Colleen knew she’d have trouble with Grant MacQuarrie and his men as soon as she contacted him to tell him what she was tasked to do to earn her inheritance. She truly thought an outside pair of eyes—hers—could help see where improvements could be made in the management of her properties. After she had lived there for a while.
From Grant’s reluctance to speak with her about any of it, she knew she would have difficulties with the old goat. Not that he was that old. Thirty, she thought. But his stubbornness made her think of him in that way.
It wasn’t her idea to live at the castle for all that time. Like Grant and his people, she also had to make the most of it.
As soon as she turned into the winding, private drive that cut through a forest, she felt a shiver of excitement and a hint of trepidation. “Okay, you can do this.”
She kept reminding herself that the castle was her family’s, and Grant was only its manager. Not its owner. She was certain he’d try to intimidate her into not wanting to stay. But she could do anything for a year and a day if it meant keeping the family legacy that she would someday pass on to her own descendants. How many Americans could say they owned a castle in Scotland? Who were also wolves?
She spied a waterway where ducks and swans swam. She smiled. Then frowned. She was glad to see so many trees where she could run safely as a wolf, but she would have to avoid disturbing the birds’ habitat.
Her good friend Julia Wildthorn, now mated to Ian MacNeill, called her on her cell. Colleen stopped the car, thinking that if Julia had anything else to warn her about before she reached the castle, she’d better hear her out.
“Ian and some of his kin should already have arrived at your castle to battle it out with the MacQuarries in an unscheduled fighting match. But my mother-in-law has ensured the rest of the brothers and their kin remain busy. That will keep them away from Farraige Castle, so you’ll have fewer men to deal with if they mean to give you a hard time,” Julia said, a smile in her voice.
Colleen had never met Julia’s mother-in-law, but she already loved her.
“Ian wouldn’t let me come this time—though that would have been a hoot when they realized we are best friends,” Julia said, chuckling.
Colleen smiled. “I’m almost there, I think. I just reached the canal-like pond where the swans are swimming.”
“Okay, just a couple more turns, and you’ll be there. I can’t wait to hear how they react when you arrive. Keep me posted when you can,” Julia said, sounding excited about the prospect.
Colleen suspected Julia would use her story in a future werewolf romance she would write.
“I will. I suspect Grant and the others had the notion that a little rough swordplay would scare me off.” So Colleen had come prepared.
“Oh, yeah, typical macho-male ploy. Love ya, Colleen. Don’t let them give you any guff.”
“I won’t.” Colleen had every intention of having a little fun with this. “Talk later.”
She opened the car windows before she drove around the last two bends in the road so that she could listen for the sound of fighting. She heard none.
When she saw the great gray wall and the four corner towers, she held her breath in awe at the sight. Her castle. It was beautiful. Then she saw movement on top of the wall walk and heard a man shout down that a car was coming, warning of her impending arrival.
She wanted to laugh.
Even so, her heartbeat accelerated. She was certain they were getting ready for her. She had two male cousins who had always teased her growing up, and she was used to dealing with them. She would have no problem dishing it out where Grant and the others were concerned. Except her cousins were betas. Grant was human, but he was still all alpha, from what her father had said.
She didn’t know all that they had planned and she didn’t know them, so she was somewhat apprehensive, though she hated to admit it.
She drove into the inner bailey and saw the sight she had tried to envision on the way here. But nothing had prepared her for this. Hot, hot, hot men in kilts with oiled abs, pecs, and bare legs, and wearing leather boots—some ancient, others more modern. The men were absolutely drool worthy! The only thing she regretted was that she hadn’t been given the opportunity to oil them down.
She even considered stopping some of the sparring men and offering to rub oil on any spots they had missed, just to show they didn’t intimidate her.
She parked and just stared out the window, jaw dropping as she watched the men slashing at each other with humongous swords, the metal clanking and the sound reverberating off the castle walls. She was dumbfounded and enthralled. This was nothing like the movies, or even the Renaissance fairs or Celtic fests she’d attended. The battling men were so close up and real. And so many of them. Maybe thirty?
She took in a deep breath and her heart began skipping beats. She smelled wolves! Not humans. Wolves. Oh… my…God. Her father had lied to her. Why? This changed everything. Butting heads with an alpha human was a lot different from taking on an alpha male wolf. He could smell everything about her that she could about him. She thought she’d have the advantage in dealing with him. Not now.
The hot testosterone poured off the men in waves. And their wolfishly delicious scent was a real turn-on. She doubted anyone could smell her interested scent, considering how much the men exuded.
Focus! She sat for a while just watching from the car as the men mostly ignored her, although a few glanced her way, checking her out. Probably trying to determine if she was quaking in her low heels yet, afraid to leave the car. That worked well for her. Let them believe what they would about her. She’d prove them wrong when she was good and ready.
She wondered which one was Grant, or whether he was even out here fighting with the men. Taking in a deep, admiring breath of all that gorgeous Highland wolf flesh, she dug through her bag and pulled out her camcorder. Armed, she left her car and began videotaping the scene. Once she was back in the States, she’d view this whenever she wanted to enjoy some really hot Highlanders in action.
A few stopped to watch her then, smiling, which surprised her because she assumed their fearless leader had ordered the men to put on the show of a lifetime to discourage her from staying. Smiling at her wouldn’t have the right effect, unless they thought she was a timid beta wolf and their interested smiles were meant to scare her off.
Or maybe her skirt whipping around in the wind had caught their eyes. The gypsy-like floral, silky, partly sheer fabric was a tease, allowing the viewer a glimpse of legs, but the built-in very short underskirt stayed put, hiding all the important parts. Still, they seemed to be waiting to see her skirt fly above her ears. They would be disappointed. Or maybe they thought watching her would cow her. She concentrated on looking for Ian MacNeill, at his wife’s request.
Most of the men were still fighting. From the pictures Julia had shared with her of Ian and Grant, Colleen recognized the MacNeills outfitted in their predominantly blue-and-green kilts. The MacQuarries wore red-and-green plaid.
She continued to shoot the ones who battled it out, while scanning all of the men, looking for Ian. The men worked their gorgeous muscles as they swung their swords, tensing, parrying, and thrusting. Oh my heavens, the sight was dazzling.
Then she caught sight of Ian fighting Grant MacQuarrie. Sure. The pack leader of the MacNeills squaring off with the pack leader of the MacQuarries. She couldn’t get over the notion that her father had lied to her about them being human. What did he think? That once she learned they were wolves, she would hot-trot across the ocean to meet them? And date them, or something? Though if she’d known they looked this hot, she might have.
Colleen smiled slightly. Ian was angled more so that she could see his face, while now Grant’s back was to her. His shoulders were muscled and tanned, his legs the same—well-sculpted and sexy. The breeze ruffled his light brown hair, but she’d only managed to get a glimpse of his face and now she couldn’t see it.
Julia would be thrilled to get this video of her husband helping Grant to play this trick on Colleen. She and Julia had lost contact with each other over the last couple of years, both of their lives having been so hectic. Colleen still couldn’t believe that Julia had mated a Highland wolf, and she intended to see as much of Julia as she could while she lived here.
She noted that a few more men had stopped fighting and were watching her and grinning. She tried to concentrate on the men in combat and couldn’t help smiling herself. Impressive. Oiled to a fare-thee-well, they were trying to look like they’d been sweating for some time, which made their muscles all the more magnificent. She knew the shouted warning of her approach meant the men had just begun their fight when she arrived.
As Ian and Grant lunged and parried, she observed their impressive footwork, too. Every slicing blow sent a hint of unease through her, though, as she worried that the men would accidentally injure each other. She loved the way the wind whipped their kilts about. She caught a gorgeous shot of Grant’s very toned, hot ass. That would teach him to go without any briefs on a windy day! Maybe he thought she would be so shocked to see him naked beneath the kilt that she’d run off.
She just hoped she wouldn’t catch too much of Ian’s exposed body parts as she continued to film the men in action. With a smile, she focused on Grant’s kilt, just in case it lifted again. She’d snap a couple of still shots this time.
A man approached her, but intent on her mission, she didn’t turn to face him. She took in a deep breath to smell his scent, like all wolves would do, sensing whether the other wolf was dangerous or interested. He was interested. He would check her out, too. Just a natural tendency among wolves.
“You, lass, must be Lady Colleen Playfair.”
Her skirt whipped around the Highlander’s bare legs, but he didn’t seem to mind.
She was indeed titled. The barony had passed down from generation to generation, though in America she had never been referred to as a baroness, so she wasn’t used to hearing anyone call her by that title.
“I am.” She wished he’d go away because now she had to divide her concentration between Grant and Ian and the man standing next to her. Even if the men had meant the training as a ruse, the two pack leaders seemed to have something to prove to their respective clans—if not to her.
“That’s my brother, Grant MacQuarrie. And the one he’s fighting is Ian MacNeill,” the Highlander said.
“Nice,” she said, not quite ready to reveal that she knew who the two men were.
“I’m Lachlan, Grant’s younger triplet brother. Glad to make your acquaintance.” His voice hinted at kindliness.
“Thanks. Nice to meet you.” She wondered then if Grant would be the only source of trouble here or if his brother sought to feign friendship, slip under her armor, and work on a way to get rid of her in a different manner. She didn’t trust him.
Arms folded across his muscled chest, Lachlan stood way too close to her.
“Did you get tired of fighting?” she asked with a hint of a smile.
“I’m a lover, not a fighter.”
She wanted to groan out loud at the cliché, but she managed a small smile instead. She imagined he loved to fight as much as any of the other Highlanders in the bailey today.
“You don’t want to film any others sparring?” Lachlan asked, sounding curious.
“I promised Ian’s wife, Julia, that I would film Ian if I could and email the recording to her later.”
Lachlan drew in an audible breath, and she couldn’t tell whether he was amused or worried. “You know Ian’s wife?”
She loved his reaction but hesitated to tell him the truth, still not sure if she should let the proverbial cat out of the bag…yet. Then she decided she would so she could see what happened when he told his brother Grant. “Yep. Good friends for years. I never expected her to end up living in Scotland, mated to Ian like that. When she learned I was coming here, she immediately contacted me. We intend to get together as soon as we can.”
“You know Julia MacNeill,” Lachlan said under his breath as if the truth was sinking in.
Did she ever. Girls’ all-night slumber parties—and she was game to have one with Julia and her new sisters-in-law and mother-in-law as soon as she could—cooking parties where they baked only the most decadent chocolate concoctions, movie night… You name it, they had a night for it. She fought the urge to laugh evilly.
“Did Julia happen to tell you her husband was coming here to spar with Grant and my kin today?”
Lachlan burst out laughing. She smiled then. She couldn’t help herself. No way could Grant pull the black-faced Highland sheep’s wool over her wolf eyes.
Another man lowered his sword and glanced at Colleen and Lachlan. He motioned to his opponent that he was done, bowing his head slightly, and moved in Colleen’s direction. “I’m Enrick MacQuarrie, Grant’s middle brother, and you must be…?”
“Colleen,” she said, annoyed at the pretense, as if he wasn’t sure who she was. She was certain they didn’t let just anyone onto the castle grounds. “I’m enjoying the fighting. What a delightful…” She caught her breath as the wind swept Grant’s kilt upward again and she got another toned-butt view. Snap, snap. She took some hot shots that time. Omigod, if only she had such a gorgeous gluteus maximus. “Beautiful…show,” she finished. She was certain she wasn’t playing the game the way they had intended.
“She’s good friends with Julia MacNeill, Ian’s wife,” Lachlan said, as if Enrick wouldn’t know who he was talking about.
“Julia MacNeill,” Enrick said.
She wanted to laugh, but she managed to keep her mirth under control. The brothers’ surprise at learning of her connection to Julia was just too rich.
“Julia knew about the sparring,” Enrick continued, not asking a question.
“Aye,” Lachlan said.
“She told you?” Enrick asked Colleen, still sounding surprised that no one had fooled her. Maybe they even wondered what else she might be aware of.
Like…they planned to put her in the White Room. She didn’t know what that was all about—nor did Julia, because even Ian didn’t know—but Colleen suspected some murderous ghost lived there. Julia had told her about Ian’s ghostly cousin, Flynn, and how he caused mischief for some of the lasses at Argent Castle.
So what kind of a ghost lived in the White Room? A scary one to help change her mind about staying, she assumed. It wouldn’t work on her. She didn’t believe in ghosts.
“Yes. We’re the best of friends,” Colleen said.
If she demanded that Grant give her another room, she suspected he would tell her no others were available. If they thought she was a pushover, they had another thing coming.