Grant wasn’t sure what to think of the lass. He had thought she would be just like her father. That she would have the same superior attitude and the same disagreeable personality, and hold the same grudges. But she didn’t seem to be anything like him.
Grant had a hard time believing she could be so different.
He’d relaxed some after they’d had their talk at breakfast, and he was sorry to hear she hadn’t known how much her grandmother wished to meet her. He took her on the grand tour, showing her the castle grounds and the farmland connected to the property. But the highlight of the tour seemed to be the Highland cows grazing in their grassy pasture. She was fascinated with the “cute” woolly cows and had to get out of the car for a closer look, which couldn’t help but amuse him. She was just as enthralled with the vista of the North Sea. Unlike her father, who couldn’t have cared less about anything but the finances and his next drink.
“I think I was a sea sprite in my other life,” she said wistfully, breathing in the sea air. “I love being near the sea.”
He stared at her, surprised to hear her speak about something so personal. “At home where you live, are you land bound?”
“I am. I love visiting Annapolis, and the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, but otherwise, I live way inland. This is beautiful.”
“It can be bitterly cold and stormy.” He didn’t mean to ruin her impression of the area, but if she had romantic notions that it was always this way, he wanted to dispel them.
“Yes,” she said, as if the notion pleased her.
The weather had been nice since she’d arrived, except for this morning when it was so cold and foggy and she’d taken the walk with Borthwick in the gardens. Grant wondered then if really bad weather would faze her—her father had hated the wet weather and cold. Though Grant didn’t remember anything that Theodore had actually liked.
Grant drove her to the last stop they’d make, where a white, frothing burn poured over moss stones in a quiet glen. Green, grassy hills surrounded them, and sheep wandered near the top of one of the hills.
“Can we climb them?” she asked, prompting him to pull over into a car park.
He was surprised to see her smiling face, her eyes sparkling with fascination. He hadn’t expected to see her this enthralled with the land. Of course she’d appreciate what the land could mean financially to her, but to treasure it like he and his kin did? Definitely unexpected.
She was out of the car in a flash and climbing the nearest hill before he could hurry to catch up. The grass was like velvet and the climb easy as they made it to the top. He pointed to a waterfall cascading down one of the hills way off in the distance.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I wish I had my camera.”
“I can bring you here again,” he said, not sure why he said so. She could come here on her own any time she wanted and didn’t need him to escort her. Dark strands of her hair whipped across his shoulders, and he was reminded of his first encounter with her when he wore his kilt and how her hair and skirt had whipped at his bare skin, tantalizing, teasing, tickling him.
Her lips parted in awe as she surveyed the surrounding lands. She turned to see the hills behind them that stood even taller. “Can we climb those?” She spoke with such enthusiasm that he smiled.
“Aye, if you wish it.”
“I do.” She hurried down the incline like a sure-footed sheep, then raced across the narrow footbridge built over the burn. When she reached the other side, she began the climb.
Grant nearly laughed at her exuberance. He hadn’t expected to enjoy the outing, just assumed it would be a grueling duty, nothing more. He could envision her racing up and down the green hills in her wolf coat, with him in hot pursuit. No one lived out here for miles around, yet even then, visitors to the area might see them, and running at night would be a better choice.
He had no idea why he was even thinking along those lines. Why would she want to run with him through the hills at night as a wolf?
He always joked and played with his clansmen when they were through with their work for the day. Well, even while they worked. But being with Colleen here like this felt different. For a moment, he didn’t feel like he served as the manager of her estates while she was the owner and taskmaster. He felt like a man with a woman on a Sunday jaunt in the glen. Except she wasn’t just any woman. She was a she-wolf, her cute little arse jiggling ahead of him as he climbed the hill to join her.
When he reached the top, she was trying to catch her breath and swayed a little. He grabbed her arm, and he didn’t know what came over him. But suddenly he was looking down into her smiling face, as if she was smiling at him, and he wanted in the worst way to kiss her.
She didn’t pull away from him, either.
He shouldn’t kiss her, but damn, he wanted to.
Still breathing hard, her heart beating fast, she placed her hand on his chest. He expected her to push him away, but she didn’t. She just stood there looking up at him, waiting for him to do something. He breathed in her scent, all woman and she-wolf and…interested.
They stood high on top of the hill overlooking the glen, the water rushing by, the sheep grazing on the green grass across the burn, and white clouds passing overhead against the blue sky.
He still had hold of her arm, but then he released her, cupped her face with both hands, and kissed her.
When his lips met hers, he knew he shouldn’t do this. He intended to make it sweet and unassuming, to quench some damnable need that he had to satisfy. He didn’t presume it would go anywhere, and he almost imagined it would be lame and unappealing—after having built up the expectation that kissing that sweet mouth of hers would make his world spin and topple over. He hadn’t thought she’d crave the intimacy as much as he did. Yet when she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back, she exhibited an eagerness that turned his world on end.
She was more than willing.
He held back, not wanting to frighten the lass. From her response, she didn’t appear to be the kind of she-wolf who frightened easily. Her soft lips pressed against his, her body caressing his own, when he was only thinking in terms of lips and kissing and not of rubbing their bodies together as if in preparation for something even more intimate! Despite the cool breeze sweeping around them, he was burning up. He should end this now, not wanting her to think he had designs on her to gain her properties. Yet, just from the way she wasn’t pulling away, he couldn’t either.
She had to feel what her body was doing to his, the vixen, as she brushed against him. She continued to kiss him until they both had to come up for air—as if she was unwilling to give up first. She smiled at him. He was so shocked at her response that he couldn’t control his own. His body was eager for more. He stared at her dumbfounded, which made her smile broaden even more.
He had worried she might regret what had passed between them. What had passed between them? He felt unbalanced. But she only smiled wickedly at him as if she was perfectly fine, though he swore she was just a little breathless.
“I’m hungry,” she said, throwing him for a loop. “It must be about lunchtime.”
Lunch. He couldn’t get his mind off the kiss they had shared, and she was thinking about lunch?
But she was right. He hadn’t realized how long he’d taken to show her around. He wanted to say something about the kiss they’d shared, but she had already pulled away from him and begun making her way down the hill.
When he reached her on the bridge, he again wanted to explain himself, but she hurried across it as if nothing had happened between them. And that bothered him more than he wanted to concede.
Hell, he’d been a fool to leave his bed this morning. He should have stayed in it—with her.
He opened her car door for her, and then they were off.
“Thanks for showing me the properties,” she said, her cheeks a little flushed. “You’ve done a lovely job maintaining them.”
He respected her for appreciating how he had managed the properties, but more than anything, he wanted to speak about what had just happened between them. He didn’t want her reading more into it than what it was—just a spur-of-the-moment reaction to being close to a bonny lass in a beautiful glen…
So then why couldn’t he quit thinking about it?
“We’ve always taken pride in managing the properties,” Grant said, trying to focus on the real world and not his passion for the lass. Despite the fact that his body still craved her touch and he’d had a devil of a time making it down the hill wearing trousers when he was fully aroused. A kilt would have made it so much easier to manage.
Colleen felt all tingly and hot and deliciously sexy after the kiss she and Grant had shared. He’d obviously been just as affected as she had, only she’d managed—somehow—to control her evident reaction better than he had. Which she was glad for. She didn’t want him thinking she melted under any old Highlander’s kisses.
She’d loved seeing the sea and the castle grounds, but the glen where they’d shared that magical kiss…she would remember that forever.
He was quieter now than when they started the tour, maybe because he didn’t have anything more to say about the properties. She didn’t believe he could still be thinking about the kiss—like she was.
After praising him for a job well done, she couldn’t think of another thing to say. She should tell him she didn’t kiss men like that, ever, but she thought it might be better if they didn’t discuss it. He probably kissed all the lasses like that and didn’t give it another thought.
She shook her head at herself and watched out for the castle, but she couldn’t see it for the trees and the long winding road that led up to the castle walls.
When it came into view, she smiled. The four round, gray stone towers stretched to the blue sky, and she saw three men on top of the wall walk watching their approach. She couldn’t imagine they’d have guards posted all the time like in ye old days.
Grant parked the car in the inner bailey and she said, “Well, that was a lovely tour. Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to show me around.” And then she fled into the keep.
“How did the tour go?” Enrick asked Grant, who watched Colleen hurry off.
“What?” Grant asked his brother.
“The tour? Did she act bored and give you grief like her father did?” Enrick asked as they headed for the keep.
On the one hand, Grant was thinking how much he’d like for her to stay longer. On the other hand, after what just happened between them—though he was still unsure what had occurred—he thought she needed to leave sooner rather than later. How could he even look at her now without thinking of that kiss and the way she had pressed her body against his? And how he wanted more?
“Grant?” Enrick looked back at the castle and said, “You didn’t have words with the lass, did you? She seemed a little flustered and looked to be in a hurry to leave you behind.”
“She’s hungry,” Grant said.
Enrick frowned at him.
Grant hadn’t expected to still be so rattled when he sat down to the meal. All he could do was take deep breaths to smell her scent. He could tell she was just as interested as she had been earlier. Not good. He had no designs on her or her property, and he didn’t want his brothers or anyone else believing he did.
“Where’s the whisky?” she asked, buttering a slice of bread.
“You can’t be serious,” Grant said, shocked. Maybe she did have a drinking problem. Hell, maybe she was just like her father…only her drinking problem was more insidious.
Colleen was surprised at Grant’s reaction. She was trying to touch on inane subjects, just to make a bit of conversation. She couldn’t stop worrying about whether Grant had told his brothers he’d kissed her in the glen and was making headway with seducing her. What if that was the only reason he had done so? To heel her with a kiss—very much like training the hounds with bits of meaty treats, which was on her agenda.
“I don’t want to drink any of it unless maybe it’s made into a whisky sour. Certainly not for a few weeks, if that,” she said, not intending to drink anything that contained alcohol for a very long time.
Grant looked at her like she had to be crazy to even think of ruining good whisky in such a manner.
“I just wondered why you weren’t drinking any. I thought braw Highland warriors drank it at every meal.”
“Not this afternoon.” He didn’t say anything more and cut into his fish. Then he paused. “Do…you recollect that the cold waters of the North Sea nearly swept you away in the middle of the night?”
She stared at his serious expression for a moment, trying to recall such a thing. Now that he brought it up, she vaguely remembered being drawn to the sea. Though she’d dismissed the notion of scrambling over wet, mossy rocks as just part of a vivid dream due to her inebriated state. And yet, she’d smelled the seawater on herself.
“As a wolf,” he further explained.
Her body flushed with mortification. Who all had seen her like that? Exactly what had she done? Was that why she smelled of fishy water this morning before she took her shower?
“I needed to stretch my legs,” she offered, thinking maybe that’s why she would do such a dumb thing, or maybe it sounded like a good explanation. She was highly thankful his people were wolves. What would have happened if they hadn’t been? They would have shot her, that’s what.
“Aye, well, in the future, I would ask that your wolf venturing be confined to this side of the seawall. The trails leading to the sea are too dangerous for anyone to navigate, especially if the person has imbibed too much.”
She wanted to ask whose fault that was, even though she knew very well her own stubbornness had made her careless.
“I will take your concern under advisement,” she said, finishing off her bread. “I hope I didn’t inconvenience anyone too much.” She truly hoped only Grant had known of her escapade.
“I howled to warn you not to get too close to the water’s edge until I reached you. But you ignored me.”
Vaguely, she remembered him nudging her. Like in a dream. An annoying wolf who wanted her to move when she’d been too tired to. “You howled.” Great.
She could guess what that meant. He was the pack leader, calling out to her in a distressed wolf’s way, warning her to return. His kin would have hurried out to see to the matter, just like any wolf pack would.
Even if they didn’t believe he needed help, they would have arrived to see what was going on—as was a wolf’s ever-curious nature.
She wanted to ask how many had seen her in her drunken state, risking her neck above the breakers. But she didn’t dare pose the question. She never got drunk. Ever. Which had been part of the problem with her inability to handle the liquor last night. She didn’t approve of such behavior. Her own father drank way too much and had behaved badly on many occasions, embarrassing her and her mother more than once. She didn’t want anyone to see her acting in such a manner.
“Thank you for seeing me back to my chamber.”
Grant said, “It was the least I could do for you.” He didn’t comment on her saying the chamber was hers.
“Why did you leave the bed this morning?” Or last night. She wasn’t certain when he’d run off. “I needed to be close to the bathroom. You could have slept in my room. I promise I wouldn’t have made any untoward advances,” she said. Not like she did on the hilltop. Then she frowned. Maybe she had made untoward advances to him in bed and that was why he had left. She felt her body warm.
His mouth kicked up at one corner as if he was trying hard not to show how funny that notion was to him. What? He’d think she would have ravished him? Unable to keep her composure when she was so close to the hot Highlander? But she really couldn’t remember what she’d done to make him leave.
She stiffened a little at his response. She wasn’t that needy. Just because she might have seemed like it when she kissed him.
She’d been mated twice. She often had wolves interested in her. Just because she wasn’t mated now and Grant and his people didn’t want her here didn’t mean other wolves wouldn’t find her appealing.
She’d also considered the possibility that he might attempt to pursue her, mate her, and gain control of her properties that way. Then he’d never have to submit to her wishes. And he and his clan would never have to worry about losing their ancestral home.
But he didn’t seem to be interested even in that. He just wanted her gone. Unless he’d kissed her as a way of changing the dynamics between them. Sure, kiss the she-wolf, make her melt under his touch, and she’d be as malleable as any beta wolf under his jurisdiction.
She didn’t know why she was thinking along those lines. Maybe the feeling of being in her ancestral home, where she felt she belonged in an odd sort of way. Maybe her dad didn’t, but being here felt right to her. Despite the way Grant didn’t care for her presence.
No matter what, she wasn’t giving in to the madness and showing him anything other than her professional side—this was business, after all. She didn’t want to think of herself as his superior, but she had to remember that’s just what she was. The boss did not kiss her employee, and she had to remember that.
And then her traitorous mind thought back to him vacating the bed in the middle of the night to leave her alone. How he’d grabbed his kilt from the bench and stalked out of the room. And that made her recall what she’d seen once again. He’d been naked. Only this time in bed with her. And she, likewise.
A recipe for disaster.
Her cell rang and she wasn’t sure who to expect. One of her cousins, maybe. But it was Archibald. This was not a good time to talk. “I’ll call you back as soon as I’m through with lunch.”
She smiled at Grant, who looked like he expected her to tell him who had called and then he’d tell her how much he disapproved.
After the meal, Colleen said she was taking a walk in the gardens, and Enrick and Lachlan wished a word with Grant about the tour. Both were concerned that it had not gone well—mainly because he didn’t wish to discuss it. He noted that as soon as she’d made it outside, she’d made a phone call, probably to the person who had called her during lunch. He suspected it was Archibald and that she wanted to speak with him in private. That didn’t bode well.
“Her father was Neda’s flesh-and-blood son, but we were the ones who took care of Neda and her properties,” Lachlan said, getting wound up about the situation all over again.
“Don’t you think she did it for the lass? Her only grandchild, to carry on the family line?” Enrick asked.
Grant ground his teeth. “Colleen has never lived here before. She’s not part of the heritage or the history.” Even though she seemed to enjoy the tour, he suspected it was a passing fancy. Living here day in, day out would be a whole other matter. “She doesn’t care anything about the place like we do. This is home for us. Always has been. She is just a visitor.”
He tried to convince himself of that. What if he was to fall for the lass—not that that was at all likely—but what if he did, and she wanted to leave after the weather got bad? Or she longed for her American home?
He’d be mated to a she-wolf who would be depressed and unhappy, and then what? Would she drink to drown her sorrows? He could envision the whole situation becoming a disaster. Mating was for a lifetime and… Hell, why was he even thinking of such a thing?
“She’s an unwelcome visitor,” Enrick said, although Grant swore his brother was digging for the truth, watching his reaction, wondering what had gone on between Colleen and him.
“Aye,” Grant said, not about to ever tell his brothers he had kissed the lass.
Grant noted Lachlan was watching out the window, his arms folded across his chest, listening to the conversation but interested in something taking place near the gardens.
“What are you gawking at?” Grant asked, crossing the floor to join him.
“The lass who doesn’t belong here.”
Five of his men were supposed to be patching around loose rocks on the seawall. Instead, they were sitting on stone benches, arms folded across their chests, smiling as they observed Colleen. All three of his Irish wolfhounds sat in front of her. Their eyes were focused on hers, their expressions saying they were eager to please.
They never behaved. Even for him. But at least she hadn’t been on the phone for long. Unless she’d just made a hasty date with Archibald. Grant ground his teeth a bit.
“How in the world did she manage that?” Lachlan asked, peering out the window beside them.
“Bribery, it looks like,” Grant said. He couldn’t imagine getting the dogs to mind any other way. Even so, he couldn’t believe they’d behave for treats. After the way they had jumped all over her when she first arrived, he was surprised to see she had so much control over them now.
What if she had kissed him and rubbed that sweet body against his in an attempt to heel him as she had the wolfhounds, only she didn’t even have to give him a treat to make him mind? Bloody…hell.
“Did you know her cousins are arriving next week?” Enrick asked.
“What?” Grant turned to see Enrick’s serious expression. “I thought they were only coming if the lass felt she needed help in handling us,” Grant said, not liking this new scenario one bit, despite having said it was fine with him if they came to visit. Surely they didn’t mean to stay too long.
“Apparently they wanted to come anyway to check out their castle.”
“The properties are the lass’s. Not her cousins’.” Grant hadn’t meant to sound so protective of her. He tried to tell himself he only worried that her cousins would try to dictate to Grant and his pack, in addition to the lass having her say. He let out his breath in exasperation. “What next?”
“Look, they’re following her as if she were the Pied Piper. They’re not jumping on her, but walking beside her like perfectly behaved, well-trained hounds,” Lachlan said.
Grant stared out the window, not believing this. “When exactly are her cousins arriving?” he asked, wanting to take care of this issue right away. He still wondered if the lass hadn’t called them and told them she needed help with the Highlanders.
“Friday after next at 9:45 in the morning,” Enrick said. “Where did you want them to stay?”
“The blue and gold rooms.” Though Grant wanted to have them stay in the White Room while he stayed in one of the newly painted adjoining guest rooms.
Maybe after the kiss they’d shared, she’d changed her mind about him sleeping in the White Room instead of his own chamber.
He managed a small smile.