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.
“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.
“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?