Early the next morning, Colleen was eager to peruse the estate’s finances, and she seemed to be trying to keep their relationship more businesslike. She was trying to keep from looking at Grant—like a woman who was afraid to show any interest in a man. Not lowering her eyes in a come-hither way, but more indicating that she couldn’t deal with this right now. She was cheery, both during breakfast and after as she’d followed him to the office, so she hadn’t seemed upset about the kissing, but she was attempting to avoid the issue.
And he should have, too. So why did he keep trying to catch her eye, wanting something more? A word that something else was going on between them? That this wasn’t some imagined and passing fancy?
Trying to get his mind on the subject at hand, Grant looked down at Colleen seated at the desk, appearing totally enraptured with the graphs. He knew her ancestors were brilliant mathematicians, but that didn’t mean the gene would always be carried down from generation to generation. Her father had taken issue with a number of expenses—just to give Grant a hard time—but in the end he couldn’t find fault with the way Grant had managed the properties.
Since that time, they’d had the theft in the kitchen.
So when he pulled up the information on his computer, he was surprised to see Colleen set up statistical graphs—one of her ancestors had invented them, sure, but—
She very studiously created them for a vast number of fiscal years, for everything from food supplies to maintenance on the buildings. He watched her, fascinated at how quickly she set them up, as if she did this on a regular basis.
“Like graphs, eh?” he asked, stating the obvious.
She smiled. “My favorite kind of math. Pictorial, great for seeing trends, much easier on the eyes than looking at tons of numbers.”
“Hmm,” he said. He had to admit she was right.
She continued to work on it while he watched, half trying to sense what she felt as she looked over the charts, while hoping the accounts would meet her expectations.
She finally looked back at him as he watched over her shoulder. “You don’t have to stay here. It’ll probably take me a couple of days to make up all the charts and go over them. Maybe longer.”
“Aye, then, lass. If you need anything else, just call me.”
“I will. Thanks, Grant.”
He hesitated to leave. He realized just how unlike her father she was. Not bombastic, take charge—even if she did kick him out of his bedchamber—not cold and calculating. He wondered how she’d act when she found the discrepancies in the foodstuffs, though. His stomach clenched a little at the notion.
He left then, knowing he had a busy day ahead of him, seeing to his people’s needs, ensuring everything ran smoothly, and yet, all he could think of was what Colleen might say about the finances.
Later that afternoon, everyone gathered for the meal, except Colleen. Maybe the time had slipped away from her.
Grant said to Darby, “Will you fetch the lass? Let her know the meal is served.”
Darby let out his breath. “Aye, I will. Do you want me to spy on her when I do it? See how she’s feeling concerning the finances?”
Grant shook his head. “We’ll know soon enough.”
“She’s not much like her father,” Enrick said. “I mean about the charts and graphs. He just took exception to the numbers when he didn’t like them, even though there was nothing wrong with them.”
Everyone waited to eat until Grant gave the word.
Sitting on the other side of Enrick, Lachlan said, “Did she seem upset about anything when she was looking over the graphs?”
“Nay. She was mainly just charting the figures way back as far as she could go.”
“What will that tell her? The world has changed so much since the early days when the castle was first built,” Enrick said. “Not even her father cared about that. He only wanted to see the financial income and expenses for the two years before he inherited the properties.”
“Aye. She seemed enthralled with developing the charts, seeing the history. We have nothing to worry about.” Grant hoped.
Darby entered the great hall without the lass, but Grant assumed she was coming. Darby shook his head.
“Eat,” Grant said to his people. They had work to get back to.
Darby joined him and leaned over to whisper, “She isn’t in your study.”
Grant frowned. “What?”
“Aye. She had turned off the monitor, and she’s still got the files up, but she wasn’t there.”
“I checked. Nay.”
Where the hell was she? Maybe…taking a nap? “Did you check the lady’s chamber?”
“Aye. She was not there, either.”
If she had forgotten about the time, he hated for her to miss the meal, but on the other hand, he didn’t want anyone else to have to miss theirs to search for her when there was no real need.
He pulled out his cell phone and called her. No answer.
His first thought was the seawall and her misadventure there. Then her running off to the village more than two hours away. Now what? He had to remind himself that she could do what she liked with her time. She was not a member of his pack.
Then he realized his men had returned her rental car, and she hadn’t asked for the keys to his car. She had to be on the property.
“Okay, thanks, Darby. Enjoy your meal.”
Enrick buttered a slice of bread. “So where do you think she is?”
Hell if Grant knew. “I have no idea.”
But he was determined to find out right after the meal, hating that he wanted to skip lunch to search for her right this very minute. Even so, he ate his chicken, baked potato, and broccoli faster than he’d ever done. He told everyone to finish their meals, not wanting them to think that since he was leaving the table, they also had to. As was usually the case.
“Do you want me to help you locate her?” Enrick asked, spearing another broccoli floret.
“I’ll come, too,” Lachlan offered, setting his fork on his plate.
Grant glanced at their meals. Both were only halfway finished with their food. “Nay, I’ll find her. It shouldn’t be that hard.”
That’s what he thought. He first went to the gardens, thinking maybe she’d stretched her legs out there, taking a break from the financial reports. Then he checked by the seawall, thinking she might be watching the waves break over the jagged rocks below, having forgotten all about the meal.
But she wasn’t in either location. That had him worried. Where was she?
Colleen loved dogs. She’d felt bad that she was still so wrapped up in the financial reports that she hadn’t seen Frederick yet. She headed out there to see if she could give him a couple of tips before she returned to her work.
She loved analyzing charts and seeing trends, even as far back as in the beginning, and could get wrapped up in them for hours. Some of the records that far back were spotty, but she was amused to see that one of her early ancestors, a countess, had a cat. Unusual for those times when cats just roamed freely to catch mice and rats and weren’t considered pets. But there was a detailed description of all the expenses the cat had incurred, including the cost of taking the cat on trips. Fascinating.
Some could only see the dollars and cents behind the math. She liked to see the human or, in their case, the lupus garou side of the expenditures and income.
She soon reached the kennels, which were fashioned in the same manner as the castle—gray stone with miniature towers gracing each corner. She entered and called out, “Frederick?”
No one was about. She hadn’t seen anyone anywhere, in fact. The meal. She hadn’t meant to get so sidetracked that she’d forgotten about the meal. She was used to eating when she was hungry, not with a pack and on a schedule. She sighed, not wanting to make a big scene by entering the great hall so late.
One of the dogs barked from a fenced-in yard, and she smiled as she headed for the dogs’ yard. If she got hungry later, she could just raid the kitchen, now with Maynard’s approval. She would just pay better attention to the time when it came to dinner.
She stalked toward their gate, noting that since the first feast—served with medieval flair—the wolfhounds had not been in attendance at the meals.
They woofed and jumped at the fence. “Down, boys, girl.”
She thought briefly of taking them to lunch, as if they had been forgotten for the last couple of meals and she was doing her duty by bringing them to join the pack.
Before she opened the gate, her phone rang and she glanced at the caller ID. She closed her eyes briefly. Archibald. She answered it. He was persistent, if nothing else.
“Hi,” she said.
“Are you at the kennels?” he asked, a smile in his voice.
If he liked dogs, he couldn’t be all bad.
“Yes. Just came out to see them.”
“Did you want to get together tonight?”
“No, sorry. Next week sometime?” How many times did she have to tell him she wanted a week at least to get settled in? She wasn’t in the mood to date him or anyone else. Then she ran her fingers over her lips where Grant had kissed her last night. And she smiled, then shook her head. He wasn’t dating her, either.
“You’re killing me, you know?” Archibald said cheerily, not annoyed with her. Which was a good thing or she’d hang up on him.
The dogs were barking and going crazy, wanting to love her. “I’ve got to go, but we can talk later.”
“I’ll call you later tonight.”
“Tomorrow.” She really meant it when she said next week. She guessed she wasn’t used to alpha males wanting their way in things. She was so used to her former mates and her cousins being betas that she hadn’t realized how hard it was to say no to an alpha and mean no.
“Call you tomorrow.”
She pocketed her phone, opened the gate, and shut it behind her. She smiled at the dogs as they excitedly greeted her, backsides wagging along with their tails, their huge heads poking at her, tongues licking, teeth nipping. Okay, so she knew she should be all business, no playing around and make them mind from the beginning, but… She leaned down and gave them each a hug, laughing as they caught strands of her hair and nibbled on them, bumping her, each of them trying to wrest her attention away from the other dogs.
“Did you forget about the meal, lass?” a gruff voice said from the direction of the gate, and she whipped around to see Grant studying her.
“I did. But I’m not all that hungry. I’d forgotten to drop by and show Frederick how to train the dogs, so I came by to give him a few tricks.”
“He’s at the meal.” Grant wore the most elusive smile as he watched the dogs tackle her. “Tell me, is this the way you go about training them? If so, I’ve been doing a good job of it.”
She chuckled. “Oh sure. We’re just warming up.” She thought he looked a little worried. “Is something the matter?”
He shook his head. But she already knew him well enough to know something was bothering him.
She ventured, “I hope you hadn’t worried about me missing the meal.”
“We did,” he said, coming into the pen. The dogs hurried to greet him, too.
“I’m sorry. I’m not used to eating on a schedule.”
“Darby will fetch you in the future.”
“He doesn’t have—”
“The owner of the castle should eat with the staff,” Grant said very seriously, almost sternly, as if she had to abide by the “rules” now that she was here.
She wanted to remind him the staff was his, and she didn’t belong to his pack. That she was the owner of the castle, but as far as his people went, she hadn’t any say in what they did or didn’t do—his words. So she didn’t need to be anywhere that she didn’t want to be. But she bit her tongue.
“Everyone expected to see you at the meal,” he said, watching her while petting two of the dogs. Hercules returned to her side to get more attention.
Then she suspected what had been the matter. Grant had expected her to be there, sharing a meal, conversing with him. Did he feel stood up? Tickled at the notion, if that’s what this was all about, she stifled a smile. “I’ll try to be there next time.”
“About the kiss last night…”
She started laughing.
He smiled. “You seem to be avoiding me.”
“I think it’s better to just stick to business.”
“You know there’s more going on between us, lass.” At least he looked hopeful that there was.
Before she could say anything, footsteps on a cobblestone path headed their way, and they looked to see who was coming but couldn’t see whoever it was for the trees.
“Everyone has finished eating. Would you like Maynard to fix you a plate?” Grant asked in a placating way, and she was glad he was off the subject of kissing. Though she suspected that was all because of someone approaching the pen.
“No, really, I’m fine.” She didn’t want the cook to have to make up a special lunch for her just because she couldn’t get to the meal on time.
Frederick came through the trees and smiled to see Grant and her with the dogs. “Have you come to teach me how to handle them?” he asked her, sounding enthusiastic.
“I sure have. Then I have to get back to looking over the ledgers.” She thought Grant would leave, but instead, he stayed—to get a lesson or two himself, perhaps. Or maybe he just couldn’t believe she could wield a magic wand and make the dogs behave. She pulled out her pen and clicked it. All three dogs ran over to her and sat down on their rumps, tails wagging, eyes focused on hers. She smiled.
“Where are the treats you use to bribe them?” Grant asked, sounding amazed that she didn’t offer the dogs anything for their obedience.
“I don’t always give them treats. Petting them, hugging them, praising them all work, too—they adore being loved. I used treats to first get them to pay attention. But now, I can alternate with playing with them or other ways to show how much I enjoy being with them.”
“Is that just a pen you have in your hand?” Frederick asked, sounding amazed.
“Yes. Just an ordinary pen. Though this one is rather a nice writing pen. But if you’d like, you can have it. Anytime you want to get the dogs’ attention, click it, and they’ll come running. Eventually, you can just give hand signals and they’ll respond to that.”
Frederick glanced at Grant as if he wasn’t sure if he should do this. Before Grant could tell him he could, Colleen said, “Let’s let your laird show us how easy it is.”
She swore that Grant paled to a degree. She hadn’t meant to put him on the spot—well, maybe a little—but she knew he could do it.
She gave him the pen and he cast her a look that said he would get her back. She grinned.
He clicked the pen, and the dogs looked at him but continued to stay beside her. “Maybe you’ll need the treats at first,” she said, smiling.
Grant shook his head and folded his arms.
“I’ll get them,” Frederick offered.
“Right crisper drawer in the fridge, the one closest to the oven,” Colleen said.
“Right.” He raced off.
“You’re good with dogs and kids,” Grant said, sounding as though he admired her for it.
And she appreciated that. “Thanks. They naturally sort of gravitate toward me,” she said, scratching Hercules’s ear.
“Will this really work with them—clicking a pen without giving treats?” he asked, still not sure she knew what she was talking about, as if she had some magical gift with the dogs.
“Sure, and once they’re better trained, you won’t need the pen, either.” Colleen studied Grant’s furrowed brow as she petted the dogs. “Are you sure there’s nothing you’re worried about?”