Grant didn’t want Colleen to feel he was leading her on, coming on too strong, or creating a problem for them both with the direction they were headed. But damn if he didn’t want more. All of it. Her, the mating, the whole savory, sweet pastry that was Colleen—a feast he couldn’t get enough of.
She had been just too enticing sitting in her robe and slipper boots, her knees brushing against his. He had tried to stick with the conversation, one that had been well overdue.
When she told him that she had thought he had come for her at the airport when it had been Archibald, he wanted to show her just how much he regretted not coming for her instead.
Grant had pulled back, wanting to see her reaction. Still wondering about the kisses they’d shared in the glen and later in the keep. She hadn’t pulled away either, and he kept thinking about kissing her again. Just…kissing her. One thing led to another, and before he could stop himself, he was stroking her to completion.
He told himself it couldn’t be helped. How was he to know that when he slipped his hand inside her robe, he would connect with flesh, feeling no barrier between them, no nightshirt covering her breasts or anything else beneath the robe?
She had a drugging effect on him. That was the only way he could explain his reaction to her—because he’d had no intention of taking it that far with her. Ever.
Even a cold shower had done nothing to alleviate his need for her. He couldn’t stop thinking of the wounded expression she wore when he ended the intimacy between them, but if he’d stripped, he would have wanted to take it all the way. Neither of them was ready for that kind of long-term commitment.
So why was he becoming aroused all over again, just thinking of her naked body lying on his bed and her responsiveness to his touch? And why did he want to join her in his bed in the worst way?
A small bag in hand the next morning, Colleen hurried to find Lachlan and ask for the keys to Grant’s car. She had gotten up really early, hoping Grant was still asleep so she wouldn’t run into him.
She wasn’t sure what was going on with Grant’s clansmen, but many had made a special effort to go out of their way to say good morning to her while performing their various duties. As if they’d known Grant had nearly made love to her last night, and they thought maybe she would be his mate soon. Like that would ever happen.
Grant better not have thought that pleasuring her was like a payment for her having saved Ollie. And that was all there was to it.
Frederick was the only one who hadn’t seemed pleased to see her. He had immediately disappeared when she caught sight of him, before she could even wish him a good morning.
Darby had asked if she’d needed anything. Maynard had wanted to fix her a special breakfast. But all she had wanted to do was leave. She couldn’t deal with Grant this morning. Not after the way he’d left her last night as if he’d made a horrible mistake. She couldn’t imagine sitting next to him at a meal, thinking about the way his hands had been all over her, his mouth on her breasts, her tongue in his mouth. She groaned.
She was torn between regretting the intimacy between them and wanting a hell of a lot more.
Which was just why she needed to see Julia and get her head on straight.
Two men offered to take her bag to the car while Lachlan watched, looking damned concerned. Enrick had hurried to speak with someone, but neither of Grant’s brothers went to see him, so she assumed they knew he had no problem with her leaving.
And nobody asked where she was going, which was just as well. Because truthfully, it was no one’s business—specifically, none of Grant MacQuarrie’s.
Grant woke to the sound of someone knocking on the guest-room door, and he was instantly wide awake. Colleen had awakened a need in him he hadn’t felt in a very long time. Something deeper than wanting just sexual fulfillment.
He’d never considered the possibility that he might care for the lass. Not after the way her father had behaved toward him and his clan. He hadn’t thought she would risk her own neck for one of his people, or love the castle and the lands surrounding it like he did. He’d never thought she would have despised her father as much as he did.
Someone knocked again. “Aye,” he called out and pulled on a pair of trousers.
Lachlan opened the door and said, “I thought you’d want to know that the lass took your car out for a spin.”
“What?” Grant said, his voice verging on a growl. He couldn’t even imagine such a thing. He’d expected her to still be asleep in his bed, like he’d been in the guest bedroom. Or maybe looking again at the finances if she’d decided to get up early.
“It’s all right,” Lachlan said. “Enrick sent two men to follow her. They’re reporting back to him as soon as they know where she’s going. You did say she could drive your car anytime she wanted to if she wished to go somewhere.”
Grant frowned at him. “One of you gave her the spare keys to my car without asking me?”
Sounding exasperated, Lachlan said, “You told her she could use your car, Grant. If you hadn’t really meant it, you should have let us in on the secret.”
Grant knew his brother was right, but he wasn’t about to admit it. He threw on a shirt. “Who went after her?”
“Our cook?” Any number of men who seemed better suited to the task should have gone in his place.
“It’s his day off.”
“Who went with him?” Grant shoved his feet in his shoes.
“Darby volunteered. Well, actually, several did, but Darby and Maynard were so adamant about going that Enrick chose them.”
“When did they leave?” Grant stalked out of the chamber.
“Twenty minutes ago.”
Grant glowered at his brother. “Why didn’t you tell me that she’d left twenty minutes ago?”
“We were trying to get someone to follow her pronto before we lost sight of her.”
Grant let out his breath in exasperation.
“They’ll watch her, Grant. She’ll be all right.”
“Give me the keys to your car,” Grant growled, thrusting his hand out.
Lachlan’s brows rose in surprise. “You want to go, too? Isn’t that kind of overkill?”
“Last night we talked about her father possibly being responsible for our father’s death. That Archibald might have known something about it,” Grant said in a rush, feeling panicked when he rarely felt that way. But he didn’t want her anywhere near the bastard.
“Bloody hell. You think she’s gone to talk to Archibald? I’m going with you.”
Enrick stalked toward them as they reached the foyer of the keep. “Darby called and said the lass is still driving.”
“Has she gone in the direction of the village where Kelton’s Pub is located?” Grant asked.
“It’s a long way to the village. She might take any exit way before that and—” Enrick said.
“We’re going. You take care of the place while we’re gone,” Grant said.
Enrick looked a little surprised, then he smiled.
“What?” Grant asked, annoyed, stalking out of the keep.
“I didn’t expect you to chase the lass down personally. Again.”
“If she’s seeing Archibald and he causes her any trouble, she needs protection. If his buddies are with him, Darby and Maynard won’t be any match for them.”
Enrick swore under his breath. “She is still seeing that bastard?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t want to risk it.” Grant climbed into his car, Lachlan slipping into the passenger’s side.
“I thought you and the lass were getting along last night—”
“She knows Archibald may have inside knowledge about our father’s death.”
“She can’t mean to question him,” Enrick said, his eyes wide. Now he realized the concern Grant had for the lass.
“We don’t know, Enrick. But what if she did? I’ll keep in touch.” Grant and Lachlan drove out through the gate and down the road to the one the lass and the others took.
He couldn’t believe that Colleen would do this. Or that his people wouldn’t have stopped her before she left. Or that he felt sick to his stomach that she could be in a world of danger.
“He wouldn’t harm her,” Lachlan said as Grant drove way over the speed he normally did. “He needs her if he’s thinking of getting hold of her properties. He can’t force himself on her.”
Grant gave him a cutting look.
“Okay, he could try. But he knows it wouldn’t work. He’s got to encourage her to agree or we’d kill him. Every last one of us would. Saving Ollie was all it took to pull the pack together to get behind her. She’s no longer an outsider, Grant. Our people have accepted her.”
He knew they would. He wondered just what had been said at the meal while he had pleasured the lass last night.
Lachlan pulled a sheet of paper out of his pocket and said to Grant, “Darby initiated this. Every adult man and woman in our clan agreed to sign this. The women did so electronically. Everyone else signed on the paper. And one teen also affixed his signature.”
“Let me guess. Frederick, our new dog obedience trainer.”
Lachlan smiled. “Aye. So if Archibald has any designs on the lass, she has our whole pack at her back. We’re only waiting for one thing.”
“For you to tell the clan you and she are mated.” Lachlan gave him another smile. “Ian warned you where this would lead, you know.”
Yeah, he had, and despite Grant trying to tell himself it wouldn’t work, he was already trying to figure out a way to convince the lass it would.
Colleen wasn’t sure how long it would take her to reach Argent Castle. Thankfully, Lachlan hadn’t seemed to mind—too much—that she was taking Grant’s car to make the trip. No one had attempted to stop her, change her mind, or escort her there.
After last night and the incredible way Grant had made her feel, she had to know what Julia thought of the situation. Colleen wondered if she had anything to discuss at all—if Grant was pulling back and not interested in anything further to do with her beyond strictly managing the property. Still, Julia was an American wolf and had mated a Highland wolf. She had some insight into their thinking.
She half expected Grant to avoid her today. And she was feeling the same way.
Julia called, and Colleen fumbled to get the phone. “You got the items, right?” Julia asked.
“Good, we’ll have fun playing some games during our ladies’ day out. We’ll have an all-girl themed party, but I’m including a few guy games. Not that the guys are actually included. Just some of their unmentionables. You didn’t get caught, did you?”
Colleen said, “No, and boy, am I glad for that. I can’t imagine what Enrick or Grant would have said, had they caught me in their underwear drawers.”
“They know you’re going to be here, right?”
“Nope. No one asked and I didn’t offer.” Wasn’t that the way it was supposed to be? The owner didn’t have to explain her every move to those who managed and worked her estates. She didn’t think they really cared. And she was fine with that. She wasn’t used to anyone watching every move she made. She needed some space. Especially right about now.
“Hmm,” Julia said, “all right, but I’m certain Grant will be upset that you left without saying…”
“Uh, no. He’s not in charge of me.”
Julia let out her breath. “All right. But I suspect if he didn’t know you were leaving and where you were going…Well, maybe I’m wrong. We’re more than thrilled about your visit. We’ve made all kinds of plans for when you arrive, and the ladies are all in a tither. We’ll do a sleepover, movies, pizza, ice cream, ride horses. You name it, we’ll do it.”
“That sounds like fun.” Though Colleen had never ridden a horse before. “I didn’t mention to anyone that I was going away overnight.” Not when she was in such a rush to leave before having to see Grant, but she hadn’t thought about keeping his car overnight. “I guess I will need to let Grant know I’m going to have his car for longer than anticipated.” She was glad she’d have that much of a reprieve.
“No worries. Ian can give him a call.” Julia sounded much relieved that Grant would be told where Colleen was going.
“Thanks,” Colleen said, not really wanting to talk to him after what happened between them last night.
Not until she had time to think over what they were doing without his indomitable presence. She wasn’t used to dealing with an alpha male like him. She really had to get her emotions under control and quit thinking about him in terms of…well, anything to do with his hot, sexy, kilted or naked body. She had to think of him as if he were her manager wearing a business suit and tie.
“Got to go and watch my driving,” Colleen said, still uncomfortable driving on the narrow roads and in the wrong lane.
“All right, see you in a bit.”
Colleen glanced in her rearview mirror and swore the car behind her had been following her for the last hour. Having no place to pull over where there was safety in numbers, she continued to drive to Argent Castle.
Suddenly, the car slowed down and some maniac raced around it and sped toward her. She slowed way down also, pulling over as far as she could on the practically one-lane road. He passed, honked at her, and slowed in front of her, flashing his brakes.
“What the…” She couldn’t see the driver through the tinted windows. But he had to be drunk or some kind of nutcase. Her stomach clenched with annoyance.
Then she noticed that the car behind her had sped up to block her in. Panicked, she stopped the car suddenly, and the driver almost rear-ended her. Before she could get out of the car, a furious-looking Grant climbed out of the vehicle in front of her and headed for her.
Oh…my…God. Someone must have told him she had taken his car, and he had not approved it. Just great! She was buying a used car, pronto.
The men in the other car just stayed there and waited.
She opened the car door and frowned at him. “What do you think you’re doing?” she asked, irritated with his high-handed ways.
“You’re not seeing him,” he said, reaching his car and towering over her—a hot-under-the-collar Highland warrior, and not one ounce of him looked like it could fit into a suit and a tie.
“What are you talking about?”
He hesitated, looking puzzled. “Where were you going?”
“You know, you could have asked me that to begin with in a nice way. A phone call would have sufficed,” she snapped, so irritated that he would chase her down like this and act as though she was the bad guy.
“Reception isn’t always the greatest out here,” he said, trying to talk his way out of this.
She wasn’t buying it. “Where did you think I was going?”
He shoved his hands in his pockets.
“To see Archibald.”
“What?” She couldn’t help how angry she sounded.
“To ask him if he knew about my father’s death.”
“Oh.” She thought Grant was worried that she’d intended to take up with the man, as in dating and mating, after she had told him she had no intention of letting Archibald get his hands on the estates. She took a deep, calming breath. “I’m on my way to see Julia. And I won’t be home until tomorrow, later sometime. I don’t know when.”
He motioned to the car behind him and both men got out. Maynard and Darby? What was going on?
“Darby, you and Maynard can return home. I’ll take it from here,” Grant said.
Lachlan got out of the passenger side of the car in front of her and waved.
“Go on home, Lachlan. I’ve got this covered,” Grant said.
“Wait, you’re going to walk home?” she asked Grant.
The men looked like they didn’t want to witness this conversation, yet they hung around as if they thought they might still need to give Grant a ride back to Farraige Castle.
“Move over, lass. I will drive you to Argent Castle.”
“We’re having an all-night girls’ party, and all day, too, if you must know.”
“Good, I need to speak with Ian and his brothers. That will work perfectly for me.”
In disbelief, she moved over to the passenger’s side. She didn’t believe he’d had any intention of speaking with Ian or his brothers until she made plans to visit them.
“This is what you meant by letting me borrow the car anytime I wanted?” she asked, scowling at him.
She shook her head. “You couldn’t just call Ian?”
“Bad reception sometimes.”
She didn’t believe it for an instant. Well, maybe sometimes, but not this time. “You really didn’t think I was getting together with Archibald for any other reason, did you?” She had to know beyond a doubt that he didn’t think she was interested in the man.
“No, lass. It’s as I said. I was concerned you might think to ask him about your father’s contribution to my father’s death. I didn’t want you getting involved in that. So what brought on this sudden urge to see Julia? I thought you were spending the day studying the financial graphs.”
She was sure her whole body blushed. She didn’t want to reveal that her leaving had all to do with one wickedly sexy wolf who had seduced her last night, abandoned her, and was now trying to take charge of her today. And how she didn’t know how to deal with him when her emotions got in the way.
Grant’s phone rang and he answered it. “Ian, yes, I got word the lass intended to keep my car for longer than we thought. Which is fine. I’m coming with her, so make another place at the table, will you?”
She heard Ian laughing. Grant glanced at her. “Aye, I’m keeping her out of trouble on the way there. What’s the deal with this wild all-day and all-night party Julia’s holding? Is it something we’ve got to be concerned about?” he asked Ian.
Colleen smiled. “Yes, if you’re a man.” That earned her a smile. “Ask Ian if Julia’s had any of these parties since she’s been there.”
He asked Ian, listened, and then he said, “Okay, so you don’t know what this is all about, either? Well, between your pack and me, we should be able to manage them all right.”
Colleen chuckled. “Not on your life.”
“See you in a while, Ian.” Grant ended the call and said to Colleen, “So what do you do for ladies’ night out?
She smiled. “Whatever we feel inspired to do. Haven’t the women in your pack done such a thing?” She wasn’t about to tell him she’d stolen a pair of his boxers and Enrick’s also, and if she’d known he would actually be there, too, she wasn’t sure she would have snatched them. Well, yeah, she would have. She had no idea what Julia intended to do with them. She sure hoped Grant wouldn’t learn of it prematurely. Or afterward, either.
“Not that I know of,” Grant said.
“That should be changed.” And she intended to while she was here. “Where are the women in your pack?”
“Did you think having only braw men at Farraige Castle would scare me off?”
“Nay, lass. I was afraid the women would attempt to befriend you and agree to anything you wished to do. But it didn’t work out as well as I’d planned.” He gave her a small smile.
“I’m afraid you won my men over, and me. And even without the woman being there, you won them over as well.” He sighed. “So…you’re not going to tell me about this ladies’ day and night out?”
“Just think of it like a guys’ day out, sword fighting and then feasting afterward, without the sword fighting.”
“Without the sword fighting it would lose all its appeal,” he said and smiled at her, and that wolfish smile made her heart leap.
She wondered how she’d managed to get away from him, only to be stuck with him once again, and her feelings for him were twisted into knots even worse now.
Her cell phone rang and Grant glanced at her. She hoped it was just one of her cousins, but she suspected it was Archibald since he said he’d call her today. She fished out her phone. It was. And she really didn’t want to talk to him right now.
“Hi, it’s me, Archibald. I said I’d call and I wondered if you’d like for me to take you out for supper tonight.”
“I’ll be at my friend’s place tonight and tomorrow.”
“You have friends here?” Archibald asked, sounding surprised.
“Yes. Julia MacNeill of Argent Castle.”
Another long silence. Did he not know Ian MacNeill, or was he on the outs with them, too?
“Okay, well, if I don’t get a chance to see you before you return home, I’ll call you tomorrow night.”
“Do you want me to tell him to get lost?” Grant asked loud enough that she was certain that Archibald had heard him with his wolf hearing.
“If Grant gives you any trouble at all, I’ll take him to task,” Archibald said in a very nice way.
But she didn’t think he would deal with Grant in a nice way if she asked Archibald to help her out.
“Did you know anything about Grant’s parents’ deaths?” she asked.
“I knew it. He’s been filling your head with stories of how the Borthwicks did terrible things. But John MacQuarrie was a lying bastard who stabbed my grandfather, Uilleam, in the back. I know that the MacQuarries have always claimed they had managed the estates for the Playfairs from the beginning. But it’s all a lie. Uilleam was their first manager—but John did everything in his power to turn Gideon and Neda Playfair against him. Ask Grant about that. I’m sorry that you’ve had to hear all the lies. I had hoped we could talk so you could learn the truth. I’ll call you tomorrow and we can talk.”
He ended the call and she looked at Grant. “Why would he say that Uilleam was the first manager of Farraige Castle?”
“Trying to get you to believe we’ve lied about everything? Spreading the seeds of doubt? You are already worried we’ve told you a lie, lass. Isn’t that so?”
When they arrived at Argent Castle, Grant was still disconcerted about Archibald’s claims and didn’t believe them, but what bothered him was that Colleen seemed to think he might be telling the truth.
Ian greeted them with a gaggle of women. Julia, Ian’s mate, was all decked out in a pirate-wench costume. Grant raised his brows to see the redhead with her curls tied back with a black-and-white bandana, and wearing a low-cut white blouse with voluminous sleeves and a gold corset that emphasized her breasts. A long, full skirt and boots finished the look.
Shelley, Duncan’s mate was similarly dressed, except all in blue and silver. Grant recalled that the lass had caught Duncan’s eye because of all the silver she wore, and other reasons, of course. As Ian’s youngest brother, he had made a fine catch. Werewolves were not fond of silver. The ancient tale that silver bullets could kill still pervaded their beliefs, so Grant knew she had to be a spitfire.
The real pirate of the bunch, or at least where her relations were concerned, was Cearnach’s mate, Elaine. Cearnach was second in charge of the MacNeill pack. Her uncles had stolen Cearnach’s sword when he was a strapping lad, and now she wore it fastened at her side.
Grant was surprised to see Ian’s mother and aunt arrive in full costume as they greeted Colleen as well. Their costumes were not as busty as the younger women’s were, but they were all decked out in long skirts, fancy three-corner hats topped with outrageous feathers, and Ian’s mother had a sgian dubh, the knife sheathed at her waist. Grant recognized the handle as one Cearnach had hand-carved.
Even Heather, Ian’s unmated cousin, was in attendance. She wore a Scottish version of a pirate’s costume in plaid.
“Looks like we should be armed as well, or the lasses are sure to steal anything that is not bolted down,” Grant said, wanting to enjoy the goings-on and not waste another minute thinking about Archibald and his attempt to upset Colleen.
She looked like she had forgotten the conversation completely and was enjoying being with the other women already.
Colleen offered him a glorious smile, and he smiled at her in return. The ladies all chuckled, then Julia took Colleen’s hand and Shelley grasped her other, and they hurried her back into the keep.
“I don’t have a costume,” she said.
“We’ll fix you right up,” Heather said.
In a normal situation, Grant would not have cared anything about what the women were up to and would have been pleased to visit with Ian and his brothers. But he was dying to know what the lasses had in mind. As much fun as they looked like they could have, he wanted to join them. He would be the sword-wielding Highland pirate, and the wenches would be his to command. Especially Colleen, as he suspected she would fight him every step of the way, and he loved a challenge.
Ian slapped his back. “Come. We will see them later.”
“Colleen said they would be busy all day and through the night and tomorrow as well,” Grant said.
“Aye, but you wouldn’t let that stop you from raiding their party sometime later when they’re least expecting it, would you?” Ian asked.
“I like the way you think, Ian,” Grant said and joined the brothers in the great hall. He half expected the women to be in there. “Where are they?” he asked when he saw that it was empty.
Cearnach motioned toward the kitchen. “In the garden room outside. They’ve closed all the blinds and it’s their pirates’ hideaway.”
“They’ve never done this before?” Grant asked, wondering what he was in for if Colleen decided to do this with the women at his castle.
“Nay. First time. Apparently Colleen and Julia did this regularly with their girlfriends back home. Do you remember Calla? The wedding and party planner?”
“Aye. She saved Cearnach from drowning when he was a lad. And he saved her from a bad marriage.”
“Well, she’s planned most of the activities. So no telling what they’ll be up to,” Ian said. “Let’s retire to the living room and have something to drink and plan our own adventures.”
Grant noted the evil look of pleasure on his friend’s countenance. His brothers shared the same expression. Guthrie, Ian’s brother, quickly joined them in the direction of the study. “I overheard the lasses say they were going on a boxer raid.”
“As opposed to a panty raid?” Cearnach asked. “What do they propose to do with our shorts?”
“They won’t bother with mine,” Guthrie said, sounding relieved.
“Not mine, either. Too far for them to go to fetch a pair,” Grant said, just as thankful.
“That leaves us,” Ian said to Cearnach and Duncan. “But, Guthrie, I wouldn’t be so sure about your clothes.”
The men all laughed and tried to come up with ideas for catching the women when they attempted to steal from them.
“You didn’t install a spy among the women?” Grant asked. “That would have been my plan.”
“They have been making preparations for this since the day the lass arrived,” Ian said. “Remember how I told you my mother wanted my brothers’ help and wouldn’t let them come with me to spar with you? I believe they had intended to have it a little later, but when Colleen stated she wanted to see Julia today, they moved the date up.”
“She had them helping with this project. They’ve been decorating for days,” Ian said.
Guthrie folded his arms. “Calla knows how to spend more money than any other woman I know.”
“She’s a party planner. That’s her job,” Ian said. “Now, to this other matter, Grant, how are you and the lass getting on? I take it she’s nothing like her father, and you might manage living with her for a year.”
“I believe I might have been a wee bit hasty,” Grant had to admit.
They heard loud music beating outside.
They all looked in the direction of the gardens and laughed. Grant knew Ian and his family had every intention of crashing the ladies’ pirate party with tricks of their own. He was glad he’d caught up to her on the road and come along for the ride.
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