side, “do you regularly rescue people from
the top of your castle?”
“No, but I don’t usually have women climbing
on my castle wall. In that, you are unique.” A
charming grin curved his lips.
Her stomach flipped. She rather liked that
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The man could charm when he put his mind to
Lord Hartley ducked through the arched
opening and descended the winding stone stairway.
Allison followed, mindful of the damp, steep, and
narrow steps. Even with rubber-soled shoes, she
treaded carefully. If she fell, no doubt Lord Hartley
would show her to the door. She lagged a little
behind. When she came out of the passage, he
waited in the hall. His lips had formed a thin line.
She suspected he didn’t make a habit of waiting on
“Ms. Moore, this way.” He turned, taking long
strides down the carpeted hall.
Did he really just speak to her as if he were the
schoolmaster, and she the disobedient child? Still,
she couldn’t help but find Lord Hartley’s soft burr
of an accent pulling at her, making her think of
warm nights by a fire.
Allison stood still for a moment and collected
herself before she entered into a discussion with
Lord Hartley again. Temped to shout, “Who died
and made you king?” she reminded herself the
HRD couldn’t afford to antagonize a client.
Especially one with his clout. She’d settle for
mouthing the words behind him. He might run his
world, but he didn’t run hers.
“Yes.” Allison hurried to catch up.
She watched as his strong, loose-hipped strides
took him along the stone corridor past enormous
portraits that hung on either side of the walls. His
ancestors, no doubt. As he walked, the slit in his
finely tailored suit coat flipped open, giving her a
glimpse of his behind. A nice one. But a good
backside didn’t negate his distrust of her abilities.
With an effort, she matched her pace to his. He
took quick, sure steps down the main stone
staircase into the great hall, then disappeared
through a doorway.
Allison entered a small room lined with books
to find Lord Hartley behind an enormous desk
holding his mobile phone. The space suited him.
Had it been established as a show of importance—
or provide intimidation? Everything about Lord
Hartley implied everyone obeyed him.
With a nod of his head, he motioned her
toward one of the two burgundy leather chairs
facing the desk. Settling comfortably, she crossed
one leg over the other, just as confident in her
abilities as he was in his position.
Did she want to work for him? He’d already
irritated her with his assumptions of her skills.
Would he always expect her to prove herself?
Question her decisions? While growing up, her
father had done that; pushed her into his ideas
instead of letting her decide. She’d promised herself
she wouldn’t live under anyone else’s expectations.
Her job, her life, she was completely capable of
running it all.
If she couldn’t work with Lord Hartley, could
HRD take the financial hit if they lost him as a
client? Or the poor publicity Lord Hartley might
give them? Allison, Mallory, and Jordon had
worked too hard for Allison to destroy their
reputation because of her inability to get along with
one self-important earl.
Allison took a cleansing breath, letting it out
slowly. On second thought, she’d have to figure out
some way to make this work. It was too vital to her
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life plan and the future of the company.
Still, some jobs, some clients, weren’t worth
the trouble. Lord Hartley and his castle might fall
into that category. She’d had difficult clients. Her
focus on historical projects threw her into the world
of the rich and entitled often. Yet something about
Lord Hartley made him seem a little more exacting
than others. Would he second guess every move she
The repair presented a challenge, and she did
enjoy one of those. Could she convince him she was
the man—person—for the job?
“Roger, I’m not convinced that the firm you
hired is the correct one,” he spoke into the phone.
“I told you to hire a top-rated firm to repair the
west tower. This project has to be done right and
with no issues.” There was another pause. “Yes, yes,
she’s sitting right here. Yes, I’ll discuss it with her.”
Lord Hartley hung up.
The tick, tick, tick of the large walnut clock
standing against the opposite wall echoed in the
He took a seat in the desk chair, then formed a
temple with his fingers at his mouth. His actions
drew her attention to his full, wide lips. She bet
they could form a beautiful smile, but rarely did.
What are you doing, Allison?
“So, Ms. Moore, tell me about your company.”
Lord Hartley intended to interview her? Did he
micromanage all areas of his world?
She would go along with it. Easy when she
believed in her company. “Historic Restorations
and Designs has been in business for six years. I’ve
two partners. We each specialize in different areas
of restoration. I handle the construction side. My
partner Mallory Andrews oversees the historical
design and Jordon Glass, our architect. In three
years, we’ve become one of the foremost authorities
in the field of heritage repairs. In the package sent
to your estate manager, you’ll find
recommendations from previous happy clients,
along with contact information. Feel free to reach
out about their experience with us. We’re currently
based out of North Carolina, but rarely there.”
His brow rose. “Currently?”
“Yes. We’ve plans to move the office to another
state in the next six months, but that won’t change
any services we provide.” In fact, they were doing so
well, they anticipated expanding the company. But
none of that related to the work she’d do for him.
“You’ll receive the best job possible.”
Lord Hartley pursed his lips and nodded as if
digesting that information. “Now tell me about
some of the projects that you have personally
“I’ve overseen an entire villa restoration along
with my partners in Italy. I’ve also managed a
manor house renovation in Sussex, one in Scotland,
and another in Wales. Oh, yeah, two more in
France.” She finished with, “Of course, this
information, along with before and after pictures
are included in the packet as well.”
“I’m sure they are, but I want to hear it from
you. Tell me about your most difficult project?” He
continued to watch her as if trying to figure her out.
Allison didn’t think she was that complicated.
She had a job to do, and she had the skills to carry it
out. “One of the manor houses in France. For a
number of reasons.”
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She shrugged. “The language difference and a
difficult owner. I got it done. When finished the
manor house had been transformed into a beautiful
hotel. I hear it’s fully booked year-round.” She
didn’t try to keep the pride out of her voice.
He nodded. “What about you?”
“Yes, tell me about you.”
“I’m a graduate of MIT, top of my class.
Growing up, I lived in a dozen countries around the
world and developed a fascination with ancient
structures. I’ve studied them in and out. That’s why
I’m the expert at our company in this type of
reconstruction and why I’m the best engineer to
complete your project.”
“I like an employee with confidence. I’m going
to give my decision further thought.”
“I appreciate your thoroughness, but please
recognize I can’t wait around for too long. I arrived
ready to start this project right away, and now
you’re implying you aren’t sure. Please understand
if you decide to break our contract there will be a
penalty involved along with my expenses to date.”
She stood and pulled her business card from
her trouser pocket. “My cell number. Call me when
you have made a decision. I can find my way out.”
Ian’s brow furrowed as he watched Allison Moore
stride out of his office. She interested him. Her
strength of will and determination intrigued him.
She acted as if she knew her mind. Maybe she did
have the fortitude and talent to get the repair done.
For all these strengths, her petite size
captivated him. His hands had completely circled
her waist when he had lifted her. Her tininess
contradicted the type of work she supervised. Her
red hair held by a band on the top of her head, gave
her a fresh young appearance that belied her
responsibility. Her heart-shaped face held vivid
emerald eyes that could snap. He’d experienced
that first hand.
Not at all what he’d expected in a construction
The charcoal gray pin-striped suit she wore
with a white scooped-neck shirt hadn’t detracted
from her femininity. If anything, it enhanced her
figure. The work boots broke the business effect.
She must have changed into them to climb around
on the tower. That, at least, showed common sense
on her part.
Women in the trades didn’t normally earn this
much thought from him. Maybe it was her
expressive eyes? Or the way she had stood up to
him? Few outside his family dared that privilege.
She’d accused him of being chauvinistic. He’d
not intended to come off that way. She’d surprised
him. Normally he kept his thoughts to himself, but
this time he’d blurted them out.
Spending his time thinking about Ms. Moore
was counterproductive. Concentrating on the west
tower repair should be his focus. He would discuss
Ms. Moore with Roger tomorrow and settle the
Roger had taken over the position of the
Midland’s estate manager after his father had died,
ten years ago. A bachelor, Roger lived in a cottage
on the estate and could keep an eye on the
reconstruction. Roger loved the castle as well. He
was as much family as employee.
Ian lips formed a rueful smile. Was Allison
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Moore really the right man for the job? He huffed.
The right person, he corrected himself. She
definitely wasn’t a man.
Shrugging out of his jacket, he tossed it over a
chair, loosened his tie, and unbuttoned the top
button of his shirt. His cell phone rang, and he
“Hello, big brother. How’re you doing?”
“I’m fine. It’s nice to hear from you. How are
“They’re well. Soon out of school for the
summer. I wondered if we could spend the break at
It didn’t surprise him she wanted to come for
the break. Up until his father and brother had died,
they had spent most of their holidays and summers
at the estate. Their family’s getaway. Even with the
sense of history and heritage, an escape to the
country, wandering fields and horses and sheep and
more. As kids, they’d delighted in their trips to the
castle. “I don’t see why not. Be aware, though, that
I’m having the western tower fixed.”
“The one that’s falling down? Why now?”
“Six hundred years takes its toll. It’s past time I
put it to rights. Father always said the castle’s our
heritage, and that makes it my job to keep it in good
“And the ever-loyal lord’s taking care of it.
Dotting each i and crossing every t. You know, Ian,
that when the lordship fell to you, it didn’t mean
you had to become as old and stuffy as the title.”
Someone had to take Hartley Shipping in hand
after their father and older brother’s tragic
accident. Otherwise, he, his mother, and his sister
wouldn’t have had a roof over their heads or the
family home. “I could always find you a place where
you might help out. Make the business less stuffy.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. The kids are enough
for me to handle. John certainly isn’t going to do
Ian rolled his shoulders. He stopped himself
from saying what he really wanted to concerning
Clarissa’s ex-husband. Ian hadn’t thought much of
John before Clarissa married him, and John had
proved him right. Ian had done what he could to
stop the marriage, wanting his sister to think things
through. Then Clarissa eloped, and that was that.
“Have you spoken to Mother lately? She isn’t
returning my calls.”
“I talked to her a few days ago. She’s off with
some man she met while on the Riviera. When she
calls, I’ll tell her to phone you.”
Great. More money wasted in his mother’s
search for happiness. He had failed his father and
the family name the most where his mother was
concerned. Ian walked to the window and stood
with his feet apart, a hand crammed into his pocket.
He gazed out over the lush lawn covered in a misty
rain without really seeing it. “Thanks. I worry about
“You worry about us all.” Clarissa paused. “We
give you a hard time, but we do love you.”
Ian’s heart lightened. “And I love you too. It’ll
be good to see you and the kids. Maybe the west
tower will be completed by then.”
“Great. I’ll be in touch before we come. Bye.”
Ian dropped his phone into his pocket. Now he
had another reason to finish the tower. A nice
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surprise for Clarissa and the children for them to
have a new suite of rooms to stay in. If he wanted
that to happen, someone needed to start the job
right away. Ms. Moore?
Right now, he needed a pint and time away
from his concerns. Leaving the office, he climbed
the stairs two at a time to his bedroom to change
clothes. Returning downstairs, he found Mrs.
White, the castle housekeeper and cook. “I’m going
out. Please hold my dinner.”
Allison glanced around the dark pub of the Horse
and Hound Inn in Hartshire after placing her order
at the bar. She chose a table in the corner where she
wouldn’t be disturbed. From her vantage point, she
watched people as they came in for a meal, and the
men—all men for some reason—who trickled in to
have a drink.
A few minutes earlier, she’d left the castle out
of sorts confused by Lord Hartley’s attitude. From
the estate manager, she’d understood she had the
job. Now the lord acted as if she didn’t. This
runaround was unacceptable. If he didn’t come to a
decision tomorrow, she would cut her losses and
leave. She hated to do that. Quitting wasn’t in her
DNA. When she made up her mind to do
something, she saw it through.
She studied the construction of the pub as she
waited on her food. The inn had been built in the
Tudor style of half-timbers, with low ceilings and
dark support beams. She loved that type of work.
Her room upstairs, despite being small, was
adequate and homey. Inns like this one made the
constant travel more bearable, even pleasant, since
she visited England often on assignments. Having a
pub attached to the inn also offered a convenient
place for a meal. The atmosphere only added to the
charm of the place.
A girl served Allison’s beef pie as the door from
the outside opened. A man ducked his head. Lord
Allison’s blood ran faster. She hadn’t expected
Two men at the bar called “Ian, cheers,”
holding their tankards up in greeting. The
bartender placed a mug on the counter for Ian.
She liked his name. It suited him. Country earl
“Hello, mates,” he responded in his deep,
The lord looked different dressed in a cable
sweater, tan twill pants, and jacket with a leather
collar and patches on the elbows. Somehow more
approachable. His hair had fallen over his brow and
he pushed fingers through the unruly mane,
mussing it more.
Giving the men at the bar a broad smile, Ian
joined them. He carried himself with a lord-of-themanor
attitude. It wasn’t so much that he acted
above the others but that he stood out regardless,
drawing attention. He certainly had hers.
Shaking off that idea, Allison made a point of
focusing on her meal. Enough sparring between the
two of them today.
“The next round’s on me, lads,” Lord Hartley
Allison quivered. The deep, rich accent grabbed
her, drew her to the man with a beautiful voice.
Give them an English accent, and she was a goner.
Already Lord Hartley’s warm timber had been
Cornerstone of Love/21
embedded in her memory. She wouldn’t be
surprised if she heard it in her dreams.
After reading the local tabloids, she’d learned
she wasn’t the only one who liked his voice. The
magazines often featured Ian Hartley with a tall,
willowy model or a date from the British aristocracy
and always attending the latest social event of the
Just as often, an article in the business pages
described how he’d orchestrated another business
merger. A young earl at thirty-six, he carried all the
history and peerage that went with the title, along
with heading a very successful international
shipping business. Allison couldn’t help but be
impressed. Even if she wasn’t sure about working
for him. Their first meeting had confirmed his
autocratic style and the articles established his
demanding work ethics.
During her meal, Allison's gaze kept drifting to
the bar. Ian and the others enjoyed themselves,
telling stories, and laughing.
“You remember when we were boys, and Ian
bet us that he could walk across the river and never
get his clothes wet?”
A roar of laughter filled the room.
Her interest pricked; Allison listened closely.
Another man took up the tale. “Aye, and he did
it, too. Until we realized that a log rested below the
surface. We pushed him in. He was all wet for sure
then.” Boisterous whoops bounced off the ceiling
Lord Hartley joined in. “I had you, I did. Until
Mr. Forman walked across right behind me.”
From where she sat, she noticed his sly smile.
He had charisma; she’d give him that. And a nice
laugh. Deep and raspy and whiskey smooth. She
grinned to think of the stuffed-shirt of a man she’d
dealt with that afternoon once a mischievous boy.
What had happened in his life to make him so
serious? Or had he covered his humor well when
dealing with her? She took her final bite when he
turned. Their gazes locked.
Ian placed his drink on the counter. With
cheetah-like grace, he raised himself off the stool
and started toward her. One corner of his mouth
turned up. He had a hand stuffed into one pants
pocket looking all virile male. Allison deliberately
stared at her fork as she placed it on her plate.
Bring her hand to her throat, she began running the
charm on her necklace back and forth.
Another man almost as good-looking as the
earl, who had been driven to make his place in the
world, had hurt her. She wouldn’t let that happen
again. The next man she agreed to have a
relationship with would need to care about her
more than how he appeared to others.
“Why, Ms. Moore, are you enjoying our local
food? Nancy’s is one of the finest cooks around.”
Allison tipped her head to meet his eyes. “Yes.”
Two of the men from the bar sauntered up
“I hope we haven’t disturbed your meal.” The
earl’s intense gaze didn’t leave her.
“Lord Hartley,” she said with emphasis. She
stood; the wooden chair made a scraping noise.
“No, you didn’t. An excellent meal. Now, if you’ll
excuse me.” She stepped around him.
A roar of laughter sprouted from his friends as
they slapped him on the shoulder. One crowed, “So,
Ian, are you losing your touch with the birds?”
Cornerstone of Love/23
They whooped with merriment again.
Allison stopped and focused on Ian’s friends.
“I’m not one of his women. I’m an engineer here to
oversee the repair of the castle tower.”
“Are you now?” the older of the two men said,
glancing at Ian.
Ian shrugged. “She is.”
“It’s been a long day. So, I’ll say goodnight.”
Crossing the pub, Allison climbed the stairs,
pausing to peek over her shoulder. Lord Hartley
watched her. A sizzling shiver slid along her spine.