"Oh," Jane said, letting out a breath she hadn't known she held. "Why not?"
"Just never have."
He was right. Now she wanted to ask a slew of questions. "I suppose you purposely tried," she said, struggling to disguise the hurt she felt. The thought of him wanting a child with another woman scalded her inside.
"Christ, no, I have no' tried."
She frowned. "Then how can you know?"
"My brothers canna either."
Her eyes widened a touch. A childhood illness. It would have to be. Her eyes widened even more - was this why he'd never wanted to marry at all? Never wanted to marryher ?
It would explain everything! She swayed, and Hugh's grip on her hip tightened. Hugh wouldn't want to deny her children. He was always selfless like that. This made sense - this was the reason she'd wracked her mind for! She wasn't daunted by this in the least. If she had her Scot, she could go without children. After all, her cousins would continue to spawn at an accelerating rate, inundating Jane with children to play with.
If her heart had turned like a cart's wheel at the sight of her wedding ring, then this latest revelation made her feel like someone had lit the cart on fire and sent it careening down a mountain.
Her first impulse was to tackle him to the ground and kiss him, but she stifled that impulse, realizing almost immediately that it had been a Bad Idea. Surely he would be vulnerable after his admission, and she didn't want to appear pleased over what he considered a loss. Her second impulse was to scoff at what he erroneously thought was a major obstacle, but to scoff would mean she didn't respect his beliefs on the subject.
Men really cared about these things, didn't they? Did he feel he was less of a man because of it? She took a steadying breath.Be rational .
"I see. I appreciate your taking me into your confidence." She sounded calm, reasonable.
He nodded gravely. "I've never told anyone before. But now you understand why I would no' want to marry."
He nodded grimly.
"But it doesn't change my mind about us whatsoever."
"What?" he bit out, releasing her to take a step back.
"I don't know how to convince you that this wouldn't have a huge impact on my life."
"You told me you love children. Even gave me reasons."
"I loveother people's children," Jane said with a wry grin. When he scowled, she grew serious. "If you think I've ached in my breast wanting my own, it just isn't true. I love the ones you saw me with because they are my family." She glanced away. "I hope you don't think I'm an unfeeling woman because I haven't experienced that need. That's somethingI haven't told anyone."
"Did you never think to have them?"
"If I got married and it happened - or didn't happen - I wouldn't have cried either way."
"This is no' how I expected you to react to this," he said, running his hand over the back of his neck.
"I'm sorry to disappoint you. But this changes nothing for me."
"Damn it, the only reason you want this is because you have to fight for it. And once the fight is over, the desire will be, too."
"That isnot true."
"In the past, you've fought for things you dinna necessarily want - you did it only because you needed the challenge. Admit it!"
Well, maybe once or twice...But when she was younger she'd also believed she was all but married to Hugh - no challenge there, and yet she could think of little else but him.
"And what happens if I give in and your interest fades?" Hugh demanded. "When you get back to England among your friends and family and parties, your desire to stay with me will wane. This is obvious to me, Jane."
"It hasn't faded yet," she muttered.
He gave a humorless laugh. "Oh, aye, for the entire few weeks we've been together?"
She shook her head - now, where's that cliff?"I meant for the ten years we've been apart - or you can just round it up to half of my life."
He visibly swallowed. "Are you saying...? You doona mean..." His voice broke low. "Me, Jane?"
Jane sighed. "Yes, you - "
He tensed just as she thought she heard horses down the wooded drive. In one movement, he turned, shoving her behind him, and ripped off his shirt to cover her.
After Hugh's trail vanished in Scotland, Grey's options hadn't been promising.
This was Hugh's country, and the wilds were his element - never Grey's.
Worse, Hugh would bloodyknow he was good enough to lose Grey. That galled him.
If Grey hadn't been dallying with Ethan, he wouldn't have missed Hugh and Jane's nighttime departure. He found it ironic that by taking the time to kill one brother, he let another one escape.
Though he knew the countries of western Europe and northern Africa like the back of his hand, he'd never worked in Scotland. He was fluent in four languages, but Gaelic was not among them. The farther north he traveled, the more closemouthed and hostile the people were toward Englishmen - even more so toward Grey, who was emaciated and appeared ill. And possibly mad.
He had thought about returning to London to torture Weyland, but he knew the old man wouldn't talk - and Weyland probably didn't know for certain where they were anyway.
Just as Grey had begun to wonder if he could ever find them, he'd remembered that it was standard procedure in the Network to stay as close to telegraph lines as possible - and that only the most vital information, coded, of course, was dispatched.
Hugh would stay within a day's ride of a telegraph office, checking in periodically for word of Grey's capture or death, so he'd know when to return home. Even though Grey knew all the codes and possessed the keys, no message would be sent without his own defeat. Which was a conundrum. How could Grey get Weyland to telegraph?
Then he'd realized he didn't have to be defeated before a message was sent.
Word of Ethan's death would be considered critical.
Grey had suspected an urgent telegraph to Hugh about his brother would be sent to several stations throughout Scotland. In the end, Grey uncovered - through varying degrees of violence - that only four went out, and two of the receiving offices were located in this small area in the south central Highlands. Grey had combed every inch within a one-hundred-mile-radius of the first station and had almost completed the radius of the second. Hugh had to be around here somewhere.
Unfortunately, the people here were cold, as usual, and money had no effect on them.
He'd just decided to throttle someone for the information when he heard the nicker of a horse behind him. Glancing back, he spied, far up the road, a girl emerging from a path in the woods - one that he hadn't seen as he'd passed.
She was alone, leisurely riding a pony in the opposite direction, and she had no saddlebags. A day trip. Interesting. What was out in this wilderness? Perhaps Hugh's hideout?
This girl would likely be as closemouthed as every other Scot he'd encountered, but Grey just smiled, slipping medicine between his lips to ready himself. The wee black-haired miss obviously worked for a living. Grey's hand flitted to his blade, holstered at his hip.
Grey knew that women who worked for their bread were particularly keen on keeping their fingers.
Jane rested her chin in her palm, staring out the window down at Hugh as he drank with the other brawny Highlanders.
The sounds they'd heard on the drive had been half a dozen towering Scots riding what looked like warhorses - M¨°rag's brothers, come to arrange work on the last part of the roof.
Hugh had joined them for homemade scotch, but hadn't invitedher to socialize. Which didn't bother her. Whatsoever. Nor did the fact that Hugh hadn't even seemed particularly interested in her earlier revelation, at least not more than he was in swilling mash with other Gaels well after sundown.
She was still reeling fromhis admission, and had dozens more questions for him, but he'd remained down there for hours. For someone who professed to being a loner, Hugh seemed to be getting along well with the men, and they treated him like one of their own. She frowned. Hewas one of their own. He was a tall and proud Highlander, and when he spoke to them in his low tone, these men quieted and listened. They already were growing to respect her steady, patient husband.
Jane twirled her hair at her lips, then sniffed. Lord, would she have to bathe in a vat of acid to get rid of that harsh wax smell? Barring a vat, she was having another bath - and she wouldn't be heating water for it. Hugh wouldn't miss her if she headed for the spring, and she couldn't go ask him to accompany her without being accused of "teasing."
Gathering her bathing gear and a towel, she exited the side door, away from the men. During the pleasant stroll, she gazed up at the nighttime sky and mused over the last few weeks with Hugh. She'd sensed she was wearing him down with each encounter they had, but did she really want a man she had to "wear down" to get him make love to her? A man who hadn't particularly seemed to care that she'd always had feelings for him?
When she reached the loch, she marveled at how beautiful it was here. The moon was full, yellow and ponderous in the sky, reflecting over the hint of fog enshrouding the surface. Steam rose in wisps from the concealed pocket of rocks containing the hot spring.
Breathtaking. Damn it, she didn'twant to leave Scotland. Now London seemed so drab, sooty, and heartless. When Grey was caught, how could Jane go back there, knowing what she was missing both with Hugh and with this country?
With a sigh, she disrobed. The water looked too appealing to resist any longer, and she slipped in. After setting her soaps and oils on the small ledge jutting from the side of a cliff, she washed her hair thoroughly. She'd just dunked under to finish rinsing it when Hugh appeared.
For the first time, she actually heard him before she saw him. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw that his hair was disheveled and his demeanor was weary, but his eyes...they burned wild.
"You didn't have to come out here to coddle me," she said. "Go back to your new friends."
He was silent, just staring.
"Are you drunk?" She'd never seen him this way. Even at Vinelands, he'd had no more than a glass of scotch while everyone else imbibed heartily.
"Aye," he finally answered. "But it does no' help."
"Help what?" she asked, bewildered by this new facet of Hugh.
"Help me stop wanting you day and night. And I've come to realize only one thing will."
She stood waist-deep in the water, her hair streaming down her back, looking at him over one shoulder. Steam swirled all around her, and a hunter's moon glowed above, illuminating the pale perfection of her body.
Long moments passed as they both remained still, breathing heavily, as if gauging what the other's next move would be. Unless she'd been jesting earlier, this exquisite woman had admitted to having feelings for him - foryears .
He'd rather not have known that.
He hadn't drunk with the MacLarty brothers only to make sure none of them got any ideas about his wife - especially after they'd all seen Jane in nothing but a wet shift and his shirt. He'd drunk because she'd absolutely staggered him -
She turned fully to him, arms by her sides. Something in him simply...snapped.
With a muttered curse, he snatched off his shirt, boots, and pants. He dove in after her, then yanked her naked slick body to him, pressing her close. Her hands trailed up his chest to twine behind his neck and her lush breasts slipped against him, making her moan softly.
"This was supposed to fade, but it has no'," he slurred against her neck. "It's worse. How the bloody hell can it be worse?"
"I-I don't understand you, Hugh."
"You will," he said, then used a straight arm to sweep off her bathing oils from the rock ledge. He set her roughly atop the shelf, putting them face to face. She gasped, but he simply gazed at her, committing this scene to memory. Her dark hair was streaming over her breasts, over her tight, jutting nipples. The silky curls at her sex were stark against her pale, spread thighs. "So beautiful," he rasped. "You torment me. If you only knew..."
He shoved his hips between her legs, leaning in to softly suck her earlobe. She sighed, relaxing, allowing him to work her legs wider.
He grasped her breasts, molding them, covering them completely with his hands. Then, as she gazed at him breathlessly, he leaned down to suckle her as he'd wanted to do that afternoon.
She cried out, and he recognized that he couldn't stop what was happening, even if he wanted to. And he didnot want to.
Switching to her other nipple, he sucked her hard, but she liked it, holding his head to her breast, arching her back for more.
Only after he'd made sure that both of the peaks were hard and throbbing did he pull away to move down her body, to her spread thighs. When his mouth was inches away from her sex, he let her feel his breaths before he pressed his opened lips to her, and slid his tongue out. She gave a strangled cry as he closed his eyes in bliss, delving at her folds, finding them deliciously slick with her own wetness.
He glanced up to gauge her reaction and found her wide-eyed, shamelessly watching him. If possible, that aroused him even more. He spread her flesh with his thumbs, kissing her so that she'd never forget the sight of it. Between licks, he rasped, "Have you had this done tae you before?"
She shook her head. "N-no, never."
He knew his expression was wicked. "I'm going tae make you come like you never have before."
She gasped. "Are you sure you want me to, Hugh?" she asked with a hint of nervousness. "While you're down there?"
"I want you tae come right under my tongue," he growled, taking her between his lips to suck her clitoris for the first time.
She cried out, threading her fingers through his hair, clutching him hard. "Hugh,I will , yes!There . Oh, God, yes!"
At that, he went mindless...felt her damp breast clutched in his hand, her soft, soft flesh beneath his tongue...licking, devouring, squeezing her. He pushed up against the backs of her thighs, pressing her knees wider to get to more of her exquisite taste. She gave a sharp cry, undulating her hips up to his greedy mouth, completely abandoned.
He broke away to say, "Now come for me," then returned his tongue. When she did, her long moan was broken only by her awed words: "It feels sogood . Hugh, you make mefeel so good. "
He licked her madly as she writhed, and his cock seemed to pulse in the warm water with her every word, her every cry. When she grew too sensitive, he finally eased up, then stood before her. "I have tae be inside you," he groaned, desperate to sink into her glistening, plump flesh, still spread to him. Becoming frenzied, he used one hand to pin her wrists above her head against the rock.
Her half-lidded eyes grew wide and she quickly said, "Wait, Hugh. L-let me free. I need to tell you something." But her words sounded indistinct as he cupped her sex beneath his whole hand. "Hugh, please - "
"I am," he growled, keeping her wrists pinned. "I've waited too goddamned long, and I'll wait no more."
"But I'm - "
"No more talking." He was through listening. "You've haunted me." He wanted to punish her as she'd punished him again and again. He wanted to take out ten years of pain on her and make her feel what he'd suffered. He shoved her legs wider, about to plunge into her and take her mindlessly, furiously. Finally.
With his free hand, he clutched her breast, feeling his cockhead straining against her, seeking to be inside her. "I've told you I'm no' a good man. If you would believe me, if you only knew, you'd no' want my hands on you. But you push and push."
"I know. I do." Her face went soft, and her body relaxed. "And I'm sorry. It's just that I need you, Hugh," she whispered, then leaned up to press kisses to his neck. "So much that I can't think of anything but you." The light touch of her lips and her panting words against his skin set him awash in that indescribable feeling of...rightness.
Her eyes met his. She gazed up at him with desire, but also with trust.
He released her wrists and lowered his forehead to hers. "Damn you, Jane," he whispered harshly.
Had he actually thought he could hurt her? The woman he'd been born to touch and to hunger for?
"Don't be angry, please," she murmured. "I want this, but only if you do."
He almost laughed at that - if he did.
"I do, S¨¬ne." He was glad she'd made him come to his senses. Not because he was going to back out of this - no, their fate was sealed on that score - but because he'd be damned if he took her like a mindless, rutting animal. The first time.
He disbelieved what he was about to do, but he was resolved. For once in his life, he would have the woman he desired more than anything else on earth. He didn't deserve her, but he was a selfish bastard. He didn't deserve her, but God, he needed her.
He'd bring her pleasure again. He'd meant for her to come around his cock when it was thick inside her, but knowing how badly he wanted this, he'd probably embarrass himself, losing his seed with the first thrust.
He slipped his middle finger into her wetness, and she moaned, hips arching up to meet his hand. She was wet for him, but so tight.
"Hugh," she gasped out when he withdrew his finger and returned with two, preparing her, thrusting deep just as she arched up -
He froze. Staring down at her in confusion, he said in a strangled tone, "Jane? You're a virgin?"
Her eyes flickered open at his tone, and she bit her lip guiltily. "I-I was going to tell you."
He removed his fingers, shaking over what he'd been about to do. He'd been about to hurt her - hadwanted to - never knowing how devastating it would be. "Why did you no' tell me?"
"I thought you'd be less likely to make love to me."
"You thought right!" His eyes narrowed. "But you and Bidworth?"
"Never even got close."
His relief staggered him, but then he realized that now there was no way he could have her. Just as he was about to pull away, she grabbed his hips, holding him to her.
"Hugh, I wantyou to show me this, only you. I've waited so long, and I know you'll make this incredible for my first time."
She couldn't have said anything more convincing, because he knew she was right. He'd imagined taking her virginity countless times, envisioned the care he would take to spare her pain if he could. He would do everything in his power to pleasure her. Would another man be able to give her what Hugh was dying to?