After he’d warned her what a cad Archibald was, Colleen must have scheduled a date with him anyway—and Grant didn’t like it. But he couldn’t help smiling about the noisy pipes when he curled up beside the white eyelet bed in the White Room. He had worried that one of his men had tried to spook her into wanting to sleep somewhere else, even though he’d made it perfectly clear he wanted none of that.
He was glad the groaning of the bathroom pipes was the only cause for concern. Then he frowned. As to the other matter, he was not happy about that at all. Somehow he had to make her see Archibald for what he truly was.
He had slept for maybe half an hour, maybe less, when his cook stood in the doorway of the guest room and said, “My laird, are you in here?”
Grant growled. Not in an angry way, but tired. What now?
He shifted, threw on his pants, and moved beyond the bed. “To what do I owe this intrusion, Maynard?”
The gray-eyed wolf ran his hands through his gray hair. “You know I don’t like anyone messing in my kitchen after it’s closed. And it’s the rule that when it’s closed, it’s closed.”
In truth, Grant had forbidden most everyone to be in the kitchen after hours. Only last year, he’d had to take a man to task for selling foodstuffs to humans at a profit, figuring the owner of the castle would never know and could afford it. The man had been banished from the castle, the pack, and the clan. When they discovered he’d been pilfering the food when the cooks and their assistants were gone for the day, Grant had made the rule that no one but his brothers, Darby, the kitchen staff, and himself, of course, could go to the kitchen without asking permission. And all accounts had to be
Grant hated doing it, but he couldn’t afford to have a thief among them again, so he couldn’t ignore the situation tonight, giving the impression it was unimportant to him.
He stalked with Maynard to the kitchen and asked, “So who broke the rules?”
“That lass, my laird.”
“Wait,” Grant said, stopping Maynard with a hand on his shoulder. “The culprit breaking the rules is Lady Colleen Playfair?”
“Aye, and I knew you would be the only one to give her the order not to.”
Grant shook his head. “The lass owns the castle and pays for the food. If she wants to have a midnight snack anytime day or night, she’s welcome to it.”
“But you said…”
“Aye, but when it comes to the lass, we have to agree with whatever she wants until she is gone.” Grant would have to let everyone in the pack know that rule now. He thought it was understood.
They continued to walk to the kitchen when Maynard whispered, “I think she’s touched in the head.”
“What makes you think that?”
“She got one of the really good steaks out that you like, and she’s making mincemeat out of it on the cutting board.”
“What?” Grant had told himself she could do anything she liked. But to do that to a good steak?
“Aye. Dicing it up into itty-bitty bits. I tell you she’s a wee bit mad.”
When they reached the kitchen, Grant was surprised to see Colleen wearing only the long T-shirt, minus her jeans and no shoes on her feet. Not that he’d bothered with a shirt or shoes, either.
Just as Maynard had said, the lass was cutting the bloody steak into tiny pieces. What was she doing?
She gasped as she saw Grant and the cook enter the kitchen.
“Are you hungry, lass?” Grant asked, not imagining how she could eat the steak after the way she’d butchered it.
“No,” she said, waving her knife at him. “Did you tell your cook it’s all right for me to be in here?”
“Aye, that I did. But I wondered if I might help in any way.” Most of all, he wanted to know just what she intended to do with the meat. Make a stew? In the middle of the night?
“No. I’m fine. Thanks. Well…do you have a plastic bag I can put this in?” she asked, looking as tired as he felt, yet her expression was all cheerfulness, as if she did strange things like this in the middle of the night all the time.
He’d caught her father drinking at all hours of the night, but he’d never expected anything like this of his daughter. What in the world was she up to?
The next morning, Grant slept much later than he ever did. No one bothered him, thankfully. He was certain Maynard had told all the clan who were interested in hearing that the lass was touched in the head.
Grant had been dying to learn what Colleen was up to last night, but she hadn’t enlightened him, and he wasn’t about to ask. Maynard had looked at him as if it was his duty to learn what the lass had been doing. Now, he had to share the bathroom with four other men, or…since the women were not here for now, he’d use Neda’s bathroom to shower. He wanted to find out when Colleen was going out with Archibald. And where they intended to go. Though beyond that, he wasn’t sure what he could do.
Dressed, he headed for Neda’s chamber and was in the middle of a nice, hot shower when he heard movement in the room.
He closed his eyes and continued to soap his chest.
“Who is in there?” Colleen asked.
“Me,” Grant said, figuring that would suffice for an answer. She had to know his voice by now.
“Were you looking for me?”
“No, I just wanted to see my grandmother’s bedchamber. I thought no one would be here.”
He continued to shower leisurely, sighing. He was tired from being up half the night. He wondered if she’d also slept in late. “Are you still there?”
“Yes,” she said, and he thought he heard tears in her voice.
He frowned. “Is something the matter?”
“No. I…I didn’t know my grandmother cared anything about me. My father…” She didn’t finish speaking.
“Your father told you she didn’t want to see you? That she was angry that he left and mated with an American, and any of his offspring would not be welcome here? She wanted you to stay in the White Room when you visited. No one was to ever use it but you. She asked for you on her deathbed.” He wanted Colleen to know how much she had meant to her grandmother.
Colleen didn’t say anything. Maybe she had left. He turned off the water and grabbed a towel. He hated to be the one to tell her the truth, but she had no one left to make it right.
“Your father lied to you.” He walked out of the bathroom, expecting her to be standing there. She was gone. He took a settling breath. He wished now he’d gone against Neda’s ruling and had fetched the lass home to see her before her grandmother died.
When Grant went to the great hall to see if the lass was there, he found his brothers instead. Enrick frowned at him. “You look a little worse for wear. Did you find out why the lass mutilated a steak in the middle of the night?”
“Where is she?” Grant asked, heading for the kitchen. He needed a mug of tea, and hell, the steak sounded good. In the first of the fridges, he found the package of diced-up steak. What in the world was she doing with it? “Where’s Maynard?”
“Here I am. Do you want breakfast now?” Maynard asked, coming out of a walk-in cupboard. He acted as though he didn’t know that Grant had been up half the night.
“Aye, if you wouldn’t mind.” But Grant didn’t say it in a way that meant his cook had any choice in the matter.
His brothers smiled at Grant.
“Okay, so where is she?” Grant asked, folding his arms across his chest as he leaned his backside against a counter. And then he thought about the damnable date with Archibald.
“You wanted her gone,” Enrick said. “Whatever you said worked.”
Grant felt sick to his stomach. “What do you mean she’s gone? You mean, just for a few hours. Right? Her bags are still here. Aren’t they?”
“We didn’t look. She didn’t say anything to anyone. Just got in her car and drove off late this morning,” Enrick said. “I didn’t know if she’d already packed or what. She didn’t have breakfast with us or anything. I don’t know when she got up. Maybe as late as you? What happened last night?”
Grant glanced at Maynard.
“I told them about the steak, but I don’t know about anything else,” Maynard said, shrugging.
“Lachlan, check and see if her bags are still here,” Grant said, not liking how shaken up he felt.
“Aye.” Lachlan gave Enrick a look that said he wasn’t sure what was going on.
Grant had wanted her to leave, but not like this. Not if she was upset about her father’s deceitfulness and the fact that she missed seeing her grandmother before she died. That scenario was a little too harsh for the lass to deal with on her own, without someone to help ease her through it. And certainly not if she had taken off to be with Archibald and he was there to soothe her.
“Enrick, learn which direction she headed,” Grant said.
Enrick shook his head. “Ian and his brothers warned us that you would have more trouble than you bargained for.” He hurried out of the kitchen.
Grant scowled at Maynard, who quickly went back to preparing Grant’s breakfast.
Colleen didn’t know where to go, but she had to get away from the castle. Away from everyone who must have known about her father and grandmother when she hadn’t had a clue. She felt awful that her grandmother had wanted so much to get in touch with her and hadn’t been able to.
All the pictures, the album full of them, and the most recent photo of Colleen framed on her grandmother’s wall proved her grandmother hadn’t forsaken her. Thinking of the way her grandmother had preserved the little girl’s room for the granddaughter she’d never meet added to Colleen’s distress. She had to get away.
She brushed away more tears running down her cheeks. She didn’t want anyone to see how much this affected her. Did they think she had anything to do with not reaching out to her grandmother? That she had shunned her like her father had?
They must have thought she was unkind and unfeeling.
She drove forever it seemed, passing isolated farms, seeing a few shaggy Highland cows in fenced-in pastures and black-faced sheep nibbling on shorn green grass on the sides of hills. When she arrived at a village, she slowed down and saw gray stone homes, two bed and breakfasts, an inn, and Kelton’s Pub. She was not a drinker, not like her father had been. But she’d driven for miles, didn’t know where she was, and needed to get a bite to eat and something to drink. She’d missed breakfast, and she hadn’t eaten much dinner the night before, not with Grant scowling because she was making him sleep in the White Room. She was hungry.
She parked and entered the rustic-looking pub with its dark bar and wood paneling and dark tables. And stopped dead in her tracks.
Archibald Borthwick was sitting and eating at one of the tables with three men. They were laughing and joking with him. She wished she could turn around and head out before Archibald saw her, especially since she’d turned down a meal with him that he’d wanted to have at a different location—and now here she was alone, looking to have a meal.
She didn’t want to talk to him or anyone else right now. Two of the men with him eyed her, and one spoke to Archibald. He immediately turned to see her. How had they known who she was?
Now she was stuck with dealing with him. She was not a beta and would not tuck tail and run, no matter how much she wanted to avoid having anything to do with him right now.
Archibald practically fell out of his chair to greet her. So different from the way Grant had met her at the castle. Yet with Grant, she felt he was showing his true feelings, whereas with Archibald, she was beginning to suspect something wasn’t quite right. Maybe she’d always felt that way—which was why she’d continually given him excuses and not gone out with him. She was stuck sitting with him now, though, as he showed her to another table away from his buddies.
She offered him a small, insincere smile. Not because he deserved it, but because she was still feeling sad about her grandmother and didn’t feel the least bit cheerful.
“Are you all right, lass? You’re a long way from Farraige Castle.”
“Yeah. I just wanted to take a drive and learn more about what’s in the area.”
He looked skeptically at her, probably because she was alone and a long way from her castle. She’d said she was too tired to go out with him, but now she could go out by herself?
“Did Grant upset you?” Archibald said, sounding angered.
She couldn’t tell if his ire was genuine or a show. “No,” she said, shaking her head.
Archibald still studied her, looking concerned, then waved to a waitress to bring a menu. “Are you going back tonight?”
“No, not tonight.” She needed a break from the castle and Grant and his clan. She hadn’t realized what a strain it would be to act cheery all the time around Grant when he was trying his darnedest to make her want to leave.
Archibald smiled at her. Yeah, he thought he could ply his charm now that she was away from Grant and his protection. She wondered if he would turn her world upside down like Grant could with one smoldering, sexy kiss. If all Highland wolves were capable of such a thing.
“I’m going to check into a B and B and explore more of the countryside tomorrow.” And get a good night’s sleep without having to deal with a monster dog in her bed and rumbling water pipes in Grant’s chamber.
All smiles, Archibald scooted closer to the table. “You’re welcome to stay with me. And I’d be honored to be your tour guide.”
“Thanks for the offer, but no, I’m fine.” She would love to have someone drive her around and tell her the history of the area. But not Archibald. She was certain that the more she saw of him, the more he’d think he had an in with her. And the more she thought his story about the friend arriving at the airport might have been just that—a story.
“Are you sure? You could save your money. You know your dad and I were good friends.”
And that’s what made her more than suspicious. That it wasn’t just a chance meeting between her and him, but that he’d also befriended her father. Here she came along, and he was trying to charm her next.
“So you and my father were good friends?” she asked.
Archibald must not have known how much that would put her off. Because of her dad’s drinking, she and he had never gotten along well. And now that she knew about his lying to her about her grandmother—not to mention that he’d said Grant and his kin were human—she liked her dad even less. If he’d still been alive, she would have told him straight to his face what she thought of him.
Part of the problem was that he had been very much an alpha like she was, so they’d butted heads over the years. Sarah Playfair, her mother, had been a beta enabler. But what could she have done? Wolves stayed together forever.
She realized then that Archibald was talking about her father as if he was the greatest thing since the invention of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Apparently, he’d taken her dad fishing, hiking, and running as wolves—the last said in a “for her hearing only” way. So it did sound like he’d really been close to her dad. Better him than her.
She didn’t care what Archibald had enjoyed doing with her dad. She was curious whether her father had ever talked to Archibald about her. Not that she cared what he’d say, but if Archibald had known about her, had he thought her unimportant in the scheme of things until her father died?
She ordered fish and chips and water, and realized Archibald hadn’t noticed that she wasn’t really listening to what he said. He just continued on, as if he would get on her good side for being such a good friend of her father’s. That would be the day.
“Did my father talk about me?” she asked, feigning interest.
A shadow of concern appeared in Archibald’s expression, but then he quickly smiled and said, “Aye, he said you were a bonny lass.”
Either her father had lied, although she doubted he’d make the effort, or Archibald had. “So he told you how much I loved horses, then?”
She had never been near horses. But she wanted to catch him in his lies.
“Aye, I recall he mentioned something of your love of horses,” Archibald said, looking a little uneasy.
She loved making him squirm. She’d had to deal so much with her father’s deceitfulness that she couldn’t abide it in others. And didn’t need to.
“Did he tell you how proud he was when I earned my degree in mathematics?”
“Oh, aye. He said he wished he had your head for numbers and wished you’d visit while he was here so he could determine the discrepancies in the accounts at Farraige Castle.”
She frowned. Her father had hated that she was earning a degree in mathematics, hated that the genes that had made her ancestors so brilliant in the field had skipped him. Was Archibald making up the rest? Or had her father wanted to prove something was wrong with the accounts just to antagonize Grant?
Her phone rang in her purse, startling her. By the time she answered it, the phone had stopped ringing.
Looking at the caller ID, she was a little surprised to see it had been Grant. Hadn’t he wanted her gone? He should be happy and leave her well enough alone.
She called him back, noticing that Archibald was watching her intently. She suspected he wouldn’t be happy that Grant was checking up on her, or that she would immediately call him back.
“Hello, Grant. It’s me, Colleen,” she said in her most businesslike tone.
“Where the hell are you?”
As usual, he was abrupt, to the point, and not pretending in the least that he was interested in her.
She smiled at his brusque tone. Why in the world did it appeal so much to her?