Hero of a Highland Wolf by Terry Spear (Part 17-23) - Free Newsletter Serial

New to HERO OF A HIGHLAND WOLF? Missing an issue?
Click here to catch up!

 

 





They headed into the castle, armed and ready to confront anyone who thought to give them trouble, and saw the men with the boxes of pizza, looking as though the treasure was theirs and they weren’t eager to give it up. The whole lot of them wore smug smiles.

 

Chapter 17
 

Colleen had needed this—to reconnect with Julia after all this time and to make new friends here with Julia’s new relatives. She couldn’t believe that Julia had actually married, as had Shelley and Elaine, when their wolf kind normally just mated and it was a done deal for life.

Ian had a title, Julia had explained. To pass down to their offspring.

Colleen wore a white peasant’s blouse, a beautifully embroidered red corset, and a navy blue full-length skirt as the music blared and a fire pit glowed with red-orange flames. They danced on the stone floor that had been cleared of the sofas and dining table, having the time of their lives.

Though Colleen had wanted to speak with her friend privately, she figured she’d find the time since she was going to be here all night.

“Did you see the looks on their faces?” Calla asked, taking Colleen’s hand and swinging her around on the floor.

If Colleen ever had to marry, and that was something she’d never considered before, she wanted Calla to plan it for her.

“Oh, aye,” Lady Mae—Ian’s mother—said, all smiles. “I don’t think I have ever seen my sons want to learn more about what we were up to than I did today. They are dying of curiosity.”

“So when do we decorate our flagpole?” Elaine asked.

She was the only one of the women actually descended from pirates, though she insisted that her uncles were privateers, therefore they were commissioned to do the job. But still, the rest of her family were out-and-out pirates, and that fascinated Colleen.

“Let’s do it now,” Julia said. “Before we really start celebrating and forget to! You did bring a pair of Grant’s and Enrick’s, didn’t you, Colleen?”

“Yes. Luckily, Grant was staying in a guest chamber so I was able to search for the perfect pair.” Colleen held up a pair of blue plaid boxers. She was glad the guys didn’t know about this and weren’t planning to get back at the women. “Thankfully, Grant had already taken some with him to the other room or he would have wondered why I was rummaging through his underwear. Enrick had already left his room this morning before I grabbed a pair of his.”

The ladies laughed.

“Good. We suspected Grant would follow you here sometime today. We didn’t want him to feel left out.” Julia waved a pair of red, white, and blue striped briefs she’d gotten for Ian. “I claimed him for America even if he remains in Scotland.”

“Does he wear them?” Colleen asked.

“Oh, yes. He’s great at trying to please me.”

Colleen loved him already.

Shelley twirled a pair of black, active mesh boxers. “Duncan likes black.”

“On you,” Elaine teased. She stretched out a pair of boxers—white, semitransparent. “Love these on Cearnach.”

Colleen hadn’t expected Ian’s mother to have snatched anyone’s underwear. She was widowed. But she shook out a pair of longhorn-steer-decorated boxers. “Shelley’s Uncle Ethan’s.”

Grinning, everyone clapped.

Calla showed off a pair of black briefs for Guthrie. “I didn’t want him to feel left out. I figured he’d have boxers with dollar signs all over them.”

“They would have cost too much,” Julia teased. “He’s in charge of the purse strings, Colleen. Even for this affair, he was fussing. It’s coming out of my book sales, so I told him to think of it as a promotional party. He grumbled that I wouldn’t be selling my books to any of you but giving them away free.”

Colleen laughed. She slipped her hand in her bag and pulled out another pair of briefs, this pair red. “Hot, eh, Heather? I don’t know how I’m going to explain how I was in Enrick’s underwear drawer when I return to Farraige Castle.”

“Thanks, Colleen,” Heather said, beaming.

Colleen wanted to ask if Heather had an interest in Enrick. She must or Julia wouldn’t have asked her to grab a pair of his briefs.

Everyone turned to Aunt Agnes. She smiled brightly and spread her hands. “Not me. No love interest and I certainly don’t want to snag any man’s trunks just to say I did it.”

Julia dug in a bag and pulled out a pair of hot chili pepper boxers. She tossed them to her aunt and said, “Shelley’s Uncle Jasper will do.”

Aunt Agnes caught the boxers and frowned. “I don’t want him thinking I stole his boxers,” she said with a sniff, holding them far away from her as if she might catch something while she stared at the flaming-hot chili peppers imprinted on them.

“Are we ready to hang them on the pole, ladies?” Julia asked, heading for the door.

“Aye, aye, captain!” the women all shouted.

Colleen laughed. She had missed these parties with Julia and her girlfriends, but this wasn’t anything like she’d experienced.

They headed outside into the cool mist and stood before the flagpole as Julia pronounced the pirates’ claim to the men’s underwear and then proceeded to attach them to the pole as if they were flags blowing in the chilly breeze.

“We need to starch them so they stiffen,” Heather said.

The ladies all laughed and Heather blushed. “You have dirty minds.”

They all laughed again.

“What’s next?” Elaine asked.

“Pizzas!” Calla said. “They should be arriving any moment.”

“Everyone armed and ready?” Julia asked, just for the authenticity.

“Aye,” everyone said.

Colleen suspected Julia intended to put this in a story someday. Julia had even given Colleen a sword, though she thought it was one of the lads’ practice swords, as dull and lightweight as it was.

They headed into the castle, armed and ready to confront anyone who thought to give them trouble, and saw the men with the boxes of pizza, looking as though the treasure was theirs and they weren’t eager to give it up. The whole lot of them wore smug smiles.

Ian gave Julia a challenging look. “We paid for the booty. You want it, you’ll have to fight for it or win it.”

Ian and his brothers, Grant, and two older men who must have been Shelley’s uncles Ethan and Jasper smiled back at the ladies, not appearing interested in handing over the food.

“Don’t think to spoil our party,” Julia said with a threat in her voice, though Colleen knew it was all playacting.

“We plan to make it more to your liking. Either you order your own pizza, in which case we might confiscate it as well when the ship comes in, or you include us in your game,” Ian said.

“You don’t mess with pirates unless you are willing to pay the price,” Elaine said, brandishing her sword—in reality, Cearnach’s sword of his youth.

The women agreed. The men laughed.

But they appeared to be at a standoff.

“All right, our pizza’s getting cold. So what do you suggest?” Julia said.

“A three-­legged race. Men against the women,” Uncle Ethan said.

“You’re taller and could outdistance us,” Ian’s mother said.

“A sword fight,” Duncan said.

Both the men and the women looked at him like he was crazy.

“Bobbing for apples,” Colleen said. She was the champion apple bobber in her county. And Julia was just as good at it. Surely some of the other ladies would do as well. Hopefully, Ian and the rest of the men wouldn’t.

“A seaworthy challenge,” Julia declared.

The men got a big plastic tub, filled it with water and apples outside on the stone patio, and the game was on. Julia went first, as alpha pack leader at Argent Castle. She pulled two apples out before Ian told her she had enough. She grabbed two of the boxes of pizza.

Ian went next, and no matter how hard he tried, he could not grasp a bobbing apple with his teeth. His shirt and face wet, he finally conceded.

“You will not put this in a book of yours,” he warned Julia. Her smile said that’s just what she’d do.

Colleen was next as owner of Farraige Castle and grabbed three apples before Grant said, “Enough. Show-off.”

Everyone laughed. Grant did not look happy about trying this new venture, and he did as poorly as Ian. No one else was able to fish out any apples, though everyone laughed hard enough about it.

Uncle Ethan eyed the apples that Julia and Colleen had managed to snag and said, “They had the longest stems of any of them.”

“No, they didn’t, Uncle Ethan,” Shelley said. Using her hands, she pulled out two from the water and showed the stems on those.

The ladies grabbed their boxes of pizzas and in sashaying, pirate lady fashion, they headed outside with their booty.

“Brilliant idea,” Julia said. “I never even considered that.”

“I remember how we played that at fall festivals and how good we were. Glad we trounced them,” Colleen said, having so much fun that she never wanted this to end.

When they crossed through the garden and reached the gazebo, they stared at their pirate’s flagpole. All the men’s underwear were gone, and in their place hung colorful silk and lace bras.

“When…who…?” Elaine said.

They sniffed at them.

“Seems all of them at one time or another grabbed our things,” Colleen said. “When we were so busy watching the next player, one of the men must have slipped out to grab a bra and attach it to the pole.”

The ladies laughed and hurried to take down their bras.

 

***

 

Chapter 18
 

Colleen had thought this was strictly going to be a ladies’ night adventure. Not anything involving the men. She couldn’t believe how the men were playing with them. It was too much fun.

Sitting on the soft moss-green couches that fit together like a meandering stream around the glowing fire pit, the ladies ate slices of pizza and sipped merlot.

They shared stories of how they met their mates. Julia’s mother-in-law talked about how impossible Uncle Ethan was, though Colleen noted the way Lady Mae talked about him in an annoyed, but endearing way, and Heather described who her dream man would be. Colleen wasn’t certain if she was talking about Enrick or not. Aunt Agnes was mum. And Calla talked about how Guthrie MacNeill was the most irritating man who held the purse strings for the clan.

Colleen thought Calla sounded like she had the hots for him.

Julia began telling how she and Colleen had met on the run as wolves and became best friends. “I was about ten years old, off exploring without any pack members, and had caught Colleen’s scent. I was curious who she was. Then I encountered a mother bear and her cubs. My fault, really. I smelled signs of them but didn’t heed the warning. I was too interested in learning who the strange she-­wolf was crossing our territory.

“She could have been all wolf and not lupus garou, for all I knew. But I was always on the lookout for a wolf cub my age. Then I got curious about the bears. Nearly a fatal mistake on my part,” Julia said. “Colleen came to my rescue when she heard me snarling and growling and barking in a startled ‘I’m going to get myself killed’ way.”

Colleen shook her head. “You and me both.”

“What did you do?” Heather asked, wide-eyed.

“All that we could do. We kept going in different directions. With two of us, the mother bear was afraid we might attack her cubs. We finally were able to outrun her and spent a couple of hours trying to find each other again,” Colleen said.

“Yeah, best friends forever after that,” Julia said.

Colleen set her wineglass on the coffee table. “I couldn’t believe it when you told me you’d come out here to work on a movie, perfect for providing details for your next book, and ended up mating with the pack leader!”

Julia smiled. “Yeah, but I couldn’t believe how you picked up your first mate, either.”

Elaine tilted the wine bottle and said, “We’re out. We need more for our storytelling.”

“I’ll get us a couple more bottles. I know this story,” Colleen said.

“Are you sure?” Julia asked. “It’s always a fun story.”

“When you tell it,” Colleen said, smiling.

“I could go with you,” Heather said.

“No, no, that’s fine. I’ll be really quick.” Colleen didn’t want to stop Julia’s spiel, but she really didn’t want to hear it again, either. She uncurled herself from the couch.

“Her first beta mate had tried hard to approach her at a barn-­dance social. The guys had been pushing him all night to cross the floor to ask her to dance. She waited and finally, giving up on him, crossed the floor instead and asked him to dance.”

The ladies chuckled.

Smiling, Colleen opened the door to the garden room. Yeah, he was cute and she never regretted taking him for her first mate.

Julia continued with the story, “No one had expected her to become interested in a beta like him. But he was the sweetest guy, and she loved him for it. She nearly gave him a heart attack when she asked him to dance, though.”

Colleen closed the door and headed down the stone path toward the keep. Grant was so different. If he was intrigued with her at that same dance, he would have made his interest known at once, probably elbowing everyone out of the way if they approached her and glowering at anybody who even considered such a move. She wasn’t sure if she could have handled a wolf like him way back then. Now? She wasn’t certain anybody else would ever measure up to the way she felt about him.

She walked quietly down the moss-covered path, listening to the wind whipping through the trees, her skirt flying, and wondered if she could have an all-­girls’ party at Farraige Castle—not in quite the same manner, but as a way to get to know the MacQuarrie women better when they returned home.

She watched for any movement outside, figuring her concern was silly. No one would be observing the garden room. The men laughed inside, probably imbibing too much whisky and having their own fun. She slipped inside, not sure why she felt so apprehensive, but her skin crawled with unease, as if any moment something would come out of the dark and give her a heart seizure.

Just as she attempted to tell herself how silly that was, something in the dark touched her arm, and she swallowed a scream. A small light shown from a hallway, and between that and her preternatural wolf sight, she could see her way in the kitchen, but no one was here. She did not believe in ghosts, even if a ghostly cousin of Ian’s purportedly hassled the lasses in his clan.

She should have allowed Heather to come with her, but she thought that only one person going would be quieter than if more of them went. She could see the men wanting to take the game a little further.

She found the door to the cellar and opened it, then headed down the wooden steps. They creaked with every step she took, sounding as though she was setting off an alarm bell signaling “intruder alert.”

When she reached the stone floor, she hurried to the racks in the far back corner where Heather had picked out the other bottles of merlot.

She was about to grab two bottles when she heard someone coming down the steps. A man’s heavy tromping. He wasn’t making any effort to hide that he was coming. He could smell that she had just been here, too. Did he think she was still down here? Or maybe he suspected she’d come and gone, and he had missed her. He was probably only here to grab more wine for their own party upstairs.

He approached the wine racks where she stood, and she barely breathed. Carefully, she unsheathed her sword with a soft swish loud enough for any wolf to hear. She hadn’t expected that unsheathing her sword would be so noticeable.

A man chuckled.

Grant. She sighed with relief. Yet her skin still prickled with awareness. Whether he was playing the game or not, she still felt a wolf’s wariness, a natural tendency to be on guard. On the other hand, they were alone in the dark, and that had her thinking of kissing and other possibilities, which she swore she was going to ignore this very minute!

“What a delightful scent I smell,” he said, drawing closer, his stride shorter now, his voice seductive, playful, and very interested.

She would not let him get her all excited again, not let him melt her with his touches and then leave again.

“I hear your breathing, lassie, and your heart beating out of bounds. The lass isn’t stealing the laird’s wine, is she?”

She couldn’t help it. She smiled. He was playing the game still. “Don’t come any nearer, Grant,” she ordered, unable to see him yet for all the racks of bottled Chablis, merlot, Riesling, and pinot grigio. Her darn heart was beating even faster now, her blood pounding. The anticipation of his stalking her was killing her.

He laughed, his voice dark and sexy. “You are not in charge of this castle. You are a pirate. What should I do with a pirate who is stealing the laird’s wine, eh? When he is my best friend?”

She smiled, though she wasn’t ready to face Grant, even in play like this. She thought she heard an eagerness, a wolf’s determination, and something more that drove him toward her.

“I believe I’ve found the lassie I want to keep for my own.”

Her jaw dropped. He couldn’t be serious. He had to be teasing. Playing the game.

He came around the corner and his dark gaze met hers, then lowered to take in her corset. “I like this style on you. You should play dress-up more often.”

She looked down at the kilt he wore and the fur-­covered bag in front of his crotch—the sporran—which made her want to lift it and see if she could get a rise out of him. “Where did you get the kilt?” She loved seeing him in it and couldn’t think of a better way for him to perform his part.

His eyes darkened even further with intrigue as he moved in closer.

“I have a spare one and set of clothes in the trunk of my car at all times. Since you lasses wished to be pirate wenches, the men and I donned our kilts to entertain you in the right manner.”

“You…you are still playing the game.”

“Aye, until you ladies are through.”

Okay, so that’s what she thought. He didn’t really mean he wanted to keep her for his own. She could play the game.

“Don’t come any closer,” she said, waving the sword at him. She suspected he wasn’t going to let that deter him.

“I like your determination, playfulness, and resourcefulness. Next time we bob for apples, I want you on my team.” He moved in closer.

She backed up, bumping into sacks of grain and barely catching herself before she fell on top of them.

“Did you come down here for some wine?” she asked, trying to get him back on task, which shouldn’t include stalking after her.

“Nay, lass. I had first lookout.” He drew closer.

“First…lookout?”

“Aye, you see, each of us has vowed to capture any pirate wench who approaches the keep. You were the first. I claim you.” He pressed into her space, forcing her to move her sword ineffectually to the side.

She laughed. “You are too funny, Grant, though I have to say I love your sense of humor.”

“I’m serious,” he said, his voice rough with need, his hands on her shoulders, caressing, endearing. He wasn’t playing now. No teasing light in his eyes. He was all business, his eyes dark with desire. “You can’t tease me by looking like you do, stealing my trunks in a way that’s tantamount to saying you have claimed me, lass, displaying them for the whole of Ian’s pack to see, and then say it is all pretend. You are not pretend. You are real. The way your heart beats when I am near, and mine beats just as rapidly, the way your scent changes, telling me you want me like I want you—this is real.”

She smiled up at him, unsure what to say. She was normally not tongue-tied. But around Grant like this, with his close proximity, the way his musky male wolf scent tantalized her, the way he looked at her as if she was sex in a risqué costume, her emotions swept her away. Yes, she’d been mated twice before, and those had been agreeable matings, but she hadn’t felt the same for them as she did for Grant. A raging torrent of emotions—of lust and longing and sexual arousal—unbalanced her, making her feel as though she needed a safety line. And someone to tell her if this kind of a relationship was healthy and would work out for a very long lupus garou’s lifetime.

Yet could she walk out on him today, give up on him and the castle, and turn over her inheritance to her cousins? Could she stay here a whole year and a day, and be just the owner of the castle, while he served as her manager? And get over the physical attraction to him that had her wanting so much more?

She knew she couldn’t. She’d thought about what Archibald had said, but she didn’t believe him. Grant’s grandfather and parents had been murdered. His people had worried that Grant and his brothers were next. Archibald had to have lied to attempt to cause dissention between her and Grant.

Her heart was beating like a she-wolf who was caught, tested, and forced to tell the truth. Yet she couldn’t say it. What if she was wrong about Grant and her being right for each other?

Or what if she was still fantasizing about them, and he was just playing with her—as part of the game?

“Why did you really leave this morning and come here?” he asked, his tone of voice gentle, coaxing, but he wouldn’t let her go, wouldn’t step back out of her space. He was forcing her to hear his own rapid heartbeat, the smell of his arousal, and the feel of his heated body.

“To see Julia.” That was true. She had to see her and bounce her thoughts off her friend as they had always done. How could Julia have mated Ian without talking it through with Colleen first? Yet she hadn’t wanted to talk to Julia with the other ladies present, and she hadn’t believed Grant would end up here, too.

“About?” Grant asked, his hands cupping her face, his thumbs caressing her cheeks, his gaze locked on hers, alpha to alpha.

You. Colleen took a deep breath. No, not about him. But about… “Us.”

“You and me?” he asked, his eyes misty with sexual craving.

“Yes, if you must know.”

He grinned. “Aye, lass. That was all I wanted to know.”

He leaned down to kiss her, but she stopped him, her hands on his shoulders. “That’s it? What if I was going to tell her that…well, that…”

“You were going to tell her that we have a need for each other that we can’t quench. A wolf’s need. You know how it is for our kind. We find the right one, and that’s it for us,” he said, serious as could be, still eyeing her with determination. He wasn’t going to back down.

“But…”

“Your other two mates were betas.”

She frowned up at him. He had been checking up on her?

“Aye, you adored them. You were saddened to see them go. You pined for years after each of them died. But what you had with them was not the same as what we have between us.”

“That’s what’s wrong,” she said, her hands slipping to his back, her eyes averting to his gloriously muscled chest.

“Nay, not wrong.” He lifted her chin and kissed her forehead. “You do not have the luxury of brushing me aside and saying that because I wasn’t like your other mates, I’m wrong for you. They were good for you when you needed them. But now you need…”

“You?” She couldn’t help sounding a trifle annoyed. He was so arrogant and, God, so appealing. He was right. He seemed to be just what she needed in her life, but she didn’t want him saying so. She was used to being in charge and deciding what she needed, no one else.

Even in the case of her prior mates, she had been the one to tell them she thought they should be together, not the other way around.

She took in another deep breath of him and considered his expression. He might be smiling at her in an interested way, all serious, but it was the way his heart was beating just as fast, the feel of his arousal pressed now against her, the way she wanted this more than she thought she should that made her hesitant.

“Aye, you need me. But not any more than I need you, lass,” he said, kissing one cheek with reverence, and then the other.

“You left me last night,” she accused. What if he pleasured her here, just like she wanted him to, then hurried off again, abandoning her, only this time among the bottles of wine?

“Aye, lass.” He sighed and rested his forehead against hers. “I’m not good at this—this courtship phase with a wolf. I know what I want, and I’m fairly certain of what you want.”

“A mating?” she asked. She had to know. For certain.

“Aye, a mating.”

Did she want this? To be a pack leader, and not just in charge of a couple of beta cousins? Did she want to live here with Grant and his family and his clan?

“This isn’t a way for you to return to your chamber, is it?”

He chuckled. “You are a canny lass. But I don’t intend for you to sleep in the lady’s chamber, ever. You have a year to decide, but I will be working on convincing you the whole time that you wish to be mated to me.”

She opened her mouth to speak. If he put it that way, she would never last. She slipped her arms around his neck. “Try me.”

Someone pounded on the cellar door.

Colleen’s heart skipped a beat. “You locked the door?” she asked, hoping he had.

“Aye, how could I capture you if your pirate mateys showed up and came to your aid?” He brushed a kiss against her forehead.

“Colleen, are you in there?” Heather called out.

“Why is the door locked?” Julia asked.

“We are negotiating terms of surrender,” Grant hollered back. “I’m not releasing my captive maiden until we get this right.”

Colleen laughed at him. She could just imagine what the ladies would think of that. Was he playing? Or for real?

The ladies were silent for several heartbeats. Then Julia said, “Is this why you wanted to talk with me, Colleen?”

“Yes!” And leave it to Grant to keep her from doing so.

“Then I approve. Get on with the surrender terms. Tell Grant you accept his surrender in full. Don’t let him get anything by you.” Julia paused. “Can we get a bottle or two of wine first?”

Colleen loved Julia.

“You will have to wait,” Grant said, then winked at Colleen. “We are busy.”

“All right, just this time!” Julia said, then squeaked. “Run! Ian… Run, Heather! Get the troops!”

Colleen laughed. “I should be with my pirate cohorts, aiding them against the kilted lot of you.”

“You, lass, are out of the game. Except for the one you and I are playing now.”

She caressed his bare arms. “Does that mean you love me?”

“Ever since the day you recorded every bit of me sparring with Ian MacNeill.”

“I got your best side, too.”

“You got my arse!”

“Yes.” She laughed. “As I said, your best side.”

He reached around and cupped her buttocks. “Yours is not so bad, either. But do you love me?”

“From the time I saw you so valiantly fighting Ian, to when you slept as a wolf on the floor of the White Room and then rescued me and Ollie from the sea, I knew you were truly special. You are a good pack leader and clan chief, and I adore you.”

“And love me.”

She smiled wickedly and reached down to caress his kilt-­covered buttocks. “Yeah, I do. It wasn’t hard to do. But I worried…”

“That I wasn’t like the other wolves in your life. You will not find that to be a problem.”

“Oh, I think I might,” she said.

And then he leaned down to kiss her, his mouth hungry on hers, but this time she wanted to hold him where he wouldn’t let her touch him the last time. She reached down, her hand slipping over the soft fake fur on his sporran, and felt his erection stir beneath it and his kilt.

Her touch had him groaning against her lips, right before he thrust his tongue into her mouth and leaned his erection against her hand.

His hands caressed her breasts and he smiled. “No bra, lassie.”

He’d know, as he’d retrieved it from Ian and Julia’s chamber and attached it to the pirate’s pole. He pulled her blouse down and exposed her nipples, the corset pushing her breasts up for his pleasure.

She lifted his kilt so she could cup him, and his eyes darkened with intrigue as she felt his cock, hard and pulsing and heavy in her grasp.

He groaned her name as she stroked him, right before he suckled one of her breasts, his mouth warm and wet, his tongue lathing her nipple. She moaned at the exquisite sensations he stirred deep inside her. She was becoming wet for him, and he knew it. Smelled her readiness, just as she smelled his.

She wanted to tell him how much he turned her on when he wore his kilt, but she suspected he already knew that or he wouldn’t have changed. She pulled it up so she could touch his tautly muscled buttocks, while his focus remained on her breasts, his tongue licking one, his thumb stroking the other. In the cool, damp cellar, she was burning up with his heated breath and touch.

She ran her hands over his ass, squeezing it, arching against his erection. He didn’t remove her clothes like she thought he would, but eased her onto the sacks of grain, fumbled then with her long pirate skirts, and yanked them up.

Omigod, this was so…medieval. She loved it. She didn’t attempt to remove his kilt. Just lifted it and saw his masculine need for her swelling to the occasion.

She never thought she would mate her next wolf like this—in a Highland castle’s wine cellar with a hot alpha wolf wearing a kilt and nothing else, while she wore a medieval wench’s gown and nothing underneath.

Then again, somehow it seemed appropriate to mate with a Highland alpha wolf just like this.

His large hand moved between her legs and urged her to spread them for him. He stroked and caressed her all-too-willing nub that ached for his touch. He kissed her mouth that was every bit as possessive and insistent. She licked and nipped his lips and tongue until he began to bring her to climax, and then her fingers dug into his sexy rump, her body arching to his strokes.

“Surrender,” he whispered to her.

She smiled, wanting his surrender first, and yet not. She needed this, to reach the peak, to explode into a million sparks of wonder, and before she could think another thought, she did. Shattered with the utmost intense pleasure.

Grant had decided this the moment Lachlan had handed him the signed petition from his pack. The feelings he had for her had been building since the minute he’d met her, despite him trying to deny it was so, and he’d known those feelings would end in this.

Maybe not exactly here, like this. But he knew with the way he felt about her, and the way she felt about him, they couldn’t have waited much longer. He couldn’t have been any happier to take the she-wolf in Ian’s cellar dressed as they were, knowing just how turned-on he made her when he wore his kilt.

He was proud to wear it, never thinking that it would turn his potential mate on, but damn, if she didn’t do the same to him, no matter what she wore or didn’t wear. He couldn’t stop thinking about her wearing that velvet robe and nothing else while she regally ate dinner with him.

He eased into her, savoring the feel of her wet sheath surrounding his cock, opening for him, caressing him, as her hands stroked his skin everywhere—back, arms, arse—making him hotter.

And then he was in all the way to the hilt and pulling out again, treasuring not only the sex, but that all this felt right—the mating, the joining, the change in pack leadership.

He would treasure his faux captive she-wolf forever.

He thrust more deeply into her as she took his tongue hostage and sucked. He loved when she did that. He ramped up his speed, kissing her back like there was no tomorrow, still reeling from the fact she’d said yes, and then he came in one euphoric, explosive moment.

Yet he continued to move against her, feeling sure she was about to come, until she exclaimed, “Oh…my…God.” And slumped against the sacks of grain, her orgasm clenching around his cock.

Now what were they going to do?

 

***

 

 

Chapter 19
 

Grant had moved so that he wasn’t resting on top of Colleen on the grain sacks, looking down at her, one elbow propping him up, the other hand caressing her hair. He seemed to be lost in thought after making such wondrous love to her.

Colleen had loved her past mates. She truly had. But being with Grant was a world apart from anything she’d ever experienced. She loved battling with him to be on top, instead of being with a beta wolf, where she had always been the initiator. She loved how passionate he was and how much he got into the role she and her friends were playing, in a good-natured, hot and sexy wolf way. She would cherish their first mating forever.

He looked down at her with such an intensely proud and loving expression that she smiled up at him.

“We have a problem,” he said, kissing her cheek, her brow, her lips.

“What is that?” She suspected he meant about telling the others that they’d mated, though she supposed they’d assume as much.

He played with a tie on her corset. “If we were at Farraige Castle, we wouldn’t leave our bed for a week.”

She laughed. Now that was the difference between the alpha and the beta. Her previous mates would have waited for her to say so.

“But here, we have a real dilemma.” He was smiling so broadly that she couldn’t wait to hear what he would say. “I’ve captured my pirate she-wolf.”

“Who says I haven’t held you hostage down here?”

He laughed. “Oh, aye, you have. And still do.”

She blushed as she felt his cock stirring inside her. “Insatiable.”

“Aye. But I don’t want to share my conquest with anyone else…at the moment.”

She sighed. “As much as I hate to admit it, I feel the same way.” She loved the intimacy between them and wasn’t ready to give it up. But they really did have to rejoin the party. Or…maybe not right away. She licked his chin. “I do believe we’re still in negotiations.”

And with that, they began to negotiate all over again.
 

***


When Colleen and Grant left the cellar, she had two bottles of wine in hand, ready to return to the outdoor garden room, but Grant escorted her out there, not wanting any of the other men to take her hostage if they were still playing the game.

“Seems like since you are my enemy, I should not allow you to escort me,” she said, snuggling close to him in the chilly wind.

“I’m protecting my investment.” Then he kissed her, waiting for her to enter the garden room and having a devil of a time not regretting that she was sleeping with the women tonight instead of him. The thought of waking next to her in the morning was what he truly craved.

“’Night, lass. But remember, if I catch you beyond the garden room…”

“You have such a one-track mind, Highlander. Did you know?”

“Aye.” He smiled.

The door opened and Julia said, “Good, you brought more wine. Should we take him hostage?”

Colleen smiled and Grant grinned, then turned on his heel and returned to the keep before they truly decided to do so.

He found Ian and the others sitting about the fire talking about battles they’d fought over the years when they spied Grant joining them.

“So tell us,” Ian said, “how did the terms of the agreement come out?”

“The lass knew she couldn’t get a better deal.”

The men all laughed. It seemed strange yet right to be here with his lifelong friends when he mated Colleen, just as she was with her best friend, Julia. And he suspected Ian’s extended family would be her friends as well.

He rather liked this ladies’ day and night out, as long as he was included.

Hoots and hollers and a few feminine howls sounded beyond the wall to the keep in the direction of the gardens.

“Sounds to me that the terms of the lass’s surrender worked out well for the rest of the lassies,” Ian said, giving Grant a salute with his whisky.

“Aye, only next time they have one of these parties, I want my brothers to be here, too. They have missed out and that won’t do. What is planned for tomorrow?”

“You do realize that this is supposed to be for the women only, right, Grant?” Ian asked.

“Aye, so as I said, what will they be doing tomorrow?”

They heard a bark outside. But it wasn’t one of Ian’s Irish wolfhounds. It was the bark of a wolf.

The men started stripping out of the kilts. Forget what tomorrow would bring. Tonight, they would chase the she-wolves in their own wolf coats.
 

***


Colleen thought the idea of running as wolves would be fun. Though she believed they’d slip out without the men knowing. But one of the she-wolves barked. Julia. Was she giving her mate a heads-up so he knew what they were doing beyond the castle walls? Probably. Colleen would do the same with Grant.

The other time Colleen had been a wolf in the Highlands, she’d been drunk and maneuvering cliffs. This time she had a nice buzz from the wine and was running with a she-wolf pack in an ancient forest. How cool was that?

They weren’t running in the cool misty woods in a follow-the-leader pattern, but spread out, exploring the sights and scents and sounds, like wolves would.

They hadn’t gone very far when she heard growling, two female wolves to the left of her somewhere in the forest. Before she could turn and investigate, Julia raced past her. Colleen dove after her in wolf rescue mode.

Five male wolves approached. Colleen didn’t know any of the men in their wolf form and they were downwind of her. But the females growled in a highly dangerous way, not in play. The other she-wolves quickly joined them as a united front.

The females bared their teeth in warning, snapping and snarling, while Julia raised her snout and howled.

Colleen knew she was calling in male reinforcements. Definitely not good.

The males only took a moment to consider the situation, then turned tail and bolted. The females did not follow. A matter of minutes later, Grant and several male wolves appeared. They quickly assessed the females, ensuring they were uninjured, then Grant and Duncan—Colleen recognized him by scent—stayed with the females while the rest of the men took off after the fleeing wolves.

Who were those wolves? Julia and Ian had scent-marked this area of woods, so Colleen knew the encroaching wolves had to have known better. On the other hand, fewer females were born to a werewolf pack, and she wondered if their appearance had to do with attempting to find a mate among the she-wolves of Ian’s clan.

Seemed a dangerous way to go about it. And she suspected it wasn’t the case.

Grant nuzzled her face for a moment, then went back to standing guard with Duncan, who had greeted his mate, Shelley, in the same manner.

For a good twenty minutes, everyone continued to listen for any sounds other than the wind whipping through the trees. Then a wolf howled, and Julia howled back.

Ian was the one calling to say everyone was all right, and Julia let him know all was well here. They still waited for them in the woods until the other males returned and greeted the females. The jaunt through the woods was over for now.

After they ran through the back servants’ entry gate, Ian waited for Julia so she could let him know her plans. She was back to doing their all-girl thing and headed for the garden room.

They were going to watch Prince of Persia next. Forget a chick flick. The ladies wanted to watch a swashbuckling adventure with a touch of paranormal and romance. But before they watched the movie, in various forms of nightwear, warm robes, and slippers, the ladies all settled down on the sofas around the fire to discuss what had just happened in the woods.

Calla said, “Cearnach rescued me from a bad mating and marriage. The one wolf we faced out there still thinks he can get me to change my mind.”

Elaine said, “Some of the others were my cousins. The lot of them. True pirates. The bad kind.”

“And one other,” Julia said. “I’m certain if Grant had known, he would have torn after him himself. Well, he’ll be highly pissed as soon as Ian tells him who he was.”

“Who was he?” Colleen asked.

“Archibald Borthwick. Friend of your father and no friend of Grant’s.”
 

***


Grant knew about Calla’s former fiancé and how Cearnach wanted to save her from a bad mating, and did. But he was surprised that the ex-fiancé continued to stalk her.

“We’ll get them,” Ian said. “This is the first we’ve seen of them since the big fight where several of Elaine’s cousins were injured. But what I don’t understand is why Archibald Borthwick was with them.”

Grant’s blood turned to ice. “Archibald?”

“Aye. He’s as much a pirate as the rest of the men, only he attempts theft in a different way. Word has it he’s got some notion he might still have a chance at running things at Farraige Castle,” Ian said with a knowing glint in his eye. He knew that Grant wouldn’t let the bastard get near Colleen in any way, shape, or form now that they were mated.

“Why the hell were they here?” Grant asked, though he realized that Colleen had told him where she would be for the night, so he knew she was here.

“I imagine they’re after the same thing—Baird McKinley still wants Calla, and Archibald has some notion he has a chance with Colleen. Things didn’t work out between Archibald and her father, but maybe he thinks mating her will even work better in his attempt to get his hands on Farraige Castle,” Ian said.

“Like hell he will,” Grant growled. He would kill the bastard if he thought to lay a hand on his mate.

“I doubt he knows you’ve mated her yet. I’d make it known in a grand wedding soon,” Ian said.

Grant intended to do just that.

Guthrie said, “Just don’t let Calla plan the wedding. It will cost the clan a fortune.”

Ian smiled. “I have a task for you, Guthrie.”

His brother frowned at him.

“Now, don’t get all negative on me. Calla’s been staying with friends—not even her own relatives—attempting to keep a low profile while Baird is still harassing her. I want her to stay here with us. She won’t agree to it. Cearnach has been more of a friend to her than any of us, but even he couldn’t persuade her. She insists Baird won’t make her hide away. She has her party-planning jobs to do.”

“Aye, I understand how she feels,” Guthrie said warily. “What has this got to do with me?”

“Julia’s asked if she would stay, but she’s given her the same song and dance.”

Now Guthrie was grinding his teeth. “You can’t think I’d ask her to. What if she planned parties for every day that she stays here?”

“She hung your shorts on the pirate’s pole. I never would have thought she’d do such a thing.” Ian smiled. “I want you to ask her to stay.”

“Ian…”

“That’s all, Guthrie. Just ask her to stay with us for her own protection. You don’t have to do any more than that.”

“Aye,” Guthrie said, “but what if she sees more in my asking her to stay than I mean for her to see?”

Ian chuckled. “You can do it. Just get her to agree.”

“If Colleen decides she wants to use Calla’s wedding planner services, the lass can stay with us until the wedding’s done,” Grant offered.

Guthrie sighed audibly.

“But she’s staying with us after that, Guthrie,” Ian said. “You will make it happen.”

Grant bit back a smile. If he could deal with Colleen, who he’d thought would be the bane of his existence, and turn the situation into one that he could live with as one happy wolf for the rest of his life, maybe Guthrie’s ordeal would turn out just as well.

He saw the way Guthrie scowled.

Maybe not.

 

***

 

 

Chapter 20
 

Colleen wasn’t ready to take this anywhere yet. She’d mated with Grant, sure. But she had never had a wedding and had never expected to have one. It was all so sudden and…nothing she’d ever given any consideration to.

But the ladies were excited about the prospect, and everyone was asking her a million questions and offering a million suggestions. Before she even had a chance to answer all the questions.

“Be right back,” Calla said. “I’ve got to get my laptop and I’ll show you some wedding ideas.”

“I’ll go with you,” Heather said, “in case the guys try to take you hostage or anything. You know how that turned out last time.”

They looked at Colleen, and she felt herself blushing all over again. Here she was, supposed to be having an all-ladies’ gathering, and she ends up mated to a very sexy he-wolf. That had to be some kind of record.

She wondered if Calla had hoped she would have better luck if she went alone. Maybe catch Guthrie’s eye, after having stolen his underwear from his drawer and claimed him on the pirate’s pole. Colleen had been so busy meeting everyone that she hadn’t noticed if Guthrie returned the interest, even though Calla insisted she only grabbed Guthrie’s underwear so he wouldn’t feel left out.

“What does everyone’s schedule look like?” Julia asked, beaming. “We have a wedding to attend.”
 

***


Grant was still trying to figure out a way to coax Colleen away from her slumber party to sleep with him tonight. He shouldn’t have been so possessive and needy, but she was his mate and he wanted her with him on their first night.

They heard the back door open and then Calla say, “Okay, Heather, I’ve got fabric samples and wedding books in my car. Who would have thought our first-ever ladies’ night would turn into a wedding-planning event?”

Grant smiled, then left the men in the living room when Ian said, “Go, Guthrie. Ask her to stay with us afterward.”

Guthrie muttered something under his breath about lassies and money and how the two soon parted company.

Grant smiled, then saw the lasses near the foyer. “Can I have a word with you, Calla?”

She smiled at him, albeit her expression was a bit wary. “Aye.”

“Guthrie and I can help you with whatever you need to bring in,” Grant said.

Calla glanced in Guthrie’s direction and arched a brow.

He folded his arms. “Aye.”

“Thanks.” She and Heather headed outside.

“If you would like,” Grant said, catching up to her, “you can stay with us at Farraige Castle to make all the plans.”

“I would like that,” Calla said. “Makes it much easier to plan the event.”

Grant glanced at Guthrie, who wasn’t saying anything. Grant swore that if Guthrie had pockets in his kilt, he would have his hands shoved in them. Grant tilted his head to the side, silently appealing to him to ask Calla to stay at Argent Castle after the wedding was concluded.

Looking mutinous, Guthrie didn’t say a word.

When they reached Calla’s car, she handed Guthrie a heavy catalog of fabrics. “Since you are so braw and gallant, you can carry the heaviest of the items.”

He grunted.

She smiled, then turned and fished out a couple of bags for Grant to carry, another book for Heather, and her laptop. Once she’d emptied her trunk, they walked back to the keep. Grant cast Guthrie another look, telling him there was no time like the present. Ask already.

Guthrie scowled back at him, then cleared his throat.

Everyone looked at him expectantly.

Guthrie said, “Ian wants you to stay here after the wedding.”

Grant rolled his eyes. That hadn’t worked before, and he was certain it wouldn’t work now.

“I’ve told him and Julia no,” Calla said.

Grant had been right.

“It’s not safe out there with Baird stalking you everywhere you go. You were lucky tonight that we came to your rescue, but…” Guthrie continued.

“Aye, and I thank you. I’m not going to hide away from place to place, not doing my job because Baird and his brothers and cousins are harassing me. I won’t.”

They walked in silence for some time. Grant really thought the lass would go along with it because he suspected she did have a fondness for Guthrie.

“Unless…” Calla said and paused dramatically.

Everyone looked over at Calla, waiting for the rest of what she had to say.

“Julia wants me to plan a Christmas party at Argent Castle.”

Guthrie groaned out loud. Grant could just imagine Guthrie thinking about the expenditures for such a venture.

Calla smiled. “I’m not saying she will. She hasn’t asked, but if she does, maybe while I’m planning the affair, I can stay here for a while.”

“Christmas is too far away,” Guthrie said.

Grant was surprised he said so as they made their way around the keep to the gardens out back.

“Okay, then here’s the deal. If I stay, I have to be allowed to leave anytime I want,” Calla said. “I know Ian, and he’ll want to keep me confined within these walls until Baird no longer has an interest in harassing me.”

Guthrie said nothing. Grant couldn’t speak for Ian, or he would have said it was a deal.

“So the only way this will work to satisfy Ian’s need to keep me safe and my need to do my job is if you will accompany me everywhere I go.”

“I have a job to do,” Guthrie said quickly.

Calla frowned at him. “Aye, as do I. My terms are nonnegotiable. I don’t mean for you personally to have to escort me everywhere, but as in you—your kinsmen.

Looking vastly relieved, Guthrie nodded. “Ian can send out others to guard you, and that should be perfectly acceptable to him.”

She pondered that and then said, “Agreed.”

Grant breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn’t even involved in the matter, but he did care about Calla’s safety.

“But…” she said.

Grant wanted to shake his head. The terms were agreed upon. The lass couldn’t already be changing her mind.

“That’s only if Julia asks me to plan a Christmas party for her.”

Guthrie didn’t look happy about that. Would he tell Julia that? Encourage her to have a party when it went against every financial bone in his body?

Grant wondered which way it would go.

Calla changed the subject abruptly and said to Grant, “Since Archibald Borthwick was here tonight, it made me think about him and Colleen, and I thought you should know this. He wasn’t at my wedding as friend of the groom but only because he was trying to learn when Colleen Playfair was coming to Scotland and forgot the time. I didn’t think anything of it because I didn’t know his connection to Colleen. I thought he was an old friend of the family.”

“Hardly,” Grant said, although Archibald might claim to have been a friend of Theodore Playfair.

“Baird had said, by rights, the castle should have been Archibald’s.”

So Archibald had told Baird this tale, too. “How did he figure that?” Grant asked as he opened the gate to the garden path that led to the garden room. They could hear the ladies all laughing and having a good time of it. He wanted to know what they were talking about that was so funny.

“You know how men are. They were drinking, boasting, and making wild claims. I had no idea what they meant by it. I didn’t even know if they were talking about Farraige Castle. I thought that Archibald was friends with Colleen, though. She said she’d never met the man before she came here. So that had me wondering what was going on.”

“Aye. He’s like a leech, looking for a free meal ticket. So did you gather anything from what Baird and Archibald said that might give you a reason why he thought he should own the castle?”

Calla sighed deeply. “His grandfather Uilleam Borthwick had been the manager—and that was one of the reasons. The other was that Uilleam had shown interest in Colleen’s grandmother when her grandfather died. He had every intention of mating her.”

“What?”

Neda had never once mentioned, nor had his own father, that Uilleam had not only managed the estate but intended to mate Neda. Grant didn’t believe it.

“According to Archibald, his grandfather had been the manager. He said that Uilleam was successfully courting Neda Playfair at the time. And that it was only a matter of time before she would agree to a mating. But he said that John MacQuarrie, their scribe, lied to her, saying Uilleam was crooked. Uilleam was fired. Worse, your grandfather took over and managed the estates. Until Uilleam murdered him.”

Grant couldn’t believe it. Yet, if it was true, it made some sense. All these years he’d thought his family had managed the keep since it was built. Now he was learning that Archibald’s grandfather had been taking care of the property from the beginning. But still, Archibald could be lying, trying to say that Grant’s family had been the cause of all the trouble in the beginning.

“So if Uilleam had mated with her, he wouldn’t have had to worry about cheating on the accounts because he would have controlled them,” Grant said, “if this isn’t one big lie.”

“Aye. Agreed. If it’s true, though… What if he did love Neda Playfair? Maybe it wasn’t all about the money and properties. But once she turned on him, he was bitter and took his revenge out on your grandfather for telling on him and then getting his position.”

Grant could see that. Not that he thought Uilleam loved Neda, but that he was so close to having everything—not just as the property manager, but as the owner while Neda was his mate.

“My grandfather must have had enough proof to sway her, or she wouldn’t have believed Uilleam was cheating her.”

“She might have also suspected something wasn’t right. Women’s instincts,” Calla said.

And that was probably the reason why Archibald’s father had tried so hard to get back all that the Borthwick line had lost because of the mistake his father had made.
 

***


The fire was still going in the garden room, making the room cozy, and the women’s sweet scents wafted in the air. It was in the wee hours of the morning that all the ladies had finally stopped talking. Colleen stared up at the roof made of skylights that showed off a gray, cloudy night, no sign of stars or the moon. The garden room had cool stone towers that mimicked the castle’s at the four corners of the curtain wall. She was considering making such a place at Farraige Castle for her people to enjoy. She smiled at the notion that the pack was indeed hers, and that they were not just living on her property.

She heard a pebble hit one of the floor-to-ceiling glass windows and turned her head. Julia and Heather had shut the soft green shades over the windows to make the room more private earlier that day. So they couldn’t see who was bothering them now.

Julia groaned. “They should know better than to disturb us,” she grumbled under her breath.

Colleen smiled. Julia needed her nine hours of sleep to be able to deal with life the next day. Colleen watched as Julia opened the garden room door just a crack. “Grant,” she said, feigning annoyance. “I should have known. This is an all-girls’ slumber party, you know.”

“Can I speak with Colleen for just a minute?” Grant asked, sounding as if he was attempting to appease her, but Colleen heard the hint of aggressiveness in his voice that said if Julia wasn’t agreeable, he’d barge right in and have his way anyway.

Colleen loved him for it.

“To give her a good-night’s kiss and that’s it, right?” Julia asked, as if she was responsible for every member of her pirate crew, and she wanted to ensure the terms were agreeable.

“Aye,” he said with a smile in his voice.

Colleen draped her blanket around her like a shawl and got off the couch to get her kiss. She wondered how many of the ladies were awake and ready to watch the show.

But when she passed Julia, who was already returning to her made-up bed, Colleen didn’t expect Grant’s quick action. Still only wearing his kilt, he grabbed her up. She squealed, and he hurried back to the castle with her.

The door to the garden room shut, and she heard no one coming after her to rescue her. So much for her pirate comrades-in-arms.

“A kiss, you said,” Colleen told Grant, wrapping her arms around his neck as he smiled down at her.

“Aye, a kiss.”

“And nothing more. That is it.”

“You will demand more of me, I’m sure. It won’t be my fault that I don’t return you to the garden room for the rest of the night.”

“Does anyone else know that you came for me?”

He chuckled. “They would think me a beastly sort if I didn’t rescue my bonny mate from the clutches of those wayward wenches.”

“And have your way with me.”

“Aye.”

She laughed. She never thought having her first ladies’ night out in Scotland could end like this.

He’d barely carried her to a guest chamber and set her down before he showered her with hard, lingering kisses, as if the hours they had been apart had been too much, his hands on her shoulders, holding her close.

And she adored him.

“You can’t do this at every ladies’ night party I have,” she said, the blanket she’d covered herself with slipping off her shoulders.

“Hmm,” was all he said as he quickly divested her of her red heartpatterned flannel pajama top and tossed it on the floor. Her matching pajama bottoms soon joined it.

He scooped her up and carried her to the bed, the navy curtains already pulled aside.

Red rose petals had been strewn all over the white sheets, and she smiled as he set her down on the soft, fragrant petals.

“Who did this?” she asked, not believing any of the men would have done such a thing.

“Calla and some of the other ladies snuck away and decorated the bed.”

“You all were in collusion.”

He smiled.

She couldn’t believe the women had been so sneaky. And here she thought they’d just returned to the castle to brush their teeth and the like.

He stripped before she could offer to remove his kilt. And then he joined her on the mattress and closed the bed curtains.

His eyes were like pools of midnight, fathomless, desirous, drinking every bit of her in as he ran his hands over her skin. She’d seen him naked so many times already—marveling at his gorgeous form every time. She didn’t feel shy about observing him like this. But it was his exploration of her naked body that made her want to pull up the covers.

He held himself so still, except for his fingers trailing down her breast, her waist, sweeping down her thigh. His touch, though gentle, ignited a flame deep inside her. She felt the all-too-familiar wet heat forming between her legs, the sign her body wanted him—was ready for him. Again.

As if he had finished taking his fill of her, he pushed her legs apart and separated her folds with his fingers, bringing her to life as he stroked her feminine nub, at the same time kissing her mouth. Slowly at first. And then matching her wildly passionate response. Their frantic heartbeats and rapid breathing were in sync. Their kisses verged on desperate as he rubbed his engorged cock against her hip.

She felt the flame roaring inside her, the need rising, and reached down and cupped him. He groaned out loud, and she smiled. But when she stroked his cock, his fingers stole into her wet sheath, and she wanted so much more. Him. Inside her. Now.

She was so close to coming. So very near the edge. She rolled her thumb over the top of his erection, and he groaned her name this time. He cupped her face, lined his body up with hers, and drove his cock between her legs. Deep, penetrating, hungry. Then he tongued her mouth as if he were the pirate pillaging her.

Primed, she came, shuddering with release.

Grant continued to drive into her, following her over the edge. She felt sexy and well loved, tired and satiated. She wanted to stay here with him the rest of the night, but she felt guilty, too, as he sank against her, just as blissfully sated.

She sighed. “Don’t you think I should return to the garden room and stay with the other ladies, since that’s the reason I’m here?” she said, curling up against Grant’s hot body. He smelled delectable—of the woods, whisky, and all male wolf. She didn’t make a move to leave him or the bed, despite what she’d said.

“Hmm,” he said, closing his eyes and pulling the covers over them. His arms wrapped around her in mated bliss.

“I should,” she insisted, her voice sleepy, and she closed her eyes. She luxuriated in the feel of him. The way his warm breath fanned the top of her head, the sound of his heartbeat settling down, his muscles hard and warm beneath her body, the smell of him—all earthy sex, male, spicy, and delicious.

“Hmm.”

“You’re ignoring me,” she said softly.

“You try to leave the bed, lass,” Grant said in a husky, satisfied voice, “and”—he kissed the top of her head—“you will not be successful.”

Hearing the smile and a hint of a challenge in his voice, she chuckled. She loved her alpha mate. And loved that he did not want her to leave the bed. As tired as she was, he’d have to carry her anyway.

“Wait until you fall asleep,” she said, smiling.

“Hmm,” he said and tightened his hold on her.
 

***


When they awoke much later that day to a knocking on the door, Colleen shook her head. Though she had planned to slip away to prove to him that he wasn’t in charge of her, she hadn’t wanted to be anywhere but with Grant last night. Then again, waking him later to insist he make love to her probably had proved she would have her way—at least in that regard.

Grant let out a tired sigh when the person knocked again at the door.

“Anyone still alive in there?” Julia called out cheerfully.

Colleen smiled.

“Aye, negotiations were tough but somehow we managed to work through them,” Grant said, smiling down at Colleen.

She kissed his mouth, glad she hadn’t gone anywhere this morning.

“Breakfast—late breakfast—is being served. Or would you rather take it in your chamber?” Julia asked.

“Downstairs,” Colleen said, afraid they’d never leave the bed at this rate, especially if they had breakfast in bed.

Grant ran his hand over Colleen’s breast, making the nipple rise to his touch. She softly groaned. “We’ll be down in a few minutes,” Grant said.

An hour and a half later—amusing Julia and everyone else—they finally made their appearance.

 

***

 

 

Chapter 21
 

After packing up around midday, Colleen and Grant returned to Farraige Castle. This time they also took Calla with them so that she could stay there until the wedding and reception were over. They hadn’t believed Baird would run them off the road in an effort to get Calla back on the way to Farraige Castle, but taking extra precautions, Ian had some of his men follow them there.

Grant had every intention of making a really early night of it so he and Colleen could get some sleep as well as some private time. He couldn’t help that every time he thought about her wearing that saucy pirate-wench costume, or without, he’d get hard and want her all over again.

Colleen was in the study trying to sort out all the stuff about the wedding with Calla when Enrick and Lachlan cornered Grant in his chamber. His chamber. He smiled. He never imagined he’d mate the lass and be able to return to his chamber because of that.

Enrick stood with his arms folded, the smile in his eyes saying he was highly amused. “You never mentioned that this was your plan to get your room back.”

Grant chuckled.

“Or that you’d worked out a way to counter Archibald’s moves,” Lachlan said. “Fast work. We thought you’d ask our opinion about what steps you could take to woo the lady.”

“As if I’d ever need your advice in that regard,” Grant said cheerfully.

“We really didn’t expect you to return as mated wolves and now have a wedding plan in progress,” Enrick said. “We are both curious as the devil to know what happened between the two of you. Duncan called us and said you were staying because the lass was involved in some woman’s party. But he wouldn’t say what was going on. Just said you and she were negotiating terms in the wine cellar at the moment. We figured for certain the two of you were still at odds.”

“Aye, but it appears you did well with the negotiations,” Lachlan said.

“We should have followed you there,” Enrick said. “Hearing all the laughter in the background, I’d say it sounded like the lot of you were having a grand time.”

“I told Ian the next time the ladies gather for such a party, you’ll have to come, too,” Grant said.

“What about Archibald?” Enrick asked.

“I’ve sent men to carry the word to all the places we know Archibald frequents that Grant MacQuarrie is now mated to Colleen Playfair and that the wedding shall soon follow. That should put a stop to him trying to see her.” Grant explained that the bastard had approached the woods surrounding Argent Castle in an attempt to see Colleen.

“Not good,” Enrick said. “Though maybe now he’ll give up.”

“We can hope,” Grant said, having every intention of ensuring Colleen’s safety.

“Archibald is sure to want to strike back at you, so we’ll need to take precautions,” Lachlan said. “Now that you’ve mated Colleen, I take it you want me to cancel the reservations at the B and B in the village that you’d made for the lass.”

Grant had forgotten all about mentioning the situation to his brothers. When Lily heard Colleen’s name and started to tell her that she had a reservation there, he’d quickly let the B and B owner know that wasn’t happening. “Canceled,” Grant said. “Lily met Colleen. She knows the story.”

“What about the lass borrowing your car?” Enrick asked. “We don’t want to give your keys to her again if it means having a mad chase on the roads trying to hunt her down.”

Grant rubbed his whiskered chin. “If she asks for my keys, let me know, pronto.”

Smiling, Enrick shook his head.

“Oh, and these are yours.” Grant pulled Enrick’s underwear out of Colleen’s bag and tossed them to him.

Enrick frowned and breathed in the scents on them. “I didn’t want to mention that Colleen had been in my underwear drawer. I asked Lachlan if she’d been in his, but he said no. We discovered she’d been in yours. So we were just a little apprehensive about bringing it up—especially when we learned you’d mated her.” He took another whiff of them. “But I smell Heather’s scent on them, too. What’s up?”

“Apparently, Heather had asked Julia if she would encourage Colleen to capture a pair of your trunks to add to the pirate’s pole.”

“Pirate’s pole?”

“Aye. The lasses had several of ours dangling from the pole. Which we promptly replaced with their bras.”

His brothers laughed. Lachlan said, “Don’t leave us out of the next bash you’re involved in. Sounds like too much fun.”

Enrick said, “Heather claimed mine?” He sounded like he was still mulling that over.

“Aye. Want to tell us anything about that, Brother?” Grant asked, amused.

“Nothing to tell. This is news to me.”

To Grant also.

“I would say you have all the luck,” Lachlan said, “but Heather is nothing but trouble. So I’d say I had all the luck.” Lachlan shoved his hands in his pockets and grinned.
 

***


Colleen was so inundated with choices, starting with the wedding gown—MacQuarrie plaid or an off-­white affair since she’d been mated twice before, even though she’d never had a wedding ceremony. Calla told her she could wear anything her heart desired. Colleen had asked Grant, and he said the same—whatever she wanted. He would love her in it. He had been absolutely no help at all.

They had to discuss the color of flowers and the kind of food to serve at the reception. Then they had to consider the particulars of the bachelorette party, which meant a ladies’ day and night all over again. Different theme, but Colleen thought that the pirate ladies’ theme had appeal. Calla had suggested they do something else, though, just for the bachelorette party.

Colleen was curious what the bachelor party would consist of. Maybe she and the ladies could crash it.

Enrick had contacted all the women of their pack to return home early for the wedding. And to his surprise and Grant’s, they had demanded that they get to extend their holiday by that many days. He had created a monster, and it served him right.

Enrick and Lachlan had escorted Calla to a birthday party she was hosting late that afternoon for a ten-year-old in another town, so they were serving as her bodyguards. They didn’t mind watching over her, but both had vehemently opposed dressing like clowns. Even so, they did it out of a sense of obligation.

Happy to not have to consider anything wedding-related for the whole afternoon, Colleen immersed herself in the finances of the pack and found discrepancies centuries earlier and again last year. Neither was related because the time that had elapsed between them was more than several hundred years.

But still, she was curious about the first—mostly because Grant’s grandfather had not been managing the estates as the MacQuarries had claimed. Archibald had been right, though prior to him mentioning it, she’d never heard of anyone else administering them. As she went through the old documents that had been scanned into the computer, she realized Uilleam Borthwick had been the administrator of the estates at their inception but continued for only a few weeks. Which was probably why future generations didn’t know about it.

John MacQuarrie had been the scribe. Then Uilleam was no longer manager, and John had been elevated to administer the estates. She let out her breath. She had to tell Grant that she’d found proof for Archibald’s allegations.

She imagined that when Robert and then Grant himself took over the estates, they would have been more concerned with the current and future state of affairs, not something that had occurred much earlier.

The more recent discrepancies had to do with the misappropriation of money for food and had steadily increased for four months until they abruptly stopped. So it wasn’t a case of a major feast the pack had, which she hadn’t any problem with. She pulled out her phone and called Grant, who said he was overseeing the patching up of the old chapel to use for the wedding.

“Aye, lass? Up to my armpits in mud, so anything you want to do about the wedding is fine with me.”

“We wish to have you serve as our male stripper for the hen night, or as we Americans would call it, the bachelorette party,” she teased.

Silence.

She smiled. Not often did she render him speechless. She sighed. “I was going over the accounts and found a couple of discrepancies.”

“I’ll be right there.”

“No rush,” she said, meaning it. She hadn’t realized he was quite so busy, and she certainly didn’t want to pull him away from the job. Unless he just wanted a break from working on the chapel.

“Nay, I’ll be there. Just let me wash up a bit.”

She sighed as he hung up on her. She hadn’t wanted him to think it was anything that was current and had to be taken care of right this minute. But she wondered if Uilleam had doctored the accounts, Neda had caught him at it, and he was fired. What if John MacQuarrie had been the one to let the cat out of the bag? Then he got Uilleam’s job and Uilleam sought revenge. Not just because he wanted to be manager, but because he had been the manager. And John had discovered the theft and told on him. And then he became the manager.

Not long after she and Grant ended the call, he arrived, no shirt, clean trousers, his skin freshly washed, his face a little flushed from rushing to get there.

She rose from the desk chair and gave him a hug. “Hmm, you smell like spices and the sea, and wolf, of course. You didn’t have to hurry. I just found something I thought you might want to know if you didn’t already.”

“The discrepancies in the foodstuffs. Aye. I took care of it. The man who had been working the books had been in league with the head cook. Maynard now holds the head cook’s position.”

She chewed on her bottom lip and considered Grant, not saying a word. Was this what Archibald meant when he said discrepancies existed in the accounts? Why hadn’t Grant told her?

“This is what you’ve been worried about? Maynard was concerned. Everyone has known about this but me?” she asked, annoyed.

Grant frowned. “The man was made to pay for the theft. The accounts were set right. As you can see, we had more money in the accounts for several months as the man paid the clan—well, you—back.”

“Yes, but why didn’t you tell me?”

“I took care of it.”

“Yes, but…I understand that part, Grant. But you should have told me.” She let out her breath. “Is there anything else?”

“Nay, I went through the accounts for a couple of years back, but saw nothing else that would indicate he or anyone else had been pilfering money.”

“Did you ever look at the historical figures?”

Grant considered her as if he wasn’t sure what was going on in her head.

“Okay, no, then. Did you know that Uilleam was Farraige’s first administrator?”

Grant’s jaw hardened. “Aye, Calla said she had heard it was so. She told me when she was getting the wedding books from her car. But we didn’t know if it was all a lie. You found evidence to corroborate the story?”

His voice was dark and growly, and Colleen realized the notion that his grandfather was the very first administrator had been an honor for his clan and his pack. She felt bad that anyone had to spoil that for him. But maybe it explained why Uilleam had killed Grant’s grandfather.

She showed Grant the documents, explained what she thought had happened, then said, “Did Neda keep journals?”

“Aye,” he said slowly. “They were stored when she died. We didn’t think anything of it, but we didn’t want your father to destroy them if he had a mind to.”

“Understandable and good thinking. Can I see them?”

“Aye.” Grant started to leave the study, and she followed him. “I can have them brought here to the study,” he said.

“How about having them delivered to Neda’s chamber? I want to spread them out there, organize them, see what I can see. I don’t want to make a mess of the study, and no one is using her chamber right now.”

“I’ll help you.” He called someone on his cell and said, “Get a couple of men to grab Neda’s boxes of journals and bring them to her chamber. Thanks.”

Colleen looked up at him as they strode toward the women’s corridor. “You were building a wall, nice manly work.” She reached over and ran her hand over his muscled chest.

He gave her a wicked smile. “You’re sure you still want to read Neda’s journals?”

She laughed. “Yes. I have a one-track mind myself. I want to learn what Neda had to say about this.”

“Calla said Archibald told Baird that Uilleam was courting Neda.”

Colleen’s jaw dropped. “No. Really?

“Aye, that’s what she said.” Grant put his arm around Colleen’s shoulders and continued down the hallway to Neda’s chambers while Colleen considered that news.

“So he wasn’t just the first manager of the estates. He was trying to woo Neda into mating him, and he would have been the owner, too.”

“Sounds like that from what you’ve discovered and from what Calla learned.”

“Which would be all the more reason for Uilleam to be so angered and kill John. Hopefully, she mentioned it in her journal,” Colleen said.

“You really aren’t angry about me not mentioning the discrepancies, are you?”

“Yes, I am. You should have told me when I first arrived. I should make you do a striptease for us at my bachelorette party.”

“You think I would mind?”

Colleen felt her body warm. “Actually, I would. I mean, I love looking at that hot body of yours, but I don’t want everyone else to get an eyeful.”

He laughed.

“I suppose no one else would have kept journals. Your father, perhaps, who might have said what he felt had happened to your mother.”

“Nay.”

“Archibald told me that you were stealing from me. I wonder how he knew.”

“I wasn’t stealing from you, lass,” Grant growled.

“I know. He made it sound like you were in charge so you had knowledge. Which you did, and you hadn’t let me in on the truth. So how would he know?”

Grant didn’t say anything until they arrived at Neda’s chambers and found ten taped boxes sitting squarely on the floor beside her bed. Grant got out his knife and cut through the tape. “I wouldn’t think the thief would tell Archibald or anyone else about what he’d done, for fear he’d never get a job again.”

“Unless he bragged about it.”

“Or Archibald…” Grant shook his head and began lifting journals out of the box.

“Or Archibald what?” Colleen began sorting the journals by decade.

“This is going to take forever,” he said, cutting through the tape on another box. “Or Archibald knew the man had done it.”

“As in he had been involved in the theft somehow? How long had the cook worked for you?”

Grant stopped what he was doing and stared at her. “Since your father took over.”

She let out an annoyed sound. “So Archibald and my father were behind cheating himself out of money?”

“Nay. Your father wasn’t sober enough to focus on the accounts. He had issues with several things but nothing that was a problem. But he had found this great cook and wanted to install him as the main cook.”

“Was he a great cook?”

“Aye. He was.”

“But one of Archibald’s men, maybe. So he may have thought all he had to do to discredit you was say that you were responsible for the theft, and Archibald’s man would have made sure you were somehow seen as the villain.”

“But your father left, then he died, and I discovered the theft and booted the cook out.”

“And failed to mention it to me.” She started organizing the second box of journals.

“You are still sore with me over it.”

“Yes, because Archibald tried to discredit you as one of the bad guys.” She sneezed. The books were full of dust. “This will take forever.”

“I took care of it,” he reiterated.

She glanced at him. “You thought I’d be like my father. High-handed. Unreasonable. Threaten to fire you?”

Grant paused. “Aye, lass. After dealing with Theodore, I didn’t know what to expect from you.”

“I’m nothing like my father.”

“Which is one of the reasons I mated you.”

She chuckled.

He cast her one of his hot, sexy, wolfish smiles.

He finished cutting open the rest of the boxes, and she started on the third one while he began separating the journals into piles. “Wait, I think these look like the very first. Calf skin leather. Very old. Earliest date.”

“Okay,” Colleen said, taking the precious journal in her hands and sitting on an embroidered rose-colored chair. “Why don’t you see if you can find anything around the time of your mother’s death? See if you can learn what Neda thought. Maybe the journal shortly after your father’s death also.”

The reading wasn’t easy. Colleen didn’t recognize some of the terms or the ancient way of spelling things or the old cursive handwriting. But then she came to the part about Uilleam and she said, “Ohmigod, Grant, he was courting her. She had lost her mate, who was Theodore’s father, my grandfather, Gideon Playfair, and then she had hired Uilleam as her manager when her other manager died. Her husband had hired the first manager.”

“So there was a manager even before Uilleam. How did the other manager die?”

“Accidental death. Fell off the cliffs while they were building the walls of the keep on the leeward side.” She glanced up at Grant, her skin crawling over the similarity to the other deaths.

“Convenient,” Grant said, still looking for the other journals.

“Yes, sounds like a tried-and-true method for getting rid of competition. Neda was really happy, talking about seeing Uilleam on walks and running with him as wolves in the woods, and then she didn’t write for several days. When she did, she said John MacQuarrie, scribe for the clan, had told her about discrepancies in the accounts.”

“Neda’s husband, Gideon, was supposed to have died on the battlefield. Was it true?” Grant asked.

“Clan battle, she says. Looks legit.”

“Aye, unless one of his clan stabbed him in the back and made it look like it was the enemy’s doing.”

“True,” she said.

“Here’s the one for the time period when my father died.” He handed it to her. “I’m still looking for the one when my mother died.”

Colleen read some from the first one he’d handed her, then said, “Nothing else in this one. Just a lot of praise for John and how glad Neda was that she had installed him as the new manager. Wait, okay, here is when he was murdered. She was horrified, swore it was Uilleam who had been behind the killings. She…yes, she’d had spies learn the truth. Then she sent men to hunt him down.”

“Good. Bastard.”

“Then she installed your father.” Colleen opened the journal that Grant had handed her. “Okay, she loved your father just as she had his mate, Eleanor. But when Robert died, Neda suspected foul play because it was too much like when Eleanor had died years earlier. She couldn’t learn who had done it.” Colleen skimmed through page after page after page. “Wait, here we go. She learned that Archibald’s father, Haldane Borthwick, had been visiting Theodore the day Robert died. She’d been away at her aunt’s sickbed and stayed for the funeral, then got word that Robert had fallen from the cliffs to his death. She was furious. Some had said he might have committed suicide. She didn’t believe it for a minute. You boys were away at college and she… Holy cow.

“What?” Grant asked, setting down the journal he was holding and joining her. He rubbed her back as he looked over her shoulder.

“Neda learned Archibald’s father had killed Robert. She and Darby went to pay Haldane a visit. She killed him, she says. Haldane never expected her to do it, though Darby was there to aid her if she needed him to.”

Grant’s jaw dropped. “I can’t believe it. That’s why Darby would never say. We thought he’d gone missing for a day and done it and that Neda was away shopping. I never knew.” He let out his breath. “She was a remarkable woman.”

“I’m sorry,” Colleen said, taking Grant’s hand. “I wish I’d met her. Ever since I got here and learned so much about her, I’ve hated my father for ensuring I never saw her and hated myself for not seeing through the deception.”

“You couldn’t have known, lass,” Grant said, pulling her into his arms. “Come, let’s look at more of this later. I didn’t find the one for the time period when my mother died yet. But let’s take a break. Why don’t you tell me what you’re doing for your hen night.”

“Ha! That’s a secret,” she said, knowing he only mentioned it to keep her from feeling so sad about what had happened to his family and her own. “What about you and your bachelor party?”

“You think I would tell you about the stag party when you won’t tell us what you’re up to? Where are you having yours?”

She chuckled. “If I told you, you might crash it.”

The guys might think they would crash the girls’ party again, but she had every intention of the ladies storming the men’s affair.

 

***

 

 

Chapter 22
 

At dinner, Grant and Colleen noticed that Frederick, the lad who was taking care of the dogs, seemed upset about something. He kept avoiding looking at her—or at Grant.

Colleen suspected what the matter was, but wasn’t about to approach the boy. He needed to come to her and tell her what he’d done.

“He’s been avoiding you ever since we returned to Farraige Castle,” Grant said, seeing her look again in the boy’s direction.

“He has. I’ve gone out of my way to show there are no hard feelings, but I won’t come right out and put him on the spot.”

Grant turned his attention from Frederick to Colleen. “What has he done?”

She shook her head. “Nothing of consequence. But I believe he’s feeling guilty about it, and he needs to take the first step to make things right. I have no problem with the lad.” She wanted to say it was all Grant’s fault the boy had pulled the prank on her.

Grant chewed on his ham, then said, “I can talk to him.”

“No. He needs to do this on his own.” She furrowed her brow at Grant. “I’m serious. Don’t you go asking him what this is all about. It’s no big deal.”

She sighed. She shouldn’t have told him anything about it.

“As you wish,” Grant said.

But he sounded like it nearly killed him to comply in the matter. And she hoped he really would do as she wished instead of being his usual pack-leader self and attempting to deal with it.

***

Colleen returned to the study to make a budget for the upcoming year. Though Grant had every intention of letting the situation go with Frederick, he couldn’t. His job was to see to his pack members’ needs. And if one had a problem, he wanted to help.

Not only that, but if Frederick had done something with regard to Colleen that he needed to apologize for, Grant wanted it done sooner rather than later.

Grant headed to the wall walk and watched the sunset, the clouds purple, while swaths of red-­orange colors blazed across the sky. He phoned Enrick. “Have Frederick meet me up on the wall walk at the northeastern tower.”

Enrick asked, “Is this about his moodiness?”

“Aye.” So Grant and Colleen weren’t the only ones to have witnessed the lad’s unusual behavior.

“Do you know what it’s about? I’ve asked, but he just shrugs me off like there’s nothing wrong. I’m worried that maybe he’s feeling bad about losing his mum again,” Enrick said.

“That’s what I’m about to find out,” Grant said.

“Okay, he’s at the kennel. I’ll fetch him.” Enrick ended the call.

Grant leaned against the wall and watched the sunset, thinking he needed to bring Colleen up here on a night like this.

Before long, he heard Frederick climbing the steps inside the tower, and when he opened the door, the teen looked like he was about to be beheaded.

“Come. Talk to me,” Grant said gruffly.

The lad complied, getting close enough to satisfy Grant. “I asked you earlier if something was bothering you. You said no. However, Colleen believes you need to speak to her about something. She said she isn’t upset with you over whatever it is.”

Frederick’s dark eyes rounded.

Grant frowned. Seeing the boy’s reaction, Grant knew he was guilty of something. “Aye, women tend to know things before we do even. So I suggest you speak with her and clear this matter up.” He hadn’t intended for the lad to tell him of his transgressions, just that he wanted to let Frederick know he was aware there was a problem and the lad needed to deal with it.

“My laird, I…I do wish to confess something,” Frederick said.

He studied Frederick who now fidgeted with a piece of hay. “What do you have to confess about?”

“The lady. I didn’t mean to make anyone mad, but you…were so nice to me when my mum died and put me in charge of the dogs.” He looked at the wall-walk floor.

“Aye. Frederick, say what you have to say.” Grant couldn’t help his stern expression or gruff voice. If the lad had truly done something onerous, he would have to pay for his actions in some manner befitting the crime. Colleen might not want him to, but just because Frederick was a lad of fifteen didn’t mean he could get away with some form of devilment and not have to pay the consequences.

Frederick looked up at him. “I’m so sorry, my laird. I really like the lady, and she’s been so kind to me. She’s showed me all kinds of tricks on how to get the dogs to mind. And it’s really working. But…”

Suddenly a thought came to Grant. “This isn’t about the dog getting into her room that second night she was here, is it?”

The lad’s eyes widened. Then he nodded. “Aye, it is.”

Grant laughed. “Then it’s no big deal and the lass isn’t upset with you.”

“I overheard you speaking to your brothers and saying she would be like her father and that she would not be good for the clan. You told me to release the hounds in the great hall at mealtime after you finished sparring with Ian and his men after she first arrived. So I thought when she made you leave your own chamber…” Frederick swallowed hard. “I thought you wanted her gone. Everyone said so. No one should have told you to leave your own chamber.”

“Nay, lad. The lady had every right. The castle is hers.”

Frederick looked again at the floor. “Well, I truly believed she was bad for the pack, like you said. Until she started teaching me how to handle the dogs. And then she saved Ollie. And well, everyone signed the petition to ask her to stay with the pack. And you acted like you wanted her for a mate. Then she became your mate. And I knew everyone would be angry with me for what I did. You and her included.”

Grant was fighting a smile. “I understand your reasoning, but you should have spoken to me before about this. And you should have apologized to her long before this.”

“Aye.”

“As your pack leader, I make the decisions, and then if they’re wrong, I’m to blame and no one else.”

“You mean everything you did to try and make her leave was your fault?” Frederick asked.

Grant smiled. That was one way to put it.

“She’s going to hate me,” Frederick said sulkily.

“It’s up to you to make it right with her,” Grant said.

“You mean I have to tell her. Myself.”

“Aye. She’s in the study working on new charts. Why don’t you go in and make your peace with her?”

Frederick swallowed hard. “I will.”

Grant felt a little bad that the boy had taken his lead in doing what he had done, though he doubted Colleen would be upset with the lad. Still, Frederick had to make amends for his own past deeds when he was in the wrong. It was all part of growing up.

Not that Grant was going to let him do this all on his own.

***

In the study, Colleen had just finished creating one of the budgets when she heard a light knock on the door. She thought everyone in the whole pack knew by now that when she was working, she didn’t mind anyone coming in. They didn’t have to obtain permission to see her.

“Come in,” she said.

The door opened slowly and Frederick stood there, head bowed a bit like a beta wolf, looking like she planned to execute him on the spot. She smiled brightly at him, trying to diffuse the tension in the air. She wondered if the only reason he came to see her was because Grant had talked to him. She would talk with her mate afterward about that. She really hadn’t wanted him interfering.

“Come in, Frederick. To what do I owe the pleasure—”

“I came to apologize,” he said, eyes downcast, not moving from the doorway.

“Come in and shut the door, why don’t you?” she said in a motherly way. “Have a seat,” she said and sat across from him near the windows in the little reading alcove.

“I let Hercules into your chamber. I didn’t make him get into your bed. I just…well, the door to his lairdship’s chamber was already ajar. And I peered in and saw your door to his room was open. I just thought Hercules would startle you, but I didn’t think he’d get into your bed.”

“I see. Why did you do it?” That was all that mattered to Colleen.

Frederick didn’t say anything.

“The notion was yours alone?”

“Aye, well, I got the idea from his lairdship when he asked me to let the dogs loose in the great hall for the meal.”

She smiled at the memory. Someday she would tell her own children about their father and how hard he had tried to chase her off.

She couldn’t help being amused that the boy most likely thought taking the initiative to leave Hercules in her room would have pleased Grant. Admiring Frederick for wanting to please his pack leader, she couldn’t fault him.

“So I believed he would be delighted with me if I let the dog in your room. I thought it was really quite brilliant of me,” Frederick continued.

“I totally understand. But now you’re sorry.”

“Aye. You’ve been so nice to me and taught me how to train the dogs and…” He swallowed hard. “You’re Laird MacQuarrie’s mate now and our pack leader, too, and well, I just had to tell you the truth. Even if you hate me for it.”

She took a deep breath and let it out. “Let me tell you a little secret. I already suspected as much.”

“You did? And you didn’t say anything to me about it?” He sounded and looked awed as he raised his brows and his eyes grew big.

“No harm was done, except it cost me a little more sleep.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, but he looked somewhat relieved. “How did you know?”

As if she couldn’t have determined what had happened with just a little sleuthing. “You said you tucked the dogs in for the night. You mentioned they weren’t ‘locked’ in, as if saying anyone else could have let one out. But you were responsible for them, and I suspected you had brought Hercules into the keep that night.

“You also willingly mentioned he had to have used the wolf door, but he hadn’t. I checked. He used the side entrance after someone opened the door for him. Of course, a lot of smells circulated around the door at the time, but yours and Hercules were also present. Not one of the other dogs, though. And from what I’ve seen, the dogs aren’t ever inside the keep except for the special occasion when they were allowed to sit at the meal with us. True?”

“Aye, my lady. I’m sorry.”

“Since you were also responsible for bringing them in to dine with us, I assumed you had also brought him to my chamber.” Not to mention it seemed like something a boy would do. “You are forgiven. Besides, it was all Grant’s fault.”

“Why is it Grant’s fault?” Grant asked, entering the study, a smile curving his mouth as his darkened eyes focused on Colleen.

She felt a little thrill at the sound of his deep, dark, and very sexy voice. His tone wasn’t angry, but more—he wished to pay her back for saying what she did to the lad.

Frederick jumped to his feet, tangling his shoes in the rug, and caught himself by grabbing the chair’s high back before he fell.

Colleen wondered how long Grant had been eavesdropping. She’d been listening so intently to Frederick that she hadn’t even heard Grant open the door and slip into the room. Quietly. Like a wolf on a hunt.

“Because you gave him the idea in the first place,” Colleen said sternly. When Grant opened his mouth to speak, she raised her hand to silence him. He cast her a small smile. “Not by giving him an order to do so, but by your actions earlier. Therefore, the responsibility is yours.”

“So you wish to punish me for it, then?” Grant asked, looking like he enjoyed the idea.

“Yes.” In a most agreeable manner. She couldn’t help it. Grant brought the wild wolf out in her. To Frederick, she said, “You are free to go. Thank you for telling me the truth.”

“Thank you, my lady.” Frederick beamed, but then he quickly glanced at Grant to see his take on it.

Looking pack leader serious, Grant shook his head. “In the future, remember what I said, lad.”

“Aye, no more doing things on my own without your permission,” Frederick said. He quickly dipped his head to both and hurried out of the study.

When the boy left, Grant approached Colleen. “You completely undermined me in front of my pack member.” He pulled her from the chair.

“You completely deserved it.” She wrapped her arms around his neck. “You weren’t supposed to talk to him about it.”

“I couldn’t have him feeling bad about whatever it was, and he needed to apologize to you. Are you done with your budgeting?”

“Only for the farms and the household budget. What did you have in mind?”

“Hot sex.” He released her and locked the study door.

“What…not in here.”

He waved his arm at the rich, chocolate-leather, Victorian-style chaise lounge sitting in a far corner, a plaid blanket tossed haphazardly over it. It reminded her of a place a Grecian lady would lounge while a toga-wearing muscled hunk—similar to a kilt-wearing hunk—fed her grapes before she seduced him. She smiled.

Surrounding it, the dark oak paneling was softly lit by wall sconces, giving it a warm glow. The books lining the shelves and reaching to the high ceiling and the flickering of the flames in the fireplace added to the coziness. Everything was ornate, the crown molding around the ceiling decorated in Celtic knots. Beautiful.

It could work.

She took Grant’s hand and led him to the chaise lounge and began kissing him. He wore jeans and a sweater, but not for long. The best part was that he wore the blue plaid boxers she’d displayed on the pirate’s flagpole at Argent Castle, and that made her smile. Right before she reached down and cupped him.

“I knew there was a good reason to wear this for you,” he said, his voice husky and his expression helplessly in lust.

“Yes,” she said in a hot and eager way.

Grant hadn’t planned this. He’d never imagined having his way with his mate in any place other than their bedchamber. As hard as he was, he’d never manage all the stairs to their chamber without being in some discomfort.

He soon had divested her of her soft sweater and jeans, smiling to see her wearing the bra he had so victoriously attached to the pirate’s flagpole, and kissed her more insistently. He bared her breasts, then leaned down to suckle one, not expecting her to melt onto the chaise lounge.

She smiled up at him, wearing only her pale blue lace thong and bra now. “All we need is a cluster of grapes that you could feed me—”

“We have all the fruit we need right here.” And then he slipped off his boxers and joined her, dragging her panties free and tossing her bra to the floor.

His hand curled in her silky hair. He kissed her mouth before he moved lower to suckle her breast again. This time, she couldn’t escape him.

Both their hearts drummed hard as their lusty scents mixed—she-wolf with male wolf, sweetness and spiciness. His erection pulsed against her thigh as he licked and pulled at her nipples with his lips, loving how they extended with his touch, loving her heated flesh.

He knew before he reached between her legs that he’d find her ready and wet, eager to accept his rigid cock.

Everywhere her hands touched him made his blood run hotter. He throbbed for her, needed release, needed her.

He loved how she took him to task about the lad, yet at the same time teased him about it. They were perfect for each other, perfect as mates and leaders of his pack.

Oh, yeah, perfect, he thought as his fingers sought to give her pleasure while his mouth met hers. Her eyes were closed, her expression one of concentration as he played with her clitoris, working it, bringing her higher. He pushed one of her knees up and then the other, spreading her. She smiled at him, her eyes half-­lidded, her body open to him. And then he stroked her again until she cried out, involuntarily closing up on him.

He pushed her legs apart again and entered her hard, heard her gasp, and meant to pull out, but she stopped him with a harsh, “No.” With renewed vigor, he thrust into her with hearty and lusty need. She anchored her heels against his arse and thrust her hips, connecting with him forcefully.

“Lass,” he groaned as she gave him a cocky smile, knowing just how fast she could turn him into a powerful firestorm of craving, and just how quickly she could bring him to completion.

He continued to thrust, to prolong the glorious feeling of being tucked inside her hot, wet, velvety sheath.

Finished, but only for the briefest of times, he sank against her, their hearts still pounding hard and furiously, their breathing rushed, the only other sound the crackling of the logs in the fireplace.

He toyed with a curl of her hair caressing her shoulder and kissed her cheek. “Now you were saying about this cluster of grapes?”

“Yes,” she said, smiling, her hand stroking down his hip. “I envisioned you feeding me while I lay on the chaise lounge in a toga, one breast exposed, or maybe both. Then I’d seduce you.”

His cock stirred inside her.

She chuckled and kissed his ready mouth. “You’re insatiable.”

“I can’t help it if the notions you have and your sweet body make me behave so wickedly. I will have to ensure Maynard adds grapes to the grocery list.”

“I noticed he added doggie treats so I wouldn’t make mincemeat of another choice steak.”

Grant smiled. “Tell me more about your Grecian plan of seduction.”

She ran her hand down his arm. “You’d wear a kilt. I thought of a toga, but I’d rather seduce a kilt-wearing Highlander, chest fully bared.”

He leaned down and licked her breast, his cock pulsing again inside her.

She laughed.

He started to kiss her lips again. “Keep talking about this seduction. Show me.”

Colleen couldn’t believe talking about her sexual fantasy would turn Grant into a raging inferno of love all over again. Then again, he’d really gotten into her being a pirate wench.

When they finally retired to bed that night, she vowed she’d have to come up with more sexual fantasies for her Highland warrior, who was one hunk of a wolf in the flesh.

 

***

 

 

Chapter 23
 

Before Grant and Colleen ventured forth the next day, they cuddled together in their bed. If anyone had told her she’d be doing this while she came for her yearlong stay, she would have thought him crazy—especially when she had believed Grant and his kin were human. She sighed, then smiled up at him. “So…what are you going to do for your stag party?”

“I’d skip it to be with you.”

She sighed. “I’ve already promised the ladies, and they’re all game to have the bachelorette party.”

Grant had every intention of learning just what the ladies had scheduled.

After eating lunch, he met with his brothers in the study, while the ladies conversed in the great hall, discussing their secret schemes.

“In the history of lupus garous, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of our kind having a stag party after the mating,” Enrick said.

“I agree. Which is why we need to learn just where the lassies intend to go,” Grant said, wanting to have fun with the women, but feeling a little out of sorts when he learned they intended to leave the property and possibly run into unsavory sorts. Not only that, but he worried the other women might encourage Colleen to kiss a male stranger, or hug him, as a silly last farewell to single life. But their kind didn’t do such things—not once they were mated, which for lupus garous was more binding than any wedding ceremony.

“Wait,” Lachlan said. “I thought we were talking about a stag party.”

“Our job will be to ensure that we can participate in the lasses’ party like I did with Ian’s kin last time. We just need to learn where the women are going and—”

Darby poked his head in through the study doorway. “They are headed for Kelton’s Pub, my laird. But first to Lily’s bed and breakfast.”

Grant smiled, glad his valet was so capable of spying on the ladies without their knowledge. Then he frowned. Unless they knew very well that he’d overheard them speaking of their schedule.

“Uh-oh,” Enrick said with a twinkle in his eye. “Does Colleen know about Lily?”

“There’s nothing to know. She was a one-night stand and never anything more. And human. As for the pub, we’ll arrive before the lasses get there,” Grant said, not about to be thwarted. But he and his men wouldn’t go to the B and B. The pub was where they’d have their fun. “I want ten men to follow them without their awareness, purely as a precaution to watch over them.”

Lachlan said, “Enrick, you’d better watch out. Heather MacNeill already stole your trunks. Never know what she might do if you show up to harass her.”

Enrick gave him a look that said he was game, which surprised Grant, but he had more pressing concerns in mind. Such as getting to the pub before the women arrived, and ensuring the women had no troubles along the way.

The bachelorette party was in full swing as Colleen and the rest of the ladies dressed in their clan plaids—MacNeill for some and MacQuarrie for others. Calla was wearing the Stewart plaid. The younger women wore minikilts. The older women’s skirts reached their ankles. Colleen felt so deliciously naughty. She was told in no uncertain terms that the lasses went regimental also. Not so much that it was a military or guy thing, but in the very old days, women went without. That was when the fashion was to wear long gowns—easier to use the bathroom. And, of course, if a woman chanced upon her lover in the glen and no one was about, that made things…easier.

But even so, she felt absolutely scandalous wearing a minikilt and no underwear.

Not that they had any intention of meeting up with the guys tonight. They had their own stag party going on somewhere.

No matter how much Colleen protested not wearing underwear, Julia said, “When it comes to bachelorette parties, propriety goes out the window.”

Colleen suspected Ian wouldn’t agree with her decision, and she was certain Grant wouldn’t, either.

The men had been so busy talking in the study that she and the ladies had managed to slip out without their knowing. Someone would be sure to tell them eventually. But the ladies would be off on their adventure before that happened.

In a caravan of several cars, the ladies stopped to take pictures of themselves by the green hills and sheep, their skirts blowing in the chilly breeze. Colleen posed for pictures with her friends and several of the MacQuarrie women who were her new kin now. No wedding was needed to make it so.

They dropped by the B and B owned and operated by Lily, Grant’s former lover—or one-night stand or whatever she had been to him. Colleen knew she needn’t have bothered, but she wanted to make sure the woman knew Grant was now strictly off-limits.

Lily raised her brows when the thirty women entered the small lobby of the B and B and then spread out into the living area.

“Grant and I are getting married, and we’re having our bachelorette party tonight. So if it would be all right with you, we wanted to take pictures in your B and B since you are friends with Grant. We’ll be posting the pictures around, so you might even get some business,” Colleen said in a she-wolf got the he-wolf sort of way.

The woman didn’t appear happy about Colleen’s claim to Grant, but the chance at free publicity had her hopping to, in an effort to take the best pictures of the group inside the inn and out.

And then everyone chanted, “Pub! Pub! Pub!” and they were off again, only this time to enjoy a bit of brew.

As soon as they arrived at the pub, they knew they were in trouble. Grant and his male friends and kin had parked their vehicles there. Colleen hadn’t meant to crash his party this early in the night or to do so at the pub, thinking more in terms of doing so at the castle, privately. But this was where she and her friends intended to go for her party. So it wasn’t exactly crashing his. Only she was certain that as soon as he got a look at her tiny kilt, he would insist the party was over.

Shoulders straight back, Julia opened the door for Colleen and then she stepped in, followed by the rest.

The men in the pub quit talking and laughing and turned to see all the women enter. But they didn’t look quite as shocked as she had expected. Well, maybe a little, as they eyed the women’s short tartan skirts. Then they smiled as if they’d pulled a fast one on the women. Had the men known the ladies’ plans?

She suspected so. The cads. “Grant, what are you and the rest of the men doing here? Who told you we were going to be here?”

“The castle walls have ears, lass,” he said, reaching for her arm.

The crowd of men took up virtually every seat. The ladies would have to go outside and use the benches on the patio if they wanted to sit down. Grant patted his lap to offer her a place to sit, up close and personal.

She smiled down at his wolfish grin. “You’re being a gentleman and offering your seat to me, right?”

“Aye.” He patted his lap again.

She laughed and shook her head.

“Scottish hospitality, lass,” he said. Before she could let him know she was all for sitting on his lap and in his arms, he seized her arm and tugged her down. She laughed as she sat rather hard on his lap. He groaned a little, and then she wiggled to get comfortable and made him groan some more. Served him right.

Grant set the tone for the party, and ladies squealed as Ian and his brothers collected their mates and pulled them onto their laps. Others did the same.

Calla ended up on Guthrie’s lap, but Colleen wasn’t sure if Guthrie offered her the seat or she had claimed him. Colleen glanced around to see where Heather had ended up. She was sitting on Enrick’s lap. Colleen wondered if Heather’s request for her to grab a pair of his trunks so she could display them on the pirate’s pole meant there had been something going on between the two of them before this—despite her denial.

“You really aren’t here because you knew we planned to come here, are you?” Colleen asked Grant. She couldn’t believe he’d really want to crash her party again.

“You don’t think I’d want my mate off running around, being with other men for any reason, even just to tease as part of a hen party prank, do you? And certainly not dressed like this.” He slid his hand over her bare leg. “Besides, you’ll catch your death in something so skimpy.”

“No, which is why I’m not hugging men for pictures or anything. You would likely hunt them down otherwise, do them bodily harm, and ruin a fun party.”

“Aye, you have the right of it, lass.”

“You know this was supposed to be our last hurrah,” she said, smiling up at him as Julia took their picture.

“Before you were mated. Not that I would have agreed to that, either. Once we were mated, any stag parties or bachelorette parties became unacceptable, unless we’re together at them. Besides, you have more fun when we crash your girlie parties.”

She had to agree he added a lot of spice to the affair. “Fine. But it’s all chick flicks when we return to the keep and…”

Grant kissed her full on the mouth. He was so right. They didn’t need the crazy parties to say they were free one last time. Not when they were already mated. That didn’t mean ladies’ night would be a thing of the past. On the contrary.

“We’ll watch them with you. As your mate, I want to know everything you enjoy doing,” he said agreeably.

Colleen patted his thigh. “Are you up to baking decadently delicious chocolate treats?”

“I am. And eating my fair share, too.”

She smiled and hugged him soundly. “I think I’ll keep you as my mate.”

“I couldn’t be happier with our sleeping arrangements. I do have one question for you, though.”

“Oh?”

“You didn’t send those pictures you took of me while I was sparring with Ian to some other lassies, did you?”

She smiled.

“Darby said he swore the man showing off his arse on Facebook was wearing one of our kilts, and the man he was fighting was wearing the MacNeill tartan. Seemed like too much of a coincidence to us.”

She laughed. “What are girlfriends for?”

“I knew it. You said you wouldn’t share them.” He squeezed her tighter against his chest.

“Well, at least not the identity of the person bearing that sweet ass.”

“And now who’s baring her sweet—”

“I am not.”

He laughed. “With as windy as it is, lass? I’ll have my cell handy when we leave here.”

She’d hold her skirt down, then. She shook her head at him, but he was grinning wickedly and she knew he would, too. Not to share it with anyone, though.

When the whole party of stags and hens headed home, it was pouring rain, the first she’d experienced since she’d arrived. A shuffling of who rode in which cars followed. Ian and Julia grabbed a ride with Grant and Colleen, and they could barely see their way to the castle in the downpour.

That night, after watching romance movies and sharing popcorn and some crazy chocolate concoctions, Ian and his family left for Argent Castle with plans to return in two days for Colleen and Grant’s wedding. The forecast looked like intermittent rain. But it wouldn’t put a damper on the festivities, as excited as everyone was.

Everyone else headed for their respective beds. Grant had wrapped Colleen in his spare plaid while they snuggled and watched the movies, ensuring she didn’t show off her legs or other unmentionables in the short minikilt. As soon as he carried her to the bedchamber, he set her on her feet, then ditched the plaid wrapped around her.

“I want you just like this,” he said, running his hand over her bare leg. Still dressed in his kilt and her in her minikilt, they got into bed together. He pulled her back against his chest, his hand reaching down to feel under her minikilt.

She smiled. A questing finger quickly found its way inside between her slick, hot folds, and she groaned with the sensual assault.

“You should have told me you were already wet for me. You don’t know how much it killed me to touch all that silky flesh and not be able to lift that tiny kilt and bury myself inside you while I waited for everyone to retire for the night. From now on, you only wear it for me in the privacy of our chambers.”

She smiled, happy to do so, not willing to have a breeze lift her kilt and show off her buttocks. He stole her breath when he began nibbling her ear and rubbed his hard body against her backside.

His phone gave an annoying jingle, making them both tense. It was close to three in the morning, and she couldn’t believe anyone would bother them at this hour. Unless it was something serious.

Grant kissed her cheek and withdrew his finger from her feminine folds. “This better be damned important.” He pulled out his cell, still holding her close, moving his hips so he could connect his hard cock with her minikilted buttocks. She obliged him by wriggling against him, providing friction, too.

“Aye,” he growled into the phone. He slipped his hand up her sweater to cup a breast, his fingers softly pinching a nipple, making it tingle with need.

She heard Enrick say, “Archibald’s men are here. Ian said they saw five of them in the woods prowling the perimeter near the castle, and Baird is with them.”

Her heart skipped a beat. Grant stiffened against her. His sexy scent subtly changed to anger.

Grant swore. “I’ll be right down.” He gave Colleen a tight embrace. “Stay here, lass. Don’t get undressed. I’ll return,” Grant said, still dressed only in his kilt.

She knew then he would shift if he needed to chase the men or wolves down. He kissed her cheek, then stalked out of the room with the cell in hand.

“Did you see any of Baird’s cousins? Any of the rest of his men? What about Archibald?” Grant shut the door to the chamber.

Colleen slipped out of the minikilt in a flash, kicked off her boots, and hurried to throw on her jeans and boots again. At the very least, she wanted to watch what was going on from the ramparts.

Before she could grab a rain jacket, the bedchamber door opened. Thinking Grant had returned for something, she turned. And gasped.

To her horror, a soaking wet Archibald rushed into the room. Before she could scream, he struck her in the temple. A sharp pain registered, and a sprinkling of white stars against an inky black night followed. And then? Nothing.

 

***