Colleen suspected Grant wouldn’t like it if she made the effort to be nice to Archibald Borthwick, since he was also an alpha wolf. She didn’t know the man, but he had been so pleasant to her. That was so different from the way Grant was treating her that she intended to keep seeing Archibald—as a friend. He had even offered to take her on several tours of Scotland. And she thought she’d take him up on it, once she was more settled.
She’d thought at first that Grant and his people were humans, so naturally she’d loved it when Archibald realized she was a wolf and wished to make her acquaintance, not bothered at all by the fact she was an American. Because of the natural inclination to meet another of their kind, and the fact that fewer she-wolves existed in wolf packs, she could understand his interest when he learned she was free and available.
After she had discovered what Grant and his pack intended to do to persuade her to leave sooner than the time she was required to be here, she figured what the heck. Maybe Archibald would make Grant change his mind, and he and his men would be more civil toward her while she stayed here for the rest of the year.
She hadn’t expected Archibald to jump quite so quickly at the chance to get to know her better. She should have realized it. He probably was afraid Grant or his brothers might try to sweep her off her feet first. As if that would ever happen. But Archibald was interested in moving this along a little bit faster than she wanted. For one thing, she hadn’t intended to stay in Scotland.
“We could go boating,” Archibald finally said.
“I’d love to. Later,” she said. She really was tired after the long flight here and then all that had gone on during the night that kept her from sleeping much of it. She’d prefer to take him up on his offer once she’d rested up a bit more and could really enjoy seeing the sights. She sighed. She had never expected that Grant and his people would know Archibald and dislike him so much. Why did people hold such grudges? She didn’t. As far as she was concerned, she didn’t know him and she would treat him like a friend, just like he treated her. She definitely had no plans to mate the wolf.
“I understand. Jet lag. You’re probably tired still.”
“Yeah. Give me a week and I’ll be ready to see some sights.” Really, a couple of days would have been enough, but she hated to leave things so unsettled here, almost afraid if she left the castle, she would lose what little control she felt she’d gained.
She glanced back at the castle and swore she saw Grant and his brothers watching her through one of the windows. Then she noticed movement on top of the wall walk. Two men were observing her. Was it a case of curiosity? Or concern for her or that she might fall for the wolf and put them all out of business?
It was misty and damp out. She could barely see to the end of the herb garden and only glimpses of the gardens beyond through arbor-covered gateways.
She wished she could tell Grant that she had no intention of changing the management. His pack had been managing the estate for eons, and she expected it to stay the same for eons more. But she thought this might keep him on his toes. As for Archibald, she’d be as friendly as he was, but if he thought she wanted more, she’d let him know in a heartbeat that she wasn’t interested. Then again, maybe she would be. Only time would tell. But she wasn’t jumping into anything right away. She had a whole year to live here first.
She understood Grant’s concern that she’d come to make a lot of changes he couldn’t live with. A last-ditch effort would be to have her cousins come stay with her and be her backup if this didn’t work out. They were both ready to join her anytime.
“So tell me all about your life in America,” Archibald said.
She smiled at him, liking how he would ask, unlike Grant who only wished she’d return there. She started talking about her home in Maryland, about the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and trips to Annapolis. She loved the water.
“I love the water, too. My manor house has a nice-sized lake for a view.”
“I bet it’s lovely.” She loved the ruggedness of being on the ocean, though. The tumultuous sea, the ever-changing view, the force and power of it. She loved lakes, but they usually just—sat there.
“Did your friend ever arrive at the airport?” she asked.
“Uh, yeah. But his flight was delayed by four hours. You and I could have had something to eat.” He smiled.
He had such a charming smile compared to Grant’s scowls. “Oh, I couldn’t have. Grant and his people were eager to show off their fighting skills and celebrated my arrival with a grand feast right afterward. It was the experience of a lifetime.”
“Grant did?” Archibald said, frowning.
Yeah, but not in exactly the way she had made it sound—as if he’d done so to welcome her. But she didn’t want to let anyone outside the pack know that Grant was trying his darnedest to change her mind about staying here. She smiled. It was like a secret pact between them. Grant would act all growly and stubborn, and she’d smile back and have her own way.
“Oh, yes. They were delighted to have me here and couldn’t have done anything further to make me feel more welcome.” Could Archibald tell what a phony she was? She could understand Grant’s concerns and figured this was the only way he knew how to deal with his frustrations.
They continued to stroll through the herb garden, while Archibald remained quiet.
She didn’t know enough about the area to ask any questions, and walking in the damp cold without a coat was chilling her to the bone. She was certain she’d acclimate to the varying temperatures and weather conditions eventually, but she was having a difficult time enjoying this. She sighed.
Well, if he couldn’t come up with another topic, she might as well ask him about Grant. “I take it that you and Grant know each other fairly well?” She couldn’t imagine that Grant only saw Archibald as an alpha male wolf who was trespassing on his pack’s territory. It had to be something that went deeper.
Archibald smiled this time, but the look was not pleasant.
“Not what you would call friends?” Certainly not from Grant’s perspective.
Archibald shrugged. “I don’t really feel comfortable here, speaking with you. The gardens have ears.”
She raised her brows, then glanced around and noticed a gardener studying the roses. A teen who had been watching them from another garden turned red-faced and quickly looked away. Were Grant’s people spying on her and Archibald? She wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed or amused.
“I would love to take you to a village and offer you breakfast, and we could really visit,” Archibald said, sounding hopeful.
“I’d love to. Later,” she said, feeling she was too tired to be the best of company. Even now she wished to put on a cheery face, but she couldn’t conjure up the warmth to back her smile. She was still thinking about dealing with Grant and what would be next as she butted heads with the man.
Footsteps headed in their direction, and she turned to see who approached. They’d only been walking in the chilly fog for about ten minutes, which in itself seemed ridiculous. Then again, the Highlanders were probably used to the weather. If she was back home, she would have found something else to do with her time. She was getting damp and chilled, and she hoped whoever approached would get her out of this predicament in a way that wouldn’t hurt Archibald’s feelings.
Grant’s man, Darby, hurried to catch up to her and said with urgency, “My Lady, Laird MacQuarrie says the morning meal is ready, if you’d like to join us.”
Hearing her referred to this time with a title, she was taken aback. So politely now, instead of the way he had taken her to task in Grant’s chamber. She wasn’t used to being referred to as “lady.” In America, she didn’t use any title. She was just Colleen, as far as she was concerned. In Scotland, it was different. Maybe using her title would ensure that some of the wolves in Grant’s pack treated her with more respect. Though she didn’t think she’d ever get used to being referred to in that manner.
She hesitated to speak. The preparation of breakfast seemed to have occurred awfully fast. Why didn’t Grant say they were getting ready to eat as a reason she shouldn’t take a walk with Archibald? She suspected they’d thrown breakfast together in a hurry in an attempt to whisk her away from him.
Was Grant trying to make amends with her, then? She doubted it.
A light breakfast might settle her stomach, but she didn’t think inviting Archibald to eat with them would help. She could imagine the tension escalating in the dining hall. Darby’s interruption was just what she needed. She didn’t even mind knowing Grant was attempting to get her away from Archibald.
At least for this morning, the way she was feeling, she much preferred Grant’s disheveled, kilted appearance to Archibald’s polished look, because she was feeling a little disheveled herself. Not in appearance, but psychologically. And, at least while conversing with Grant, she felt she knew the ground rules, somewhat. Annoyed, gruff, angry—all of it was fine with her as long as she knew where he was coming from. With Archibald, it was more of a courtship game, she thought. And she really wasn’t ready for it until she was settled and refreshed and could act more like her normally enthusiastic self.
“Thanks, Darby. I’ll be right there.” To Archibald, she said, “Maybe we can do this again sometime later. After I’m more settled at Farraige Castle.”
Archibald’s deeply knit brow softened a bit. “Of course. Would tonight be too soon?”
“Later” meant later. Much later. “How about at the end of the week? I can get in touch with you. I have your number.”
His brow tightened again. “I will call on you then.”
She got the distinct impression that he wasn’t waiting for her to call him. Maybe believing she wouldn’t. Or that Grant wouldn’t allow her to. She wondered if she’d bitten off more than she should. Yet, at the time, she had thought it was a brilliant idea.
So much for her brilliant ideas.
She walked with him back to the castle as Darby followed in their wake, not stealthily like a wolf, but noisily like he wanted them to know that he was listening in on their conversation. He would probably report everything that was said back to Grant. Not that anything much was said.
“I will call,” Archibald said again, his gaze steady on hers, ensuring he was getting his point across—that Grant wouldn’t stop him from seeing her.
She totally agreed with Archibald there. And then he left her at the back door and took off around the side of the castle to the front where his vehicle was parked.
Darby pulled the door open for her, his expression somber. She wanted to talk with him, with anyone, about how she felt, but she seemed to be the enemy in this situation. Shouldn’t “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” come into play here?
This time when Darby escorted her to the main dining hall, mahogany tables were set up. Instead of benches, they had olive-green and gold embroidered chairs with cushioned seat backs. Plates and silverware were set out, too. Much, much better. Really nice, in fact.
She smiled at Grant, who was scowling but attempting to moderate his expression a bit.
She fought chuckling. Something appealed to her about that great, growly Scot. Maybe it was because she wasn’t used to men like him. Her first two mates had been even-tempered betas. She’d loved them, but they had been predictable, and when she had lost them many years ago, she didn’t think she’d ever take a mate again. Not that Grant was a mate prospect, but she did wonder how being mated to a wolf like him would measure up. She couldn’t even imagine.
She took in a deep breath, recalling the smell of him in his bed.
He was one hot Highland wolf.
That she had taken a walk with the “enemy” in the gardens had probably killed Grant. He’d shaved, in a rush it appeared, having nicked himself in a couple of spots. He would heal quickly because of their wolf genetics. But the bloodied spots made him seem so much more human and lovable. He wore jeans and a T-shirt. She missed seeing him bare-chested while he wore only his kilt.
“We have an assortment of items for breakfast. Sausage, pancakes, bacon, toast, jams, eggs anyway that you like them, porridge. Tea. Or…coffee,” Grant said, walking with her to their new seats.
Same location. No roasted whole pig to eyeball while eating the meal.
“Thanks,” she said, meaning it. She appreciated how he had changed to accommodate her. The walk with Archibald had been well worth the effort.
As soon as they took their seats, Colleen asked for some toast, a little grape jelly, one egg over easy, and sausage. Grant looked surprised when she asked for tea.
“I always drink it. Never acquired a taste for coffee,” she said.
Grant nodded, but then he got right down to business. “What did Borthwick want?”
She figured he would ask and was surprised he’d waited this long. “He wished to welcome me here to Scotland.” She hoped that Grant would realize that was a barb at him for not welcoming her properly to her own estates.
In ye old days, if she had been the owner of a castle and returned to it, the estate manager would have been careful to welcome her home in a proper manner. Grant would learn soon enough that she wasn’t leaving.
“Oh, and by the way,” she said, wanting to let him know just what she had in mind to do if he had any notion to give her further trouble, “my cousins may come to stay also. Just wished to give you a heads-up in case I feel I need their help.”
“Help with what?” Grant quickly asked, his tone of voice close to a growl.
She smiled. “We’re…close. They’re like brothers to me. They just said they’d be on standby if I needed their help with anything.” You, she wanted to say. But she kept her mouth shut and just smiled again—a wolf’s smile, indicating neither he nor anyone else would push her around.
“We can make accommodations for them. We’d be pleased to set them up anytime they’d like to come,” Grant said, as if realizing he’d better shape up or else, even if it killed him to do so.
“Okay. Sounds super. They said they have bags packed and ready to go. I just have to give the word.”
“Great.” He didn’t sound like he meant it at all.
She enjoyed her meal this time, served up with tea and a glass of water, no whisky. She suspected no one would ever serve it to her at a meal again. Which would be fine with her.
“What did Borthwick want?” Grant asked again, his growly tone still audible.
She would love to tell him Archibald wanted to have wolf pups with her, but she curbed the wicked urge to say such a thing. Grant might believe her and try to have the man murdered.
She didn’t believe in holding grudges, especially since she didn’t recall her father discussing any problems her family had with the clan. Not that her father had talked about much concerning family, except how much trouble her grandmother had been and that dealing with Grant and his people had been a chore because they were human. But maybe Grant and his family had experienced real difficulties with Borthwick and his people. She sighed.
“What happened between you and Archibald that would give you reason for not liking the man?” she asked. She swore everyone around them stopped eating to hear what he had to say.
“I would think you would know best.”
She waited while he finished eating his eggs. “Well, I don’t. If you wouldn’t mind enlightening me, I would appreciate it.”
He put his fork down. “My family has managed the Playfair estates since the keep was built. Archibald’s grandfather, Uilleam Borthwick, murdered my grandfather, John MacQuarrie, while he was serving in the capacity I do now. My father, Robert MacQuarrie, took over the management and my mother, Eleanor, mysteriously died in a fall from these very cliffs when my brothers and I were three. Your father was living at Farraige Castle at the time.”
Her mouth gaped. She was shocked to the core to learn that Archibald’s grandfather had murdered Grant’s. How could Grant insinuate her father was responsible for Grant’s mother’s death, though? Her father was despicable, but she couldn’t imagine he would do anything so horrible.
“You’re not saying my father had anything to do with it,” she said, wanting to clear up any misconception she might have.
“Your father felt he should manage the castle. After John died, my father took over the role as my family has done for centuries. But Theodore was furious. He swore he’d get back at his mother—your grandmother—by marrying a young American she-wolf and left for the States. He shunned your grandmother, refused to answer her letters, and didn’t care what she did with the castle.”
She noted Grant had avoided saying he believed her father had anything to do with Eleanor’s death, but he hadn’t denied it, either. Had her father been capable of murder? She couldn’t believe she’d been so clueless about all of this.
“But my grandmother willed it to him anyway,” Colleen said softly.
“Aye. Theodore was still her son. She had another, but he, too, left. And that one was the younger of the two.”
“My cousins’ dad. He died young also.”
“Aye. Theodore did return home on occasion, maybe to ensure she didn’t give the estates to his younger brother, or maybe so that she didn’t will them to my father. Your father was visiting Farraige Castle when my brothers and I were twenty and away at college. One dark and stormy night, Robert MacQuarrie fell to his death from the same cliffs.”
Colleen couldn’t help the tears that filled her eyes. She looked away. Grant didn’t say it—just like he didn’t come out and tell her that her father was responsible for Grant’s mother’s death—but the implication was clear.
“Did my father still want to…manage Farraige Castle?” she asked, not wanting to hear the answer.
“Aye. Theodore and Neda had a big row. Instead of her installing him in the position, she called me home right away.”
“And you were only twenty.” She took in a deep breath. She could imagine her father wanting to kill Grant for the slight.
“Theodore returned to America, and years later, Neda left the castle to your father. Like you, he came here for a year and a day to observe and then he returned to Maryland to be with his mate, leaving the castle in my care. In the will, knowing the bitterness between your father and my people, your grandmother ensured the MacQuarries would continue to live here. Theodore could have replaced me as manager, but he would still have been stuck with us living here and so he left it in our hands, though he made every change possible while he was here. I think he realized at that point, he really couldn’t have managed the properties himself or found a replacement for me who would have done as well. Then you inherited the castle when your parents died.”
“I’m so sorry about your grandfather’s and your parents’ deaths. But I really don’t see what Archibald has to do with his grandfather killing your grandfather.”
If her father had been at the heart of it, she hated him for it. How could Grant or his pack feel anything but animosity toward her? She wasn’t like him, but she hadn’t lived here like Neda had. She didn’t know them. And she hadn’t wanted to come in to displace Grant. Yet she’d pushed him out of his bedchamber, which could make it appear she was doing just that.
“From what I understand, Uilleam wanted to manage the estates,” Grant continued. “Not that many wolf packs have the honor of such a task. Often, the owner of a keep would have his own pack to run it. But your grandfather, Gideon Playfair, was a lone wolf and earned the right to build the castle after fighting in battles for the king. He also had his own barony. What he didn’t have was his own pack. Gideon mated Neda, and they had the castle built and needed a wolf pack to manage the estates.
“Uilleam Borthwick, Archibald’s grandfather, had his own family, but not a pack to run the place. John MacQuarrie, my grandfather, had a title and his own pack, but no land to call his own. Your grandfather gave the job to John, and Uilleam couldn’t accept it. When my pack learned he had killed John, they hunted him down like the dog he was.”
She couldn’t believe all that she was hearing. She was glad that Grant’s family had resolution in the case with his grandfather, sad as it was that he had to lose him in such a way. But what about his parents? She felt sick thinking her own father could have been involved.
“I take it you never learned who killed your parents.”
“My mother had no reason to be on the cliffs in the dark of night. Neither had my father. Your grandmother adored me and my brothers, and Theodore hated us for it. Your grandmother was like a mother to us, doting on us. Theodore felt she loved us more than she had him when he was that age. According to my father, it wasn’t so. Theodore had been a moody and perverse child and teen. Without her mate to help control Theodore, Neda dealt with him the best she could. He showed her no love or respect like my brothers and I did. I apologize for speaking the truth to you, lass, when he was your father, but I feel the words need to be said.”
“I’d rather know the truth of the matter,” she said, not wanting to divulge that she had never gotten along with her father. She knew all about the moodiness. She had experienced it firsthand.
Taking the news in, Colleen poked at her egg. She’d never known the details of why her father hadn’t gotten along with her grandmother. Her father had only said he and his mother had never seen eye to eye and when he mated Colleen’s mother, they had left and he had never gone back. Until he inherited the castle and was forced to. Just like Colleen was. Only she had thought she would enjoy the experience if she could get past Grant’s defenses.
Now to hear her father had returned to the castle on occasions unbeknownst to her? How many more lies had he fed her?
She had never even met her grandmother. Her father had said she was a hateful woman who despised having to raise a couple of kids. He had never said anything about Grant or his brothers. She would ask Grant more about her grandmother later, feeling bad she hadn’t gotten to know her before she died.
How had her father acted toward Grant and his brothers when he came to live here for a year and a day? She had been away at college and couldn’t take time off to visit. Not that she would have. She had avoided her father as soon as she was old enough to do so.
Her father’s relationship with Grant put a whole different spin on the situation. Her gaze steady on his, she said, “I take it when my father came to stay here, the experience was rather…tense.”
“Aye.” Grant didn’t expound.
She wasn’t sure she wanted to hear all that had gone on. She suspected her father had been awful to live with. Just as he had been while she had to live with him. Mainly because of the drinking. Since he already held bad feelings toward Grant and his brothers, she could only imagine how well that had gone over.
He wasn’t one of those happy drunks, either. No. When he’d had too much, he’d been surly and mean.
Was that why Grant had been wary of her staying with them? She had to dispel any notion that she was anything like her father. She was more like her mother—even-tempered, cautious, and to her way of thinking, great about considering both sides of an equation before she made any decisions. She did appreciate that though she owned the place, she didn’t live here. She certainly had no intention of making a bunch of changes at the castle unless they would improve its financial state or conditions for the people who lived here.
Still, she didn’t understand why Grant had taken such an aversion to Archibald.
“I understand why you would have a lot of animosity against Archibald’s grandfather since he murdered yours, but why Archibald? He’s just the grandson.”
“Like grandfather, like father, like son,” Grant said simply.
“How so?” she asked. What Grant revealed said nothing.
“You know why he shows interest in you?” Grant asked.
She thought about what Grant had remarked on. It all had to do with running the estates. Like grandfather, like father, like son. So they had all wanted the job and would do anything to get the position?
She stiffened at the insinuation that Archibald wouldn’t be intrigued with her just because she was…intriguing. She didn’t believe he was up to no good. Grant was projecting that Archibald would be just like Uilleam Borthwick because they were related. When it could be the furthest thing from the truth.
Guys liked her. Normally. They became interested in her if she showed any interest back. She had to admit Archibald’s attention had flattered her. She didn’t believe in love at first sight, but something might develop between them. Given time.
Though she had to admit when she saw Grant fighting Ian in the inner bailey, working that hot body of his, she did believe in lust at first sight.
She sighed. She could never be accused of being gullible. “Of course, I know why Archibald is interested in me. He wants me to have his babies.”
Enrick choked on whatever he was drinking with his breakfast.
Lachlan glowered at her. Grant stared at her as if she’d turned into the Loch Ness monster on a bad day.
“Well, in truth, I didn’t tell him that I owned the castle. Just that I was visiting for a year.”
“You don’t think he knew who you were? That he was there only to meet you and attempt to win you over?”
No, she hadn’t suspected any of that. “So you think he believes he might get his hands on the castle, even if he has to mate with me to do it.” She smiled, amused at the notion. But that changed the rules a bit where Archibald was concerned. She would be more careful with regard to dating him, having fun but ensuring he understood she was leaving in a year. And not mating a Highland wolf who would lay claim to her properties and stay here while she returned to Maryland.
“You can’t be serious,” Grant said, his face red with anger.
“What? That I’d go along with such a farce? Or that he intends this charade?” She noted the hall was completely silent.
“Then you realize what he’s up to,” Grant growled.
She smiled. “I think it’s too early to say about anything.”
“Why did you have him come here?”
“I didn’t have him come here. He took it upon himself to see me here. But I would like to know why you think he’s such a problem.” She still didn’t see the correlation between Uilleam killing her grandfather and the grandson.
“Archibald tried to tell your father what a poor job my clan and I were doing. He hoped to get rid of me when your dad stayed here before.”
“Ah.” Though she was surprised to learn that Archibald had latched on to her father. Maybe there was some truth to him having a motive for why he was now so friendly with her.
“What do you mean by that?”
“You believe I will be just like my father.” She wouldn’t tell Grant otherwise. She wouldn’t expect him or anyone else to take her word for it. She’d have to prove it by showing just who she was.
“Well, suffice it to say, you have nothing to worry about—for the moment. I am really easy to get along with and don’t intend to make any changes for the present without seeking your consideration. So, do you have someone in mind who can show me the properties today?” she asked.
“I will,” Grant quickly said.
Truly surprised that he would offer, she wondered why Grant hadn’t thought of trying to seduce her. If they mated, he and his family would never have to give up their home. If he hadn’t tried so far, she didn’t think he was interested. And yet she swore from the way he was looking at her now, he wasn’t acting just as her manager, but like a Highland wolf desiring a wild and sexy romp with a she-wolf.
In her dreams.