A Duke by Default (Reluctant Royals #2)

A Duke by Default (Reluctant Royals #2)

Alyssa Cole

Chapter 1

Project: New Portia was off to a fantastic start.

The Portia Hobbs of old had been no stranger to waiting for cabs at the asscrack of dawn, bleary-eyed and disheveled, but she’d generally been hungover and making a hasty exit from her fuckboy of the night’s bed.

New Portia was stone-cold sober, as she had been for months, and halfway around the world from her usual New York City stomping grounds. It was cold and rainy outside of Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, her new boss had almost certainly forgotten to pick her up, as planned, and—yup, there was a dude peeing less than five feet away from her.

I could’ve stayed in New York for this, Portia thought irritably.

She pulled her rain-frizzed hair back out of her face, slipping the hair tie on her wrist over the mass of tight rust-gold curls to secure them, and then smiled and snapped an obligatory selfie to capture her arrival in Scotland.

She’d appreciated the beautiful ticketing room of the recently restored station after stepping off of the red-eye train from London—her master’s in art history and string of museum internships hadn’t just been a way of putting off responsibility, despite what her family thought. But outside of the ticketing room and at this early hour, Waverley was just a creepy, unfamiliar train station like any other. It was nestled in a valley, and the silhouettes of medieval structures and Edinburgh’s natural terrain loomed up around her, adding to the doom and gloom. The city felt old, like it emanated a sense of history impossible to find in even in the oldest parts of Manhattan.

She shifted the straps of the Birkin travel bag that were digging into her shoulder and glanced irritably at her phone, switching from the camera to the SuperLift app. A car driven by someone named Kevyn was supposedly a minute away, but she’d watched the car circle Edinburgh station and the countdown clock reset four times in the last ten minutes, so she didn’t get her hopes up. Her boss standing her up had already set a bad tone for the three months of apprenticeship that awaited her.

Of course, it isn’t going to work out. There’s this little thing called “a pattern,” and this is how yours always plays out.

Portia hummed under her breath, as if that could drown out the annoying voice inside of her head, the one that reminded her that fucking up was the one thing she could do consistently and well.

It wasn’t her fault that her boss had stood her up. Maybe he had overslept, or something catastrophic had occurred, like the armory had burned down or he’d spontaneously combusted?

Or maybe it was her fault. What if she’d gotten the date wrong, or misunderstood something, or forgot to submit an important form? Had she even really been chosen for this apprenticeship? She might show up and be turned away at the door. She would have to return home and everyone would look at her with pity because Portia had made a fool of herself again.

Portia sucked in a deep breath and tried to pull the brakes on her rapidly escalating catastrophic thoughts. She was imagining trouble where there probably was none and besides, New Portia didn’t make those kinds of mistakes. Well, not as much as Old Portia had, at least. Her calendar was checked faithfully, most mornings, and her to-do list had alarms set and reminders for her reminders to keep her on track. She’d made sure she had everything about her arrival in Scotland planned out perfectly, but that didn’t stop the anxiety tightening in her chest like a fist.

“Hey, Oracle. Call Bodotria Armory, please.” The peculiar buzzing ring tone that had taunted her since she’d set foot in Scotland sounded through her earpiece.

She hadn’t found much info on her new boss when she’d performed her obligatory internet dirt search: a low-resolution picture on the armory’s atrocious website in which he was dressed like a cosplayer at a medieval fantasy con. A video of him in some type of armor that covered his face, showing the proper technique for wielding a broadsword.

“Hello. You’ve reached the voice mailbox of Tavish McKenzie, master-at-arms and proprietor of Bodotria Armory. Please leave a message.”

The voice was Scottish. Like, really fucking Scottish—deep, with a strong burr that would have had Old Portia frantically clicking on the “Yes, I would like to subscribe to your sexy accented newsletter” button. New Portia pulled the hand brake on that cart before she started barreling toward the Bad Ydeas Towne section of the renaissance fair.

Men were not a part of Project: New Portia, most especially not Tavish McKenzie, who was her boss and who also seemed to have forgotten her existence before she’d even arrived. She was done with fuckboys, and fuckbosses for that matter, no matter how sexy their accents were.

She sighed and busied herself with posting her selfie to her InstaPhoto account while she waited for Kevyn.

Yes, that is a man peeing in the background. #GoodMorningEdinburgh #WTF #IThinkIveMadeATerribleMistake

She deleted the last hashtag before posting the pic. Negativity was too Old Portia. New Portia was resilient, could roll with the punches, and wasn’t thinking about running into the station and away from this frustrating setback.

Her phone vibrated, and she was sure it would be her boss, gravelly-voiced and apologizing for running late, but it was a new message in the International Friend Emporium group of her message app.

Ledi: What the hell is up with that picture? Where are you? Are you okay?

Portia: Um, I just posted. How did you see it so quickly?

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