Colleen hoped she would find the inconsistencies in the accounts this afternoon and get it out in the open, because she was certain now that something was wrong with them—just from the way everyone was behaving around her.
After training the dogs and having fun showing both Grant and the lad how to do it, Colleen returned to work on the charts and graphs. She was certain from the way Grant had stood over her when she was trying to convert all the data into charts earlier that he was worried about some financial mishap. And then Darby had hovered over her on another occasion, as if he was trying to sense how she was feeling—smelling the air, taking in her scent.
Maynard announced himself, startling her. “A tray, my lady.”
She couldn’t believe the cook had brought up a tray with a sandwich and chips and hot tea. “Thank you. That was really considerate of you. But you really needn’t have. It was my fault I didn’t show up for the meal.” Though she had to admit she was hungry now.
“Laird MacQuarrie believed you would wilt away if you didn’t have something to eat,” Maynard said.
She studied him, his gray eyes meeting her gaze. She smiled. She suspected Grant hadn’t told Maynard to let her know that. “Well, thanks to you and Laird MacQuarrie.”
Maynard didn’t leave and she said, “Is there something else? This will be fine for me.”
He glanced at the charts on the monitor. “How’s it looking?”
Why was he asking? Had Grant put him up to it? She couldn’t imagine the cook would have any interest in the financial matters.
“I haven’t analyzed the figures yet. It could take days.” She was beginning to think something really was wrong with the books. She would have to look more carefully at the figures since she hadn’t found any problem yet.
“Aye. Um, his lairdship would like to meet you for a walk in the gardens at five.”
She raised a brow.
“He thought you might need a break.”
She didn’t believe it. “He thought I might forget the time for the meal. Right?”
Maynard grinned. “Aye, that he did, lass. There’s no fooling you.”
“Aye…well…I’ll leave you alone now.” But he didn’t.
“Bye,” she said, and he finally seemed to take the cue. He quickly dipped his head, then left the study.
She was still wondering why Grant had been so concerned she’d missed the meal. Afraid she’d run off? She didn’t have her car any longer.
Maybe he was trying to get on her good side in case she found a problem in the accounts.
Some hours later, someone darkened the doorway, and Colleen turned to see Grant standing in it. “A walk in the garden, lass?”
She realized then it was well after the time she was supposed to meet him. She smiled a little. “Now you know what my obsession is.”
“Charts and graphs. You’re nothing like your father,” Grant said as he escorted her outside to walk in the rose gardens.
It was mild out, a little cooler than earlier in the day when she had worked with the dogs.
“Thank heavens for that,” she said.
He looked a little surprised. “I take it you and your father didn’t get along well.”
“You’re right. He had…a drinking problem. He was not a happy drunk when he had too much liquor. But then…” She frowned at Grant, suddenly realizing her father must have been a holy terror to live with here. “Did you know?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Was he really awful when he stayed here?”
“Nothing we couldn’t handle.”
She wondered just how Grant and his kin had handled him. She never had been able to. She observed him for a moment, his dark eyes studying her in return. “You thought I’d be just like him.”
“The thought had crossed our minds.”
“Well, I’m nothing like him.”
“Aye, we learned that quickly enough.” He didn’t say anything more for a while, then let out his breath in a way that said he wasn’t sure how to broach the next topic. “I wanted to ask you a question about another matter having to do with the sleeping arrangements.”
His chamber. She almost laughed. She suspected they’d have this discussion every day for a year if she didn’t let him back into his own room. When he didn’t say anything, she said, “Yes?”
“The adjoining chambers next to mine have a bathroom en suite.”
“The rooms that are freshly painted?”
“Aye. Maybe you would prefer staying there and you’d have the same arrangement you have now, except both rooms would be yours to do with as you wish.”
She pondered that. By all rights, the lady’s chamber was hers. She liked the colors and the way it was decorated. By giving up the chamber, she was signaling that Grant had won the battle. Then again, did it really matter?
Yes. Having him sleep elsewhere signified she owned the castle. Psychologically, she felt moving to the other chambers would make her a guest again. An unwelcome guest, because no one had invited her here.
Was she putting too much significance on things? As long as she was well aware of the position she held, she didn’t need a room, throne, crown, or any other symbolism to prove she owned the castle, as much as Grant seemed to need his room to prove he was in charge of his pack.
She swore Grant attempted not to show any hint of emotion—as if she’d say no if he looked too hopeful. “Okay, but I like the lady’s chamber’s decor and—”
“You can stay in that room if you’d still like,” Grant quickly said, as if he still wanted to share the bathroom with her.
“No. I’ll take the other adjoining chambers if you’ll have the furniture from the lady’s chamber moved to the one next door that has the bathroom attached.”
Before she was prepared for his reaction, he gave her a curt nod and looked like it killed him not to shout out with profound exuberance. He glanced around and saw a gardener nearby watching them, which made her think Grant had it mind to kiss her for giving his room back to him but couldn’t with one of his people watching. Instead he said, “I’ll have it taken care of at once.”
Then without another word, he stalked off for the keep. And that signaled the end of their walk together.
Wishing he’d kissed her, just to thank her, though not wanting any of his people to see and get the notion there was more going on than just profound thankfulness, she sighed and continued strolling along the garden path. She enjoyed the chilly sea breeze, hearing the waves crashing down below, and headed to the seawall. She had another half hour or so before the meal was served, and she intended to walk for a while longer.
She hadn’t gone to the seawall and looked at the path she’d taken since she’d been dumb enough and drunk enough to traverse it. Curious if it was truly dangerous or if Grant had made more of a fuss than was warranted, she reached the wall and peered over. She noted movement below. Her heart nearly stopped.
Two wolf cubs, maybe around ten years old or so, were close to the breakers striking the rocks below. She yelled at them to return to this side of the seawall immediately, at the same time climbing over it herself to reach them.
“Stop! Come back here at once!” she shouted, not having time to get help in case either of the wolf cubs lost their footing and ended up in the rough sea.
One of them glanced back at her, his eyes widening.
Giving herself a near heart attack, she slipped on the treacherous, moss-covered rocks, trying to reach the wolves. They were much too close to the breakers. One rogue wave could sweep them off their feet, drag them under, and dash them against the rocks.
“Come back here, now!” she shouted, not having time to strip and shift. She wasn’t sure what she could do, whether she was in her wolf coat or not, if the wolves fell into the frothing surf. She wondered then if anyone had ever survived such a mistake.
The one wolf began to head back up the slippery path, tail tucked between his legs. With horror, Colleen saw an enormous wave rising up before the other wolf could move out of its path.
Colleen dove for the wolf and grabbed him, just as the wave hit them. The force of the water knocked them both off their feet and sucked them into the sea.
As soon as Grant got the call that someone was in trouble at the cliffs, he took off at a dead run and exited the keep. Several of his clansmen hurried with him to reach the seawall.
Troy, eleven years old and always getting into mischief of one sort or another, howled from beyond the seawall. It was a mourning howl—warning the sea had taken one of his friends.
Cursing, Grant dashed through the garden and saw Darby sprinting toward him. “The lass and Ollie are in the sea, my laird.”
“The lass?” Grant shouted, not slowing down. “What lass?”
“Lady Colleen, my laird,” Darby said, keeping pace beside him.
“Why in God’s name were they beyond the seawall?” As if Grant and his brothers and so many others hadn’t done the same thing when they were younger while exploring the danger over the years.
“It appears the two youngsters were playing beyond the wall. The lady saw them. She yelled for them to return, but they didn’t, or at least in Ollie’s case, he didn’t have time. It was too late. By the time I reached the wall, the lady had grabbed for Ollie, the wave struck, and they were pulled out.”
“She…Colleen, was she in human form?”
“What are you going to do?”
Grant vaulted over the stone wall. “Rescue them.”
“Somehow I knew you’d say that,” Darby said, scrambling to get over it and join him.
Lachlan leaped over the wall in his wolf form right behind them.
“We could all drown over this,” Grant warned as he took the path too quickly and slipped and slid on the rocks.
“Aye,” Darby said.
Enrick hurried to join them, carrying ropes. Two other men followed.
Colleen choked and coughed as she held on to Ollie in the choppy water. The waves drew them out, then threatened to toss them back against the rocks.
The water was freezing, though Ollie would be fine in his wolf coat. Colleen would be chilled to the bone and unable to function before long.
Grant quickly tied one of the ropes around his waist, and while the other men held on to the rope, he let a wave take him out. Colleen attempted to swim away from the rocks with Ollie, but the cold was taking a toll on her strength.
Grant swam out to her and grabbed hold of her while she kept a tight grip on Ollie. Grant held her snugly, trying to warm her frigid body with his own, the chill driving deep.
“Pull!” he shouted to the men on the rocks, though he knew he needn’t have. The men were already hauling him in as fast as they could, fighting against the strong tug of the currents and his and Colleen’s weights. Luckily, Ollie didn’t weigh all that much.
When the next wave swept them into the rocks, men grabbed Colleen, while Lachlan seized Ollie by the scruff of his neck and hauled him quickly away from the breakers.
Darby gave Grant a hand.
Colleen coughed and spat up water as Enrick tugged her higher up the rocks.
“Good job, men,” Grant said, his teeth chattering from the cold as he made his way up the path after Enrick, thanking God that they’d all reacted quickly enough to save them. “How are Colleen and Ollie?”
Maynard took Ollie from Lachlan and hefted him over the wall. Lachlan leaped over it and shook a spray of water off his fur everywhere.
“Ollie looks fine,” Maynard said.
Troy jumped over the wall and poked his nose at Ollie. He nuzzled his face against Troy’s.
They hadn’t had anyone die on the cliffs in years, so Grant felt he’d been remiss in not reminding the younger members of the pack just how dangerous the rocks could be. Not that such warnings had kept him and his brothers from exploring beyond the seawall.
“Notify their parents,” Grant said, following his brother and Colleen into the keep. He had to get into dry clothes himself.
“I’ll start a fire in her chamber and in yours. She can have a hot shower to warm her up,” Enrick said.
“Aye.” Grant would use the room she would move to since it wasn’t furnished yet and take his own hot shower. He couldn’t believe she’d risked her own neck to save one of his pack members and nearly gotten herself drowned.
“You shouldn’t have gone after him, lass,” Grant said. He was glad Ollie would be all right, but instead of one drowned child, they could very well have had a drowned woman, too. And more, while trying to rescue them.
Colleen didn’t say anything. Too cold, maybe. Too traumatized, possibly.
When they reached his chamber, he grabbed a towel from his bathroom and a dry change of clothes, but shivering, she reached her cold hand out and touched his arm, then said, “Stay here. I’ll go next door. I’m moving there anyway.”
“Nay, lass,” he said, and suddenly he didn’t want her to go anywhere. She deserved the room of honor. “The furniture needs to be returned to the other chambers. You take a hot shower, get into something dry and warm—and rest. I’ll check on you in a while.”
She nodded and Enrick finished starting the fires for her, then left to start one in the guest chamber for Grant. “I think I lost a good ten years off my life,” Enrick said as Grant joined him in the chamber.
Grant heated the water for his shower. “Aye, you and me both. Ask Maynard to get some hot tea and something hot to eat for the lass, will you? I want her to rest after her ordeal. The great hall is too drafty for her to eat in tonight after the chill she’s taken.”
“Aye, which means she’s giving up her room and moving in here?” Enrick asked.
Grant shook his head. “Nay. I am. The lass said she was happy with the room she’s in. She stays. I’ll move here. That’s the least I can do after she nearly drowned herself trying to save one of our kin.”
Enrick smiled. “You know, I don’t think she would have had to do so for you to change your mind.”
“I had every intention of moving her here,” Grant said, not wanting his brother to think he was so soft.
Three men knocked on the door. “You said you wished us to move furniture, my laird?”
“Aye, return the furnishings that were here before the painting was done. I have changed my mind about moving the furniture from the lady’s chamber,” Grant said, still shivering from his dunk in the cold North Sea.
“I’ll have Maynard bring you some hot tea, too,” Enrick said, smirking, then left Grant to his shower.
Grant had barely dressed when Maynard arrived with a tray in hand, Darby accompanying him, which surprised him even more.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“The lass is taking her meal in her room,” Maynard quickly said.
That part Grant understood. Why they had brought his meal up here was what he didn’t comprehend.
“We thought you might want to be close by in case she is suffering from the ordeal, my laird,” Darby said, looking stiff and uncomfortable.
“Is she feeling bad?” Grant asked, shoving his shoes on, concerned about her health.
“If you were a wee lassie half-drowned in the icy water and banged up against the rocks, wouldn’t you be?” Darby asked.
Grant conceded his valet was right. “Aye, of course, I’ll see to her.”
“To eat with her, maybe?” Maynard asked, looking hopeful.
Grant studied them for a moment. “Set the tray on my table. I’ll see if she wishes the company first.” He couldn’t assume she would.
“But you’ll stay close at hand if she needs you, aye, my laird?” Darby asked.
“What is this all about?” Grant asked, suspecting his men were up to something more than concern for the lass.
“You should mate her,” Darby whispered, as if Colleen might be able to hear him through all the stone walls dividing the rooms.
“What brought this all on?” Grant asked, surprised as hell. Though he suspected his people thought his mating would ensure they never had to worry about the owner of the property deciding to get rid of the pack.
“She saved Ollie,” Darby said, as if that said it all.
Maynard nodded emphatically.
“Aye, but that doesn’t mean the lass is interested in staying here or mating with me.” Or that he wished to mate her. He’d considered it briefly, but the ramifications of this being for a lifetime, since they lived very long lives, and concern that she’d get homesick and want to return to America…
“She hasn’t been mated in a really long time,” Darby said, as if that should make all the difference in the world.
Grant frowned at him, then folded his arms. “Have you been checking into her background?”
Darby stiffened further. “We had to be certain she would suit.”
“You mean, suit me?” Grant was amused, though he couldn’t let on.
“Aye, of course, my laird. Not me,” Darby said, sounding indignant.
Maynard tried to stifle a chuckle.
Grant attempted to keep a straight face, barely managing. “Well…would she?”
“Would she what?” Darby asked, looking puzzled.
“Well, she has not been mated in a very long time.”
Grant almost laughed. “Was that the only remarkable thing you learned about the lass?” He wasn’t about to tell Darby that he had also done some checking up on her once she came into the inheritance. So he knew she’d been mated twice. But was not currently mated. No offspring, and they had seemed to be happy matings. Could she have no children of her own?
“She had two mates,” Darby whispered. “Both died of legitimate causes, no foul play, and she had nothing to do with their deaths.”
“You’re worried about me.” Grant was surprised, amused, and pleased.
“Aye, always, my laird,” Darby said. “But I believe you will be safe with her.”
“Thank you. I will check on the lass, then.” Grant waited for them to leave. He wasn’t going to speak with her while Darby and Maynard breathed down his neck.
“Do…you need any help in…well…” Darby glanced at Maynard, who motioned for him to get on with it. “With…courting the lass? We could ensure you had picnic lunches, meals set out in the gardens at a table for two…”
“It’s supposed to storm the rest of the week.”
“Aye, well, later. Whenever the weather is good. Or we could—”
“Nay, I’m not courting the lass. She is the owner of the castle, nothing more.”
“She saved Ollie,” Darby reminded him.
“Aye, she was a brave lass to do so, but as I said, it doesn’t mean she wishes to join our pack or be mated to me. Off with the both of you now so I can ask if she wishes to dine with me tonight.”
“Aye, of course,” Darby said, ushering Maynard out of the chamber.
Grant wondered if his brothers knew anything about this as he stepped into the hall and knocked on Colleen’s door, half expecting her to say she was too tired to eat with him or anyone else.
Yet he was hoping she might consider dining with him. He thought he might enjoy courting her—but without his people pushing him to do so.