Still chilled to the bone, Colleen sat by the fire in her emerald velvet robe, Norse-decorated sheepskin boots, and nothing else, intending to slip into bed afterward. She sipped her hot tea and was about to spoon up some of the fish stew Maynard had so thoughtfully brought up to her when a knock on the door sounded.
“Yes?” she called out. She was exhausted and glad to eat up here and not in front of Grant’s clan tonight. Thankfully, she was okay, except for still being chilled and weary.
“It’s me, Grant.”
A little more than surprised, though she suspected he wanted to ensure she was uninjured, she said, “You can come in.”
He opened the door and stood there, taking her in with a sweep of his gaze. “Are you all right?” He was frowning and looked concerned.
“Tired, cold still, but getting warmer. How about you? And Ollie?”
“No need to worry about me. Ollie’s fine. Grounded. And so is his friend Troy. But otherwise he is safe and sound, thanks to you. Would you mind too much if I joined you for dinner?”
“Here?” she asked. She wasn’t properly dressed to eat with Grant in the bedchamber or anywhere else tonight. And why wouldn’t he be eating with his pack?
“Aye, if you don’t mind.”
She hesitated. He would never guess she was naked under the robe. “I’d like that very much. Come, join me.” She thought he meant to share her meal right then and there.
But he said, “I’ll be right back.”
Before she could consider removing her robe and throwing on some jeans and a sweater, he returned with a tray of food, and she realized Maynard must have also left Grant’s meal in his room and Grant wanted company.
“You didn’t plan to eat with your people tonight?”
“I wanted to be close by in case you needed anything,” he said, sitting down at the table with her. He sounded genuinely apprehensive.
His concern touched her. “I really am fine.”
The square oak table in her room seemed even smaller when trying to accommodate Grant’s long legs. His knees brushed hers when he sat down and felt wickedly seductive. She was shocked at the touch, but more so when his mouth curved up marginally.
“I want to thank you for rescuing Ollie,” he said.
“He needed help. I was the closest one who could reach him,” Colleen said matter-of-factly. She would have done it for anyone.
She took a deep breath and exhaled, wanting to discuss another matter. “I’ve been pondering over some of what you told me earlier about your father’s drowning. Do you think my dad was responsible for Robert MacQuarrie’s death? And your mother’s?” Colleen asked, needing to know the truth.
“I believe Theodore Playfair had the most to gain from my father’s death. Or he thought he did. He resented that Neda doted on my brothers and me. And he fought with her over wanting to manage the estates.”
“His drinking, I’m sure, contributed to the way my grandmother felt. I imagine that the news didn’t go over well with my father,” Colleen said, dipping a spoon into the stew.
“Aye. You are right on both accounts. I don’t know about my mother. Maybe Theodore felt if Eleanor was gone, my father would be so distraught that he couldn’t continue to manage the properties. My father was in bad shape for quite a while. My mother would never have been on the cliffs during a storm or at any other time.
“She had three toddlers to care for. She adored us and was very happy. My father was terribly depressed when she died. The whole clan pulled together to watch out for him. If he had died on the cliffs closer to the time my mother drowned, we might have assumed he did so out of grief. But years later? Nay.”
Colleen agreed with Grant’s assumption. She watched as he buttered his bread and waited until he’d finished eating the slice to pose another question. “I hate to ask, but was my father around when your dad was so depressed?”
Grant scooped up some of his stew. “Nay. Many believed Theodore was responsible for my mother’s death. No one could prove it. But he was not welcome. When my father didn’t take his own life shortly after my mother died, Theodore left for America and mated with your mother.
“Theodore returned every so often to ensure his mother left the property to him and didn’t give it to my father, I’m certain. Great animosity existed between the two men. And he hated me and my brothers. When my brothers and I were away at university, my father drowned on a blustery, cold winter’s night, just like my mother had many years earlier. Again, no witnesses. It seemed too easy to dismiss as mere coincidence.” Grant finished off his meal.
“It wasn’t the anniversary of your mother’s death or anything?” Colleen guessed, fingering her buttered slice of bread.
“Nay. My father had been talking to me about my brothers and me coming home for the holidays. He was so proud of us. When my father died, I couldn’t believe it. Neda called me home, and I took over management of the pack and the estates. And Theodore was still there. He was outraged, so certain that upon my father’s death, he would manage the estates. Neda explained to him that my father had trained me and the pack was mine to lead once my father died.
“If Theodore could have gotten away with it, I’m certain he would have killed me for it. Even so, I had my doubts that he could have killed either of my parents—not on his own. He stormed out of the castle and returned to Maryland. He didn’t come back until he inherited the castle.”
She took a deep breath, hating that her father could have been involved in anything of the sort. “I’m sure he hated that on top of everything, you were a young man.”
But Grant hadn’t believed he had acted alone. Who else then? “You said Archibald was like his father and grandfather. Uilleam Borthwick murdered yours to try and take over the management of the castle. How was Archibald’s father like that?”
“Haldane Borthwick had been visiting Theodore both when my mother died and then years later when my father drowned. Purely by chance? I think not.”
She considered the ramifications, surprised Archibald had been associated with her father for so long. She had thought it was only more recent, upon her father’s inheriting the castle. A more devious reason for the friendship might exist.
“I’m surprised my grandmother would have allowed Haldane Borthwick to visit if she had any notion he might be as dangerous as Uilleam had been.”
Grant finished his hot mug of tea and set it down on the tray. “Neda was away both times. I’m sure they planned it that way. The first time, she was visiting a dying aunt. She was grief-stricken to learn our mother had died and immediately took us under her wing. My father was heartbroken. From what older members of the pack told us later, they thought he’d forsake all food and join his mate. The only thing that brought him out of his anguish was the daily reminder that he had triplet sons who needed his guidance and love, and our pack members did everything to ensure he remained focused on the job until he could work through his grief.”
“I’m so sorry about your parents, Grant.”
“I thank you, lass. Your grandmother was like a mother to us. My father never took another mate. We dearly loved Neda.”
Colleen was certain that had she ever met her grandmother, she would have, too. “My father wasn’t here when Neda died, was he?” Colleen asked, fearing the worst.
“Nay. Once I took over and worried that Theodore and Haldane had caused my father’s death, whenever your father returned for a visit, I had guards posted to watch him day and night. Not that he ever knew it. But we were concerned for Neda’s safety.”
To her way of thinking, Grant and his brothers would have been as much at risk. “What about you and your brothers’ welfare?”
“We really weren’t concerned about our own safety, but later we learned our pack members watched out for us. They were really proud of having been so sneaky that we didn’t even know it.” He smiled.
She smiled back and thought how wonderful it was to have an extended family that watched the boys’ backs. “I can imagine it wasn’t easy trying to keep track of all three of you without one of you having a clue. So what of Haldane? Is he still alive?”
“Another wolf killed him years later. No one knew who killed him for certain, but we suspected one of my father’s friends resented Haldane, believing he had murdered Robert and gotten away with it, and so sought revenge.”
She pondered that, wondering if that man was still in the pack. “Is the wolf who you suspected of killing him still alive?”
She waited expectantly. When Grant looked at the fire, she suspected he didn’t want to give away the identity of the man. “Who?” she asked softly.
“We believe it was Darby.” Grant’s unfathomable gaze swung back to her, and she felt as though he was watching her reaction, ready to defend the man’s honor.
“Your faithful valet,” she said, seeing the man in a new light—but only in a good way.
“Aye. I think he only applied for the position eons ago to be my bodyguard, just in case.”
She sighed. “I think he was afraid I was going to have him fired. He didn’t like that I was in your chamber,” Colleen said, recalling her confrontation with him—mainly because she had only been wearing a towel, and she thought his brusqueness had been an effort to hide his embarrassment.
Grant chuckled. “Aye. I think that’s the most worried I’ve seen him in a long time. He said he’d ask Ian if he’d take him into his pack, but truth is, Darby and Ian’s ghostly cousin, Flynn, don’t see eye to eye.”
“Flynn’s a ghost.”
She shook her head. She did not believe in ghosts. “What about Archibald? You said he is like his father and grandfather. How?”
“He wanted to manage the property just like they did. At first, we believed he was trying to work a deal with your father when he visited. Maybe help to get rid of Neda, which was one of the reasons we guarded her at all times. If she had died, Theodore would have owned the castle, and since he had no knowledge of how to run the estates, he might have installed Archibald as the manager.
“Not that he would have known how to take care of the estates. And my pack would have given him a difficult time of it. Maybe Archibald was blackmailing your father. Maybe he knew just what Theodore and his father had done with regard to my father’s death. The two of them were drinking buddies. Not that Archibald drinks overly much, but he was always picking your father up and taking him to pubs.”
She nodded. “So they weren’t just fishing buddies. When my father took over, why didn’t he install Archibald?”
“Theodore was deep in his cups more often than not. Some of that was Archibald’s fault because he took your father to the same pub where you were to plot.”
No wonder Grant had been upset to hear she had been there with Archibald. If only she’d known.
“A couple of my men followed them and listened in on their conversations. Archibald told Theodore what he’d do and Theodore agreed, all while drinking. But thankfully it was all talk and nothing more. Then he returned to Maryland. We thought that was the end of your father’s interference here.”
She smiled a little ruefully. “Until I showed up. My father’s daughter. A week after he returned home, my father drove himself off a bridge and drowned,” Colleen said. She sighed deeply, remembering the call from the police and wondering why it hadn’t happened earlier the way he drank and drove.
“He’d been caught driving over the limit on several occasions, and his license had been revoked. He shouldn’t have been driving, but that didn’t make any difference to him.” She shook her head. “If he drowned your father, it seems fitting justice that he died that way, too. I was just glad he hadn’t taken anyone else’s life with him.”
“I’m sorry, Colleen. This has to be hard to learn all at once.”
Yeah, it was. Not because she had cared about her father, but because she cared about Grant’s. “My father had never been a loving dad. The more I learn about him, the less I realize I knew him. I believe the only thing he really loved was his bottle.” She finished her tea and set the cup aside.
“I have to agree with you there,” Grant said stonily.
“Have you ever questioned Archibald about your parents’ deaths?” Not that she thought the man would give up the secrets, but Grant might have noticed a change of scent or posture or mannerisms, something that would indicate Archibald knew something.
“Aye, I have. If he knows what truly happened, he won’t tell me.”
Thinking out loud, she said, “So Archibald thinks to gain the properties through me, then.”
“I suspect he was keeping an eye on your father, and when he learned Theodore had died and you inherited, he was waiting for you to follow in your father’s footsteps. Then he conveniently met you at the airport.”
She stiffened a little, her gaze holding his. He might as well know the truth. “I assumed he was you at first, and that he had come to pick me up and take me to the castle.” She smiled a little. That might teach Grant to allow his enemy to come for her instead. “But then I texted Julia and said I’d arrived, and she told me what you had planned for me. She sent a picture of you and Ian, so I’d know who to look for when I arrived at the castle.”
“Bloody hell, lass,” Grant said with regret. He reached for her hand and squeezed it with a much too tender touch, when she was trying to keep a more businesslike posture, especially because of the way she was dressed. “I’m sorry for not being the one to pick you up. To show you Scottish hospitality like I should have from the very beginning.” Then he frowned. “You couldn’t have thought he was me.”
She chuckled. “Or one of your men. When I said such, his face fell, but I still assumed his meeting me there was just by chance. Does he have a pack?”
She realized she’d never really talked to anyone about her father like she had with Grant. Her cousins had been terrified of him; her mother covered for him.
“Nay. Five men stick with Archibald. He and his father and grandfather never had a following. So if he mated with you and took over the properties, he’d be the owner and tell me what to do.”
She shook her head, not even considering the possibility. “And make life miserable for you.”
“But you and your pack could leave,” she said, just speaking in general. Not that they would have to.
“And go where, lass? This is our home. This is what we know how to do well.”
Grant looked as though they would fight and die before they’d leave their home. Colleen thought about that as she stared into the golden flames and realized this really was their home. Not just a place they managed. But theirs. And had always been.
Between the fire, the stew, and tea, and Grant’s knees brushing against hers, she was getting hot. But she wasn’t backing away from him as much as she knew she should, while she wickedly enjoyed the intimacy of their touch. Wishing in a naughty way that they could do more.
“It will never happen,” she said emphatically.
“I don’t want you to leave,” Grant said, his voice somber, his eyes dark.
He sounded so sincere that she was really taken aback. He really must have had a change of heart.
She smiled a little. “I have nearly a year before I do. Maybe in that time you’ll change your mind.”
“Nay. I should have gone to America and brought you home to Farraige Castle so you could have been with your grandmother,” he said, again so serious, as if they’d finally made a connection—a tentative friendship.
“You should have,” she heartily agreed. “I wish I’d known her.”
“Then I wouldn’t have wasted all that time not getting to know you.”
She raised a brow. Was he serious? “And you wouldn’t have tried to scare me off when I first arrived,” she teased.
“I never expected you to stand there recording us, or that my brothers would join you as if they were your bodyguards. I should have known I’d already lost the battle.”
She smiled. “You had. As soon as Julia gave me a heads-up, you had lost. Well, except when it came to the whisky, but that was my fault. I should have known better.”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry about not welcoming you like I should have,” he said again, his voice full of regret.
“Truly, I don’t believe we’d be here like this today if you hadn’t. I might have thought you were terribly dull.”
“I would love to run in the glen over the hills as wolves sometime.”
She wanted him to know from the bottom of her heart that she would never have replaced Grant or his pack. She reached over to pat his hand. “Archibald would never have run the estates.”
Grant rose from his chair and took her hand gently and pulled her from her seat. “You can’t know how I felt when I saw you and Ollie in the sea.”
She swore Grant’s eyes misted with tears. And she hugged him to say she was sorry for his losses, and to thank him for saving her and Ollie.
For a long time, he held her close, rubbing one hand down her back, his other lying gently on her hip. His head rested on the top of hers, her cheek pressed against his chest. He smelled of his shower, of spices, and more—an interested male wolf.
“I nearly had a heart attack seeing the two of you in the water like that.”
Then she realized how deeply affected he had to have been, with the memories of his mother and father drowning off those same cliffs, and his inability to save them. “You were so brave to jump in after us.”
“I acted on instinct,” he said.
“Just like I did,” she said, sighing against his chest, listening to his heart racing, smelling his hot wolf interest.
He cupped her face and lifted it so he could gaze into her eyes. “Next time…”
She heard the scold in his tone of voice. “Let’s not let there be a next time.” And this time, she initiated the kiss—but not on his cheek.
The pipes grumbled in the bathroom, and she cast Grant an elusive smile before they got back to kissing—the hot, heavy, and needy kind.
Grant rubbed his body affectionately against hers, tantalizing her, making her body heat and tighten and moisten just for him.
Tongues came into play, and with the fire and their kissing, she was burning up. She didn’t figure it would go any further than some really hot kissing, but the next thing she knew, he was stroking his hand down her back, and she had her arms about his neck while she gyrated against him. She hadn’t meant to, not the way she was dressed, but it just seemed like a natural thing to do with him.
All she could think about was him in a kilt, and then him without, and how his very hard body was making her feel hot and desirable. She couldn’t help but want to rub up against him in a wolf’s courtship kind of way. Did he know how much his touch affected her?
Yes. He could smell her turned-on scent just like she recognized his. So it had been just as much of a turn-on for him.
What was it about the alpha Highland wolf that made her lose her business sense and want to take this in a different direction?
“Lass,” Grant groaned against her ear as his body moved against hers.
She loved the way he sounded like he was dying to have her. He cupped her velvet-covered breasts, caressing her mouth with his, their breath coming quickly.
He slipped his hand inside her robe to touch her breast and froze.
“I didn’t expect company,” she said and sucked on his tongue, not about to apologize or be embarrassed. Even if she was.
He reached for her tie and smiled such a wolfishly wicked grin that she quickly stayed his hands. “Not too far.”
“Agreed,” he said, his voice rough with need.
As wolves, mating was for a lifetime. If they were careful, fooling around was the only alternative for sexy wolf loving without the forever commitment. Not that wolves took even this kind of sexual play this far unless they believed they might have something to build on.
Then he untied her robe and parted it. She heard his intake of breath before he murmured, “Beautiful.”
“You probably say that to all the women you rescue from the sea,” she said.
“Since you are the only woman I’ve ever rescued from the sea, aye,” he said, smiling.
He leaned down and took a nipple in his mouth as his hand stroked the other, making her wrap her leg around his calf and rub. She would leave her scent on him, like a wolf claiming him, even if this wasn’t forever.
Her fingers slipped under his shirt, and for the first time, she was able to lightly scratch his back, running her fingers up and down his skin, adoring every bit of him.
Every part of him was sexy. His mouth was made for kissing, she decided as she combed her fingers through his hair and kissed him back, feathering, nipping, licking, pressuring. Before she knew it, she was on his bed—the laird’s bed—their pulses racing to the moon, the heat flaring between them.
She hadn’t been with a man like this in a very long time, and their passionate touches were wilder and more intimate then she had ever experienced.
He stroked his hand down her belly.
Her body pulsed with excitement as he nibbled her ear, his hand drawing lower, through her curls, and then between her legs. She barely breathed as she anticipated his fingers stroking her, slipping inside her, plunging deep.
She wished they could make love all the way.
She couldn’t resist touching him any more than he could her, but this time, Grant was fully dressed. Did he feel they were safer that way?
Burning with unquenchable need, she sucked in her breath as his fingers stroked her, just as she’d imagined they would, his gaze steady on hers, watching her reaction, adjusting to the way his touch made her feel.
She wanted to jerk his shirt off and yank down his pants, but he was stroking her into submission. As much as she couldn’t believe she would submit to an alpha male, she couldn’t think or feel beyond the pleasure of his…touch.
And then she had the sensation of being lifted heavenward as he renewed his kisses on her mouth. They were insistent, bold, and hungry, until she couldn’t halt the wondrous feeling carrying her away. She cried out, loving the way he’d made her come, the intimacy, and passion unlike anything she’d experienced before.
She pulled at his pants again and tugged at his shirt, but he kissed her softly on the mouth and then the forehead, saying it was over in a maddeningly frustrating way. She wanted to pleasure him as he had her.
He let out his breath on a sexually unfulfilled sigh. “I’ll let you get your rest now.”
He closed her robe. He wanted more. He wanted her touch. She knew it. Why was he holding back? Because he didn’t want her to get the idea that he wanted her in a more permanent way?
In disbelief, she stared at him. She didn’t want to rest. She wanted to feel every naked bit of him. She’d seen him that way enough times, and every time she’d wanted to touch and stroke all those glorious muscles.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, unable to hide feeling a little bit rejected. She knew that he was right. That this was the best thing to do. But she felt it was like offering a secret to a friend and the friend not offering one in return. She felt vulnerable, exposed.
He took her hand and kissed it as if he was trying to appease her.
She didn’t want to be appeased. She pulled her hand free.
“You should rest.” His voice was husky with unfulfilled need. “I’ll…see you in the morning.”
That was it?
“Are…” She frowned, then folded her arms. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of me.”
He smiled, and the look was pure alpha wolf—the hot, sexy male variety who was not afraid of anything. Least of all her.
“How did you guess?” Then he was off the bed and heading for the door.
Wait. He was going to leave her on his bed after what he did to her?
He didn’t say good night, and she didn’t either. They looked at each other with considering gazes, a million thoughts running through her mind, and then he shut the door on his way out.
She was so frustrated, she could scream. She threw his pillow at the door. Then feeling half-aggravated and half-satiated, she curled up on his mattress, smelling the sexy alpha wolf and wishing they could have snuggled together in the big bed for the rest of the night.
And knowing just why he chose to leave her alone. Neither of them wanted a mating. So why was she wishing otherwise?
She heard the shower going in the bathroom adjoining hers, and she wondered if Grant was taking care of his own unfulfilled sexual frustrations. If she’d wanted a mating, she told herself, she’d have joined him in the shower and let her feelings be known.
She stared at the bed canopy for what seemed like forever. She definitely couldn’t sleep in his bed sober and smell his scent all over the sheets all night long. Grumbling, she left his bed and returned to the lady’s chamber. She retrieved her phone from her purse and called Julia. What she needed was someone to talk to. Someone who knew her. Someone who could tell her that she had to get her mind on track.
“I want to get together with you tomorrow. Would that be all right?”
“Absolutely. We’ll have our girls’ day out party. Can you stay overnight?”
“Good, but here’s what I want you to do. Don’t let anyone catch you at it,” Julia said with a conspiratorial challenge to her tone of voice as she explained what she wanted Colleen to do.
That’s just what Colleen needed to hear. They were going to have fun.
Here Grant thought being rough and gruff with her would have chased her away. Sharing one-sided intimacies had done the trick better than anything else he could have done to make her want to leave and never come back.
“Is everything all right?” Julia suddenly asked.
“I’ll talk with you tomorrow.” No, everything wasn’t all right.