Enrick didn’t laugh like Lachlan had done when Colleen mentioned she knew Julia. He seemed a lot more serious as he watched Grant and Ian slow down, looking as though they were beginning to grow weary. She wondered how long they’d continue with the ruse. She was tired of filming them, but she would keep shooting them as long as they continued to fight.
Many of the men had quit sparring and now watched the two pack leaders in their bid for dominance.
She loved it. In her world, men just didn’t do that. Maybe a couple of men battled it out in a show at clan gatherings or Renaissance fairs. But not gathered about in an ancient castle’s bailey, or with everyone wearing kilts, bare chested, and beautifully greased down—and with all of them also part of a wolf pack. She noticed then that no women were about. None watching. Not even from the ramparts and out of harm’s way. Was this usual? Or did Grant think having only braw males in attendance would intimidate her further?
His plan wouldn’t succeed. She loved observing them in battle. She wished Julia could be here, too. She knew her friend would take copious notes to use in writing her Highland werewolf romances.
Finally, Ian conceded. “We could fight all day, you and I, Grant MacQuarrie, my good friend. But I’m famished.”
“Aye, to the feast.” Grant glanced in Colleen’s direction as if he finally had time to acknowledge her as she stood there with her camcorder in hand. He also noticed his brothers standing on either side of her. His brows rose marginally to see them there. Although he was in charge, his brothers seemed to have other notions.
She finally turned off the camcorder, right after she got a nice smile from Ian and an equally captivating scowl from Grant, directed at his brothers. She was enjoying the brothers’ reactions.
Grant’s gold-flecked brown eyes squarely held her gaze. His wolfish expression was stern, typical of a pack leader, his light brown hair caught by the breeze.
Grant stalked toward her, joined by some other men who wore the same plaid, while Ian watched from a distance.
All pack leaders inherently had the wolf’s stare down to perfection—judging a newcomer’s threat and whether the new arrival was a beta or, even worse, an omega. He wouldn’t intimidate her as much as he might like as she met his gaze with a smile. She didn’t have any delusions that a smile would win him over. But she hoped she might befriend some of the betas in his pack. She counted on it.
“You must be Lady Colleen Playfair. We were in sparring practice—” Grant said, sounding very much in charge and as though he couldn’t be bothered rearranging his schedule to accommodate her arrival.
“She knows Ian’s wife,” Enrick said, cutting his brother’s comment short.
Grant looked from Enrick to Colleen, his expression surprised as his brows rose in questioning and his jaw dropped a little. She was having way too much fun, and it killed her to have to stifle a laugh.
He glanced at the camcorder in her hands and said, “You don’t plan to share that with the world, do you?”
She suspected his sudden change of subject had to do with being unsettled to learn that she’d known about all this beforehand. He sounded more like he was telling her than asking her. Of course, she wouldn’t share the video with the world. She’d need the men’s approval, and she was certain this wolf wouldn’t give it.
“Oh, I’d love to. I’m sure it will remain mostly mine for private viewing. But Julia”—Colleen waved at Ian—“wanted me to send her a copy of it. She’s a romance writer, you know. The video will be great for visuals to use in writing scenes for her next story.” And Colleen would most likely send her girlfriends back home some of the special shots of Grant.
Though she wouldn’t say whose hot buns they were, in case her girlfriends shared them with social media outlets. And she would only send shots of that special part of his anatomy so no one could actually identify him. What were girlfriends for, after all?
Ian then joined them and Grant said, “Lady Colleen Playfair, meet Ian MacNeill.”
Before he could finish formal introductions, she smiled brightly at Ian. “I’m one of Julia’s best friends. She has told me so much about you. You’re the hero in nearly all her books.” She shook Ian’s hand.
“Nearly all?” he asked, a glint of humor in his dark brown eyes, his mouth curving upward.
“Sure. Before you came into her life, she had to make up fantasy heroes,” Colleen said very seriously. She’d read some of Julia’s recent releases, and she could see a real difference in the look of her heroes.
“She…never mentioned you,” Ian said, sliding a half-guilty, half-amused look at Grant.
“Ah, why would she talk about me? I’m sure that once she arrived here, you occupied all of her thoughts,” Colleen said breezily.
“This way,” Grant said, motioning to her and Ian to join him in the keep. He did not look very happy.
Ian smiled at her as he displaced Enrick, while Grant took his brother Lachlan’s place beside her. Ian shot Grant a look that said whatever Grant had planned wouldn’t work on Colleen. He nodded in sympathy, as though he had faced the same issue with his wife as Grant now had to deal with—a headstrong American she-wolf.
Knowing Julia, Colleen could just imagine. She wondered what Grant had planned for her next. The feast, yes. Haggis? Blood pudding? She had acquired a taste for them already, preparing for her stay here. So he wouldn’t make any headway with getting rid of her in that way.
She was famished.
Grant couldn’t believe the she-wolf had known about the mock fight before she arrived. What else did she already know about? What else had Ian shared with his pretty wife that she, in turn, had shared with Colleen?
The White Room. Grant had mentioned that to Ian earlier in the week. Though no one but Grant’s people knew the significance of the chamber. He was glad he had not revealed more to Ian. But before today, Grant hadn’t told Ian about the feast they had planned.
Colleen’s dark brown hair curled over her shoulders, some of it whipping in his direction and tickling his shoulder, while her silky, sheer skirt slapped at his bare legs. He would have moved out of the fabric’s path, but he stayed in close proximity in an attempt to intimidate her. His skin was oily and sweaty, and he didn’t believe any prim and proper young woman would want to share the same space with him. She, on the other hand, smelled of a soft floral fragrance—jasmine, he thought—and all she-wolf. He had a devil of a time not breathing in her scent in a much-too-interested fashion. He just hoped she hadn’t noticed.
The lass had not looked the least bit intimidated. He couldn’t believe his brothers had been standing on either side of her like bookends. Maybe they had made her feel safe from all the men’s fighting, but they should have left her alone. He would have to learn what else they had discovered about her.
Then again, she’d seemed so intent on capturing the action on her camcorder that maybe she wouldn’t have felt unsettled if his brothers weren’t guarding her. He couldn’t believe she’d captured him and Ian fighting on video. To share with Ian’s wife!
As much as he hated to admit it, Grant wondered if his brothers might be right about the difficulty of this task he’d taken on.
She held her chin high and worked hard to keep up with his and Ian’s quick, long-legged stride. He couldn’t help but witness her pert breasts bouncing in the clingy top she wore. He attempted to keep his eyes averted, straight ahead on his target—the keep, the great hall, and the feast that was sure to shock her.
His damnable gaze shifted twice to take in the appearance of her nipples pressed against the fabric, as if he had no control. If that wasn’t enough to catch his attention, her skirt was semi-sheer, allowing the viewer glimpses of her naked legs from about thigh high to her heeled shoes.
He tried his damnedest not to show any interest, though his wolfish side was ruling his human half at the moment. He needed to concentrate on his goal: running the Playfair properties without interference from the lass. For a year and a day! Two weeks, he could handle. A month, maybe. But a year?
He shook his head, saw that his brothers had already entered the keep, and hoped they ensured that everything for the meal would be just as he had ordered.
As soon as they entered the keep, he heard the sound of his dogs racing to greet them, their toenails scrabbling over the stone floor, out of sight, but they would be here momentarily. Did Colleen like dogs? They sounded like horses stampeding.
Grant smiled, ready for the next phase of his plan to work.
Before Colleen and Grant and the others reached the dining room, three monster dogs that looked as big as horses sprinted toward her. She thought they would attack. They did—in a wet, slobbery, loving way. Thank God, she loved animals. All kinds and shapes and sizes. Though she wasn’t ready for the assault of the giant, woman-licking hounds that dwarfed her and would be taller than their master when standing on two legs. They were Irish wolfhounds, with big, doe-like brown eyes; huge, wet, warm tongues; and bristly chin whiskers that made them look like little old men. They were adorable, but they needed some obedience training. And she knew just how to go about it.
She’d need some treats. And a clickable pen.
She wanted to scowl at Grant, who didn’t make a move to quiet the dogs as they nipped at her in playful exuberance and jumped all over her. If they ripped her skirt, she would take it out of Grant’s salary.
His men watched, smiled, chuckled, and waited to see her reaction when she couldn’t take one footstep toward what she suspected was the great hall. She greeted the dogs, attempting to calm them and showing she wasn’t scared of them. Frustratingly, she couldn’t hide from the men that she felt a bit overwhelmed. If she couldn’t show the wolfhounds she was in charge, she wouldn’t be able to establish to anyone that she was the owner of this castle.
She had to remind herself that these things took time, and she couldn’t expect to change things overnight.
The dogs finally “escorted” her to the great hall, as if the wondrous aroma of roasted pig was too much for them to withstand. They didn’t forget her. They kept returning to her, or looking back to make sure she still followed them. Which she thought was cute of them.
She belatedly realized that the men taking her to the feast were half-naked. She almost smiled. All these men seated at the tables, bare chested, some as hairy as the hounds, would make it appear that she was at a nudist-colony feast. As long as she didn’t have to be nude, she didn’t care.
And Grant? He might think to intimidate her with his nakedness and his sweatiness, but hey, she was a wolf, and he smelled divine to her—all that hot, yummy testosterone rolling off him in delectable waves. She took another deep breath of him, while she attempted not to let him know how much he interested her. She admired him strictly as an art form—like Michelangelo’s sculpture of David in a kilt, rather than totally in the raw. Though she couldn’t help wondering how Grant would look standing on a pedestal like that, totally in the raw. She smiled a little to herself.
When she finally managed to reach the great hall, where rough-hewn boards were set up as trestle tables with benches next to them, she thought she’d landed in the medieval period. Julia must not have known about this or she would have warned her. Colleen was dying to say how quaint it was for them to live in the past. But she bit her tongue. She didn’t want Grant to think he’d gotten her goat, as her father used to say.
At least the tables were situated like a comb, the spine serving as the head table, and she wouldn’t see beneath the lower tables and witness how well-endowed—or not—the men were in their kilts, in case they hoped to shock her.
She thought of pulling out her camcorder and taking a picture of the medieval setup for Julia to use in her writing, but then Colleen saw the main course. She hadn’t expected to observe a whole roasted pig sitting on the serving table displayed right in front of the head table. She had the sneaking suspicion she would be sitting fairly close to it with a bird’s-eye view of the beast.
Sure, she had eaten a roasted pig, apple in its mouth and all, in Hawaii at a luau, though when they served the meat, she didn’t see them carving it from the poor pig. And she’d been a long way from the table where the pig was. The night had been upon them, torches wavering in the oceanic breeze, and the pig not even visible.
Everyone observed her, waiting to see her reaction. She had to put on a great show, though this would be tougher than she’d thought.
“Over here,” Grant said, guiding her to the head table, and yes, he sat her right in front of said pig. The only good thing was that she was seated smack dab in the center of it, not at the tail end or where she had to look at its snout.
Then she noted she had a huge portion of blood pudding and haggis sitting in the middle of her…trencher? A piece of brown bread was being used for a plate as in early medieval times. Come on. They couldn’t be living that far in the past. Where were the plates? The silverware? She was dying of thirst and was looking forward to drinking a cold glass of water. She hoped Grant wouldn’t serve honeyed mead or ale on top of everything else.
A servant carved slices of pig for Grant and her.
“We bring our own knives,” Grant said as if he could read her mind and handed her his sharp-looking knife. “Sgian dubh,” he said. Then he took another knife, stabbed his slice of pork with it, and began to eat off it like a barbarian!
No forks. No spoons. No napkins. No plates. And no glasses of water.
Tankards of… She sniffed at her drink. Whisky. Great. She didn’t drink anything harder than sweet, syrupy, fluffy drinks like margaritas, daiquiris, and on occasion, a minty green grasshopper. And no straight-up alcohol.
She’d never get through a meal if she had to drink from a huge tankard of whisky, especially with as many hours as had passed since she’d last eaten and the jet lag she was suddenly feeling. She’d be under the table in a flash.
Grant almost felt sorry for the lass when he saw her eyeing the pig. Colleen put on a face that said it didn’t bother her, but her scent told him a different story. Yet he couldn’t back down now. He hadn’t expected her to be so…accepting of him and his attempts at unsettling her. She really was remarkable in the way she had handled the fighting, him, the dogs, and now the pig. He couldn’t help but admire her for it.
His people watched him as much as they did her, judging for themselves if he could go through with this. As their leader, he had to lead by example. Yet, he was already feeling somewhat guilty. When did he get to be so indulgent?
To her credit, she’d eaten some of the blood pudding and haggis. Not even he could eat as much as was piled on her trencher. Had he told the staff to use trenchers of bread? He hadn’t recalled going that far.
One of his clansmen, serving as bard, told bawdy jokes that would shock any woman to the core. Colleen smiled and laughed with the rest of them, not acting as though any of it disconcerted her.
She’d enjoyed the pork, pretending that the sight of the dwindling pig didn’t bother her. But the whisky seemed to give her pause. If she thought she’d come to tell him how to do his job, then she should be able to hold her whisky, just like anyone who had been in charge in the past. Even her grandmother, Neda.
He motioned for the carcass to be taken away. Men carried it off, and the dogs ran after them, interested in the scraps they dropped on the stone floor as they headed for the kitchen.
“You don’t like our whisky?” Grant asked, sounding as though she was insulting him by not drinking it.
She’d taken a small sip and then tried hard not to choke on it. Her eyes flushed with tears, and her cheeks grew red. He wanted to slap her on the back, treating her like one of the warriors, and say, “Well done.” But he kept his hands and his words to himself.
“It’s good,” she said, her voice a little rough.
“Do you not drink it at home? Any Scotsman worth his salt drinks whisky. Or…” He gave a dramatic pause. “Do you drink it with water? No good Scotsman dilutes his whisky in such a manner.” He had figured she wouldn’t be able to drink any of it.
It was the smoothest brand they had, so he would rather not waste it on the woman if she couldn’t manage it. He just wanted her to admit that she was not a true Scotswoman and, though she owned the castle, she would never be one of them.
She kept sipping it, taking a lengthy break, then clearing her throat and trying again. He had to admire her for keeping up the pretense. Then he frowned at her. He didn’t want her to feel bullied into drinking the whisky and become sick over it. She was supposed to acknowledge he was right and leave well enough alone. What if she never drank any liquor and had a fatal overdose? That wouldn’t do.
“Bring the lass a tankard of water,” he ordered one of his men, not wanting to sound desperate, but he must have because all of a sudden every eye was on him and the lass.
“Are you all right?” Ian asked Colleen.
Grant noticed then that she was no longer sitting up tall and straight. In fact, she listed to the side. His side.
Without warning, she fell over and planted her head in his lap. No one said a word, wisely, as all eyes remained on him, waiting to see how he would handle the matter.
He hadn’t expected her to pass out. Why couldn’t she have just admitted she couldn’t handle the liquor and given up the deception that she could?
He sat there for the longest time—at least it seemed that way to him—as he tried to decide what to do next. Her head was resting on his groin, which had a mind of its own as it began to react to the woman’s touch.
Trying to get his mind on how to rectify the matter, he realized someone would have to stay with the lass to ensure she didn’t become ill in the middle of the night. Yet, he’d sent all of the women away.
He should have had one of his men carry her to her room, but he couldn’t. Not without worrying about her health. She was Grant’s responsibility. As much as he hated to do so, he would have to make a minor change in chamber assignments. Just for tonight, though, and he wasn’t about to share this with his people.
“Ian, thanks for coming and helping us out,” Grant said, not moving the lass from his lap, wishing to say his good nights before he left the great hall and unable to think of much else but her head resting against his groin.
Ian smiled at him knowingly. “We enjoyed the sparring immensely. But next time, Julia will insist on coming to take notes.”
“She will have a video of the action,” Grant said, not altogether pleased that Colleen had recorded them, or that the two women had known what the men were up to and kept them in the dark. “We will have to get together again soon.”
“Aye, I look forward to it.”
“Tell your brothers and your cousins we missed them, and that we enjoyed it immensely.”
“I will do that.”
Grant rose from his seat and lifted the lass in his arms. “Good night, men. Thanks for the grand sparring practice everyone participated in.”
Several raised their tankards to him, some saying, “Aye” or “Hear, hear.” Many looked like they were fighting laughter as they smiled at him. And the lass.
When Grant left the great hall, he heard Enrick’s quick footfall approach.
“Is she going to be all right?”
“Just passed out. But I need to be sure she won’t become sick later.” Grant bypassed the floor that led to the White Room.
“You’re putting her in a different room?” Enrick asked, following Grant as he maneuvered up the narrow, winding stairs to the next floor and headed for the lady’s chamber adjoining the laird’s.
He had not needed his brother’s assistance in this matter, nor his questioning of Grant’s actions. “Enrick,” Grant said in an altogether irritated fashion, “why are you not below stairs visiting with our guests until they leave?”
“You need my aid.” Enrick opened the door to the lady’s chamber for Grant.
“I could have managed.”
“You know what happened when Ian placed Julia in the chamber adjoining his?”
“They ended up mating.” That was not happening between Grant and the lass. “This is only for tonight. If she becomes ill, I want to know right away.”
“I don’t think she is used to drinking whisky,” Enrick said, stating the obvious.
“Aye,” Grant said as Enrick pulled the covers aside so Grant could lay her on the lady’s bed. He slipped off her shoes and laid them on the floor next to the bed. He pulled the covers over her, and for a moment, he and his brother watched Colleen as she slept, her dark brown curls covering the white pillow, her face angelic in sleep. “I had assumed she would tell me and not attempt to drink it.”
“She tried to prove that she could take anything you threw at her. Remarkable, really. I had not thought she would be that determined,” Enrick said.
Lachlan entered the room. “I thought she would sleep in the White Room.”
Grant wouldn’t continue to explain his actions to the whole bloody pack. “Watch the lass for a moment, Lachlan.” He walked into his own chamber and sighed, wanting to take a shower and clean off the oil still covering his torso.
“Maybe we’re going about this all wrong,” Enrick said, following Grant into his chambers.
Grant was reminded of one of their wolfhounds. He hadn’t remembered his brother being such a shadow. “How so?”
“If she loses her inheritance, we could have more trouble if one of her male cousins inherits the castle instead. Wouldn’t a male wolf be even more difficult, demanding, and insistent than a female? Like her father was?”
Grant gave Enrick a look that asked if he was serious.
Enrick shrugged. “If one of her cousins demands we make significant changes, we’ll have to. But the lass is…well, a lass. And with all your charismatic ways with a woman, I would think you could, well…charm her into seeing your point of view on running the estates.”
“Nay,” Grant said. He would not pretend interest in the woman. He was never deceitful about a thing like that. “Besides, from what I gathered from speaking to her solicitor, she is very much an alpha. Her cousins are betas. If one were to inherit, he would be easy to manipulate.”
“I still don’t understand why you chose to put her in a chamber adjoining yours and not the White Room,” Enrick said.
“This is the only chamber that has an attached room not currently being painted, and since we sent the women of our pack away for the next two weeks, I couldn’t just have another female stay with her.”
Enrick smiled a little.
Grant shook his head. “I’m going to shower. Either you or Lachlan watch her for me in the meantime, will you?”
“As you wish.”
Enrick joined Lachlan in the lady’s chamber, and Grant started a warm shower. Thinking of the way the lass’s skirt caressed his bare legs and how her nipples pressed against her blouse, he instantly became aroused. He had just lathered up, glad to get the oil and sweat off his skin, when someone flushed the toilet.
Immediately, his warm water turned to hot and nearly scalded him. “What the devil…”
He pulled open the steamed-up glass door and looked from Enrick to Colleen.
“Closest bathroom,” Enrick said as Colleen tossed her dinner into the ceramic bowl.
“Bloody hell,” Grant said under his breath and yanked a towel off a rack, but he didn’t cover himself in time before Colleen turned her pale face in his direction and got an eyeful of his aroused state.