“She wants to see the financial spreadsheets,” Grant told Enrick in the study when the lass retired to her chamber.
“You look worried,” Enrick said.
“Aye. The matter with the thieving cook was dealt with satisfactorily, to our way of thinking. But what if the lass feels we were derelict in our duties for allowing the theft to go on so long?”
“You will convince her we had no knowledge of it and did everything to rectify the situation when we did learn of it. You seem bothered by something else tonight. And Lachlan said you’re sending two men to return the lass’s rental car. Have you had a change of heart about her staying here?” Enrick asked.
“She can’t rent the car for a year.”
Enrick smiled. “You do think she’ll stay for the entire time.”
“We’ll have to see what tomorrow brings,” Grant said vaguely.
“And what else?” Enrick asked.
“Someone might have sent Hercules to her chamber.”
“That’s why he was sleeping outside her room?” Enrick asked.
“In her bed.”
Enrick frowned. “How did she get him out of her…the beef.”
Enrick shook his head. “I’ll make inquiries to see if anyone knows how the dog ended up there.”
Colleen knew she couldn’t do anything sneakily around the castle unless it was the middle of the night and everyone was asleep. Even then, the cook had caught her in the kitchen last night. She would use the rest of the meat to train the dogs. She was not going to have them jumping all over her in the future, if she could help it.
Now, she wanted to see who was taking the dogs to the kennels and putting them to bed. As soon as she reached for the handle to the front door of the keep, a man’s voice said, “Kind of chilly for a walk out there tonight.”
Lachlan. She turned and smiled at him. “I’ll be fine.”
“Mind if I join you?”
She paused. “Because you want to or need to?”
His mouth curved up. “Because I want to, of course.”
She knew she wouldn’t be able to speak to the lad in charge of the dogs without someone else learning of it. “All right.”
He opened the door for her, and then they walked outside. She heard the dogs barking to the left of the bailey and assumed the kennels were behind the stables. She headed in that direction.
“Are you checking out the horses?”
“Ah,” Lachlan said.
“How many dogs do you have?”
“Three—two males and a female. They’re from one of Ian MacNeill’s litters. I must say you handle them nicely.”
So he had been watching surreptitiously. Had Grant also? She’d seen the men who were supposed to be working on the seawall stop to observe her. All had worn smiles. “I’m surprised no one has ever tried to train them.”
Lachlan didn’t say anything. She glanced at him. He smiled.
“You’ve tried?” she asked, not believing they’d had so little success. She thought the dogs were quite easily trained.
“Aye. They mind Grant best, but they ignore the rest of us, no matter how alpha we are.”
She said, “If you ever want me to show you how, just ask.”
“I do. Anytime we both have free time.”
“It’s a deal.”
When they reached the kennels, she heard a boy talking to them, “Now, no more leaving the kennels on your own after I’ve put you to bed, mind you.”
Had the lad seen her coming and was putting on a show for her?
“Laird Grant already gave me a talking-to, and I don’t need him scolding me any further.” The teen was waving his finger at Hercules, the dog thumping his tail on the ground as he sat in his run looking out the barred door. The boy was about fifteen, she thought, with curly red hair and a slight build.
Colleen cleared her throat and the lad jumped back, stumbling and falling. She realized then that he hadn’t known they were coming. He must have been speaking so intently to the dogs that he hadn’t heard their approaching footfalls.
“I am Colleen Playfair, and you are?”
“The kennel boy, my lady,” the lad replied.
“Frederick, my lady.”
“Well, Frederick, are all the dogs tucked in?”
“Oh, aye, my lady. They shouldn’t give you any trouble tonight.” Frederick glanced at Lachlan.
“Do you know how Hercules got into the keep last night?” she asked, watching the teen’s reactions.
“Through the wolf door. Had to be. No other way. But how he managed to get out of the kennel, that’s another story,” Frederick said, jamming his hands in his pockets.
“Are you certain you locked him up tight?”
“We don’t lock them up, my lady. I mean, as you can see, their runs have latches on them. None of them has ever found a way to unlatch them.”
“Someone must have let Hercules out,” she said, suspecting that was the case unless the boy really had neglected to lock him up.
Frederick paled and looked at Lachlan as if he would defend his honor.
“She’s not saying you let the dog out,” Lachlan said in a reassuring way.
“No. Lachlan’s right. I just wondered how he got into my bed, if you’re certain he was in here last night and the latch was secure.”
The boy’s eyes widened.
Lachlan frowned. “Aye, how the devil did he get into your chamber? Sleeping outside the door is one thing, but I had not considered someone had opened your door and let him in.”
Lachlan sounded so angry she was surprised. She didn’t want to tell him she had left Grant’s door ajar when she went to speak to him about the scary noises in his chamber. On the other hand, she didn’t want Lachlan to think someone had entered her room when she was sleeping.
“Grant’s chamber door was ajar. Mine was open to his chamber,” she said.
Lachlan looked skeptical. “I now have the duty to see that the kennels are secure every night just because of what happened last evening.”
He didn’t sound perturbed about it, for which she was glad. She wanted to tell him it wasn’t necessary, but she was certain Grant had given the order, and she didn’t want to interfere with his pack business.
“Good to meet you, Frederick. I would love to show you how to train them after I deal with another matter,” she said, thinking she needed to get started on the financial reports.
“Oh, aye, I’d love that. They can be a handful at times. I’d like to be able to show them who’s boss.”
She smiled at that, knowing just the feeling. Except in her case, it didn’t have anything to do with dogs, but rather one brawny Highlander. “Then tomorrow, when I’m through with this other business, I’ll come and see you.”
The boy beamed and she was glad he didn’t seem to be at fault for the dog being let loose. Yet she didn’t entirely trust him. He could have been nervous because he felt responsible for the dogs and one got loose, but what if he was anxious because he had left the dog in Grant’s chamber? She wanted to show him in her own way that there were no hard feelings.
She and Lachlan returned to the keep, but as soon as they did, Grant headed straight for her. He didn’t look happy. Now what?
“She wanted to see the dogs in the kennel,” Lachlan said, as if defending her for talking to the boy.
“Can we speak in private?” Grant asked her, more of a command than a question.
She folded her arms. “No. Say what you have on your mind.”
Grant looked at Lachlan, who grinned and said good night to Colleen, then quickly left the foyer. So Grant got his way anyway.
“I told you I’d speak with the lad,” Grant said.
“Yes, you did. I wished to speak with him, too.”
“He didn’t let the dog out of the kennel,” Grant said gruffly, his stern gaze challenging her to disagree with him.
“Maybe not.” But she’d still investigate further on her own to determine the truth of the matter. Just because she was curious.
“He lost his mother a year ago. The dogs have helped him to come to grips with his loss.”
Stunned, Colleen didn’t say anything.
“He’s made mistakes handling the dogs in the past. Nothing that would have harmed them, but they were just a little beyond his control. He begged me to let him continue to be their keeper, though I have a man who actually is the one who serves that purpose. But we’re letting the lad be in charge as much as possible to aid him in his grief.”
Colleen nodded. “I offered to help him with training the dogs.” She felt terrible about the boy, but she wasn’t upset with him. She only wanted to know how the dog could have gotten out. “I fully intend to work with him tomorrow after we go over the finances.” Then she walked off without waiting for Grant to say a word.
And she thought she’d come out on top this time. Why was it that everything seemed to be a battle between the two of them?
Footsteps approached from behind and she looked over her shoulder to see Grant following her, his gaze steady on hers. “Did you need to talk to me about something further?” she asked.
His lips parted—his so-kissable manly lips—as if he wanted to say something more to her, but then he just stared at her as if he wasn’t sure what to say or do.
“About the…” He paused.
The brawny, sword-wielding, defiant Highlander was tongue-tied? Because of her?
“About the kiss…”
She waited, though the silence between them was killing her. Was he going to tell her it was a mistake? “Yes?”
He shook his head. “Have a good night.”
But he didn’t turn and walk away. He was still staring at her, and she did what she should never have done. For a second time, she drew close, took hold of his shoulders, and gave him a kiss, only this time on the…cheek.
His mouth curved up wickedly, his eyes showing the same heated expression, right before he slipped his arms around her and pulled her tight against his body—his already aroused body—and kissed her. Hot, hard, in charge, possessive, filled with want and need and so much more. Then he broke free before she was ready to let go of him or the sensation of his sexy, masculine lips against her mouth. He bowed his head, then turned and left her standing there. Bewildered. A little shaken. A lot hot.
She just stared after his retreating backside and wondered if that was a sign that she’d lost the battle to keep her distance, or he had. What exactly had just happened between them? Again.
Thoroughly rattled, she couldn’t go to bed now without thinking of him—his lips pressed against hers, or his arousal pressing against her belly. Still wondering why Grant had kissed her, she retired to her chamber.
Just like when she’d left her rural home to stay in a city and had to get used to the city noises—sirens, car traffic, dogs barking—she knew she’d eventually get used to the noise in the pipes as they gurgled and groaned and creaked. At least tonight she knew she wouldn’t have a furry, long-legged bed companion. No one would pull that stunt again. Not with Grant and his brothers aware of it.
So what would be next? That led her to half wishing the wolf of a Highlander would join her in bed this time. She knew she wouldn’t want to coax him out of her bed.
She groaned at the thought. She was supposed to be the owner and, as such, not making any attempts to seduce her manager. Wouldn’t that be considered sexual harassment on the job?
Grant was grabbing a whisky in the study when his brothers walked in and joined him. “I thought you were going to bed, Lachlan,” Grant said.
“Enrick caught me and asked if I wanted to have a drink before I retired for the night. I assumed he meant we were having a talk with you.”
“So,” Enrick said, “has anyone been assigned to watch the lass’s room tonight?”
“For what purpose?” Grant asked, then finished off his whisky.
Enrick poured himself and Lachlan some. “To ensure the lass’s sleep isn’t bothered.”
“There should be no need for that.” Grant poured himself another drink. “Once we were made aware that the dog had not been locked up as he should have been, we knew someone had to have led him to her room. The word should have spread to let everyone know the lass is staying and no one should give her any trouble.”
“I’m surprised the lass didn’t shriek in distress when Hercules jumped in bed with her,” Enrick said. “Lachlan said she had left the chamber door ajar.”
“It doesn’t matter what the circumstances were,” Grant said, not about to mention that she had come to see him in the White Room, and that must have been when the dog was let into her room, “as long as no one does anything else to attempt to unsettle the lass.”
The brothers smiled.
Enrick said, “So you truly have had a change of heart concerning her.”
“She may not be as much like her father as we first worried. But time will tell,” Grant said.
“How was your sleep last night?” Enrick asked.
Grant gave him a look to not go there. “Are the men nearly finished with painting the rooms next to mine?”
“The one, aye,” Lachlan said. “The other should be finished tomorrow. Paint fumes will linger a bit longer.”
“Tell them I want a rush on it.”
“You’re moving in there?” Enrick asked.
“Why not see if the lass would agree to move into the newly painted chambers?” Lachlan asked.
“Just the thought I had.” Grant felt as though he’d been dethroned once he lost the right to sleep in his own chamber.
Worse, he hated how anxious he felt about her checking over the books tomorrow.
As to the kiss? He had wanted to apologize to her for kissing her on the hilltop. But when she had kissed him on the cheek in such a benign way? Bloody hell. He couldn’t let her think that that was acceptable, either.
What had he been thinking? How much he wanted to kiss her again and see if it was just as hot as the first time. And it was, which led him to want a longer kiss, and a hell of a lot more. Putting on the brakes had been harder than he ever had imagined it could be.
And that was the first sign he was truly losing the battle against the lass—in all manner of ways.