The wily old man had done it.
Weyland had somehow convinced MacCarrick to marry his daughter.Felicitations all around.
Grey had been creeping around the house all morning, entertaining himself by dodging Quin and Rolley. Though Grey didn't blend as perfectly as he had in his prime, he'd been able to get close enough to gossiping servants to garner information.
Apparently, Miss Jane was having trunks packed for at least a month, but she couldn't provide a destination to help them select appropriate clothing to pack. And her lady's maid was being left behind, while her horse and her bow and quiver were not. Food preparations were being made - refreshments for the minister, who'd arrived early, but no wedding breakfast, as the newlyweds were setting off immediately after the simple ceremony.
The servants were sniffling at the news of the wedding and their mistress's departure. They all fawned over her. Not surprising. Weyland had told Grey and Hugh with obvious pride that Jane had always been generous with her wealth and her time, regardless of a person's station.
The servants were far from enamored of the groom, however. As one of them opined: "'E's frightening as 'oly 'ell and not near good enough for our Miss Jane."
This was true. Jane was so far out of his league it was laughable. MacCarrick was massive, stony, and intimidating; Jane was a celebrated beauty brimming with wit and charm.
And she was MacCarrick's sole weakness.
Grey had discovered that the night of Jane's coming-out ball - an event Weyland had insisted they attend. Grey had gotten MacCarrick drunk to lure him there, but Hugh had skulked outside, watching her through a window, his body tense. There'd been such longing in his eyes that Grey had realized the young Highlander was in love with the fair Jane.
A bear chasing a butterfly.
Grey had had to stifle a chuckle at the illogical match - even more so because Hugh hadknown he wasn't good enough for her, yet he'd been unable to let go of his feelings.
More shocking to Grey than Hugh's capitulation was that Weyland had somehow convinced Jane as well. How? Had he come clean about their occupations? About Grey's?
It had been years since Grey had felt genuine amusement, but this situation was boiling over with such rich irony. An assassin bade to protect a life, the life he held dearest in the world - hiswife's . And to protect her from abetter assassin.
All of them had to know that Grey was a much more accomplished killer than Hugh was a protector.
His amusement faded. He hadn't wanted this to be easy....
With Quin and Rolley hovering about them, and a sharp-eyed coach driver who had "Network" written all over him on the lookout, Weyland escorted Jane to the coach. Hugh followed, close behind her, behaving as if she had a target on her back.
She did. Grey had a clear shot from where he lurked this moment. Unfortunately, his aim was...impaired at present. If he missed, he'd be doing nothing but alerting them that he was in England. No, he would have to get closer.
At the coach door, Weyland held Jane's head in both hands and put his forehead to hers. Her face went stark white, her expression stunned, when her father kissed her cheek good-bye. "Papa?" she said in a breaking voice, as if she was just now realizing she was leaving him and her home.
Weyland forced himself away, pausing only to squeeze her shoulder and to give MacCarrick a hard look, letting him know what he was trusting him with. Then he left them, his own shoulders sagging like an old man's - like the old man he was becoming.
As Grey watched their actions and interactions in a kind of dazed captivation, he wondered if Weyland had told MacCarrick about the list to convince him. Probably.
Greydid have the list, and had threatened to release it, but if that information went public, Weyland would be dead directly. In Weyland's clandestine service, he'd routinely had to make cold-blooded decisions, dispatching men like Grey, Ethan, and Hugh to carry them out. If those numerous decisions were traced back to Weyland, it would be over.
That wasn't Grey's agenda, not yet -
When a sudden cold clamminess broke out on his neck and back, dampening his shirt, Grey reached into his jacket pocket. He'd anticipated that smoking would be more inconvenient in England than in some other countries, and had had his "medicine" prepared differently. He needn't have bothered. In London, opium was proving easier to find than tobacco and cheaper than gin.
But he liked the alteration. He chewed it, relishing it. The taste was like almonds that were slightly off. The texture was gummy.
My medicine.He snorted. His body had been ruined from injuries sustained in his profession, and laudanum had made the pain bearable. Upon noticing that Hugh limped himself, especially in the mornings, Grey had offered him some. The bastard had shook his head firmly.So bloody sanctimonious.
As he chewed, Grey's heartbeat slowed to a ponderous rhythm, though he felt more excitement than he could remember. Luckily, with this dosage there would be no hallucinations. He hoped....
Ah, and there went Jane, waking as if from a trance, beginning to gesture and fume even as MacCarrick was loading her into the coach. Stubborn Jane wasn't one to be led blindly, and she was no doubt demanding answers, ones that Hugh clearly wasn't providing. At the coach door, she stepped up, but turned to say something else to Hugh, putting their faces close. They both fell silent.
Grey had compared Hugh to a bear chasing a butterfly. The corners of Grey's lips tilted up. No, Hugh was better than that - he was like a wolf with a rabbit twitching her tail in front of him.
Sooner or later, the wolf would attack.
When Hugh shut the carriage door, he stood for just a second, exhaling deeply, as if getting his bearings. He ran a shaking hand over his face, no doubt disbelieving he'd wed the chit.
"Don't worry, Hugh," Grey softly assured him. "It shan't be for long."
In the past, if Jane had caught Hugh staring at her breasts, he'd always averted his eyes. In the coach for the last hour, he'd looked at her brazenly, studying her body, as if re-learning it, as if it was hisright to do so. It galled her. He could have had unfettered access to her body. She would have denied him nothing in the past.
The fact that she reacted to his heated gaze only infuriated her further. Why couldn't she have found him less attractive than she had years before? She'd always thought him the most beautiful man she'd ever seen - even before she'd spied on him shucking off his clothes to swim naked in the lake and had gazed in awe at his magnificent body. And now this new hardness about him was nearly irresistible.
A living hell, she'd promised him. She'd sounded so strong, so determined.
Now she waffled.
Stay married, her father had advised. She didn't want that, couldn't have that. She'd been forced to accept the alliance, but Hugh hadn't been and could have saved them both from this.
Because Hugh had left her no way out, Jane felt he might as well have pushed her off a cliff. Yes, a nice, big shove, sending her flailing and screaming right over the edge.
Inevitably, once she landed, it was going to be messy.
She was already livid with him over the past, before he attacked Freddie. Now she was wed to the very man who'd betrayed her, and this on the heels of the rawest show of fury she had ever seen. Hugh in the warehouse had been bad, but this morning he'd been worse. What she couldn't understand was why.
Had he become one of those men whose first reaction always tended toward violence? Or had her father already promised her to him, days, even weeks, before? Which would mean Hugh had thought hisfianc¨¦e had been kissing another? She frowned. Recalling her conversation with her father, she realized he'd never asked herwhy Hugh had attacked Freddie....
Hugh's own explanation had rung hollow, even as he'd uttered it. Yes, Hugh was a close friend of the family's, and, yes, perhaps she oughtn't to have been kissing Freddie in the park behind the folly, but nothing excused what he'd done.
Jane was angry and she wanted revenge. Her talent still lay in teasing and tormenting. In fact, as she'd pointed out to Hugh, her arsenal had only expanded, thanks to all the tricks she'd learned in her five London seasons among seven master cousins.
Hugh should know what he'd given up back then. He should have a taste of what hecouldn't have now without risking a binding marriage to her.
For every hopeless day and night filled with tears, for every man she'd compared to him and found lacking, for his decision to leave her...
For all her pain, she would make him pay.
"Oh, Hugh, darling, it's close in here, is it not?" She unfastened the first few buttons of her blouse and drew it wide to fan herself. After opening the window on her side, she tugged up her skirts so she could kneel on the bench facing him. She reached past Hugh toward his window, resting one knee against his thigh, and placed her palm just above his own knee. His entire body went rigid.
With her other arm stretched out to the window, she turned her head so their lips were barely inches apart. "You don't mind, do you, darling?" she asked in a sensual whisper as she slowly rubbed her palm higher up his rock-hard thigh. His jaw clenched, and he swallowed hard. His brows drew together as though he was in pain.
Make him pay.
They hit a bump, and though his hands shot to her waist to steady her, she made sure she landed straddling him.
He hissed in a breath. "Jane," he growled, tightening his grip. But he didn't raise her from her position - if anything, his shaking hands on her waist pressed her down.
"What is it, darling?" she murmured.
"Doona touch me, lass," he rasped. "Just...you canna touch me."
"How clumsy of me," she purred. "Needing you to support me, or else I mightslide...slowly...inch by inch...down upon your " - she leaned in close to his ear, making sure he felt her breaths before she enunciated - "lap." He shuddered violently, lowering his head to her neck.
When she eased back, he faced her, appearing stunned. His normally clenched jaw was slack.
She patted his shoulder firmly - all business - then maneuvered and swished back into her seat to gaze casually out the window. "Yes, darling, now it'smuch better in here."
Hugh violently rubbed his palms on his legs, struggling for a calm he didn't possess. His swift, blood-pounding erection strained against his trousers. His breaths came haggard.
After wanting her for so long...
She didn't understand just how tenuous his control was, and was even now gazing out the window, unconcerned. But he could see her coral lips curling without humor. She was playing with him, just as she always had.
He'd tolerate it no longer.I saw her kissing another goddamned man.
His hand shot out to grasp her arm, and her smirk vanished. She turned to him with a glare. "Hugh, release me."
He yanked her closer to him on the bench. "You'd do well to recognize I'm no' the same lad I was."
"And what are you now?" she asked airily, seemingly unaffected by what had just occurred and by Hugh's building anger.
"I'm a man with a man's needs." He would teach her, give her this lesson now so that she would stop these flirtations. Because she was right - she had gotten even better, somehow improving on perfection. He sensed it was critical to put her in her place now. His voice grating, he said, "Doona expect to tease me like that and no' relieve me in some fashion."
Her eyes widened, then narrowed. "Some fashion? Enlighten me, darling." Her soft fingertips toyed with his chest in the V of his shirt. Christ, she made him weak. "How do you usually prefer to be...relieved?"
So she'd meet him measure for measure? He was a man with more experience, he should be able to win this handily. There had to be a line she wouldn't cross. But could he pull back once they reached it?
"I'll have tae show you," he heard himself saying. In one sweeping motion, he dragged her onto his lap, easing her back against his arm until he was leaning over her. She looked startled - after all, this was the first time he'd ever touched her back when she'd teased - but then a flicker of that stubborn look crossed her face. In the space of a heartbeat, she was all seduction again, reaching out to pet his neck even as she relaxed into his arm.
His blood pulsed in his groin, making it hot and aching. When she gasped, he knew she could feel his erection throbbing under her arse. He was having difficulty thinking. Didn't he have an agenda with this?
Kiss her so hard she'll forget she was in another man's arms this morning....
No.He was only doing this to push her, to startle her, to win this battle of wills. They always used to have them, and Hugh had lost as many as he'd won.
Her lips were parted, welcoming. Her body was so damned soft against him. Just one taste.Yes, get this out of the way in the beginning. Of course. He'd only imagined how good kissing her would be, and when that was proved otherwise, he could get past his obsession.
He leaned down, never taking his eyes from hers. He felt the lace hem of her skirt clenched in his shaking fist and had no idea how it had gotten there. No doubt he wanted to get to those wicked garters he'd seen her lace around her white thighs this morning.
Her open blouse revealed the swells of her creamy breasts above her corset, and he bent to brush his lips over them, stunned to find her skin was as soft as it looked. When she shivered, her playfulness gone, he kissed up to the base of her neck, realizing this was the first time his lips had ever touched her.
He inhaled the light scent of her skin and knew that he wouldn't rest until he'd tasted her. Just once. With a defeated groan, he opened his mouth and flicked his tongue over her flesh. He shuddered with pleasure, and she gave the sweetest little cry, making him want to wrench more from her.
"Is this what you want from me?" he rasped, drawing back to take in her face. She looked as dazed as he felt, staring at his lips, no doubt wondering how things had escalated so fast.
He cupped her nape and slanted his lips over hers. She hesitated as if startled by the contact, then parted her soft, giving lips in offer.
Her mouth was hot and wet as he slipped his tongue in, and when she met it, taking his strokes with hers, he stifled a groan. She moaned against him, the sound making his cock pulse painfully in reaction, and soon he was lost in the experience. At last he was tasting and touching her, dazed by sensation.
This wasn't a dream, not a scenario he'd envisioned in a lonely bed in some distant country. He was kissing her. And it wasn't as good as his imaginings.
His hand had slipped up the outside of her thigh almost to her garter, about to slowly untie -
"Miss Weyland!" a voice called from outside the carriage. "I say, is Miss Weyland in there?"
Jane froze, then pulled back. "Freddie?" she gasped.
"Hugh, we have to stop."
His gaze flickered over her chest, her neck, her lips. When he met her eyes, he shook his head slowly. Leaning in, he took her mouth once more.
She shivered, then pushed against him. "Stop!" She scrambled to sit up. "I am in deadly earnest, Hugh!"
He finally released her, though he struggled not to yank her back when he realized she'd just responded tohim . Such a small taste, after such a long wait, and it was still worth it.
But as sanity returned, he disbelieved what he'd done - and been about to do. He had to cough to speak, and still his voice was hoarse when he said, "Never do that again. Never, Jane, or I vow tae you, I'll - "
"Stop the carriage," she said, inhaling and exhaling deeply as she fumbled with the buttons of her blouse. When he made no move to do so, she added, "We're setting off for a location so secret you aren't even going to tell me, but if you don't let me talk to him, he'll follow us all the way there."
"No' if he's unable to follow," he said quietly.
Her eyes widened, and she gazed at him as if she didn't recognize him. "You're crazed, aren't you? Have the years warped your mind? You listen to me, Hugh MacCarrick. You are not to hurt him again. Do you hear me? Or, so help me God, I will get in the middle and - claw - your - very - eyes - out." She gave him a glare to punctuate her threat.
"You told your father that you'd sent a message to him."
"Of course I did," she said, straightening her hair. He took the opportunity to pull his jacket edges together and furtively adjusted his shaft within his trousers. "Freddie must have ridden over directly upon receiving it, just missed us, and followed us north."
Biting back a curse, Hugh called to the driver to stop.
"I want five minutes with him - alone," she said, throwing open the coach door.
"No' a chance - "
"I'm telling him good-bye. He deserves five minutes of my time. Especially after your attack today." She met his eyes. "Hugh, damn you,please ."
She always knew he couldn't deny her when she looked up at him like that and said please. When he bit out a curse, she quickly descended before he could assist her. Through the back window, Hugh watched as Bidworth dismounted. When she rushed to him, the bastard laid his hands on her shoulders, then pulled her to his chest.
Hugh couldn't watch this, not now. She was his wife now. Not for good, only temporarily, but for now, she washis.
His first impulse was to stalk out there, drag her away from him, then plant his fist in Bidworth's face again. That last hit had felt so sodding good, and the break at the bridge of Bidworth's nose was swollen and already blackening his eyes gruesomely. Hugh stifled the impulse, barely, but stayed tensed and ready to reach her in a hurry. He half-expected Bidworth to snatch Jane up and toss her on his horse to steal her.
Hugh would have.
He would use this time to study them interacting, to determine what type of loss this would be for her. Jane stared up at Bidworth adoringly - but then, it made sense that a woman like her would want a man like him. He was an earl, tall and blond, and they looked rich and aristocratic together. A perfect Briton couple.
Hugh was a black-haired Scot with a menacing expression and gashes marring his face.
Not to mention his occupation.
Jane lightly brushed her fingers over Bidworth's cheek, and Hugh hated him for it. She touched Bidworth lovingly - as she used to with Hugh. Now she touched Hugh to hurt him.
Seeing this was hellish. Put Hugh in a sweltering marsh, force him to stand perfectly still with a rifle poised for a shot for half a day as the sweat stung his eyes and insects devoured his legs, and he would be happier than watching this. Jaw clenched, his hands in fists, Hugh watched as Bidworth refastened her top blouse button and suspected they were already sleeping together.
"Jane, you cannot tell me this is what you want," Freddie said. "I thought we had an understanding."
"I don't, and we did." She couldfeel Hugh's eyes on her and shivered, still affected by how rapidly things had escalated between them. In the past, she could always touch and tease him, and henever touched her back. Just then in the coach, he'd had her in his lap, her bottom pressed against his very sizable and insistent erection, in the space of a heartbeat.
His kisses had been scalding, devouring. Until five minutes ago, Jane had never known kisses could be like that. As though Hugh were branding her....
As she and Freddie stood at the side of the road, she wanted to adjust their positions, so that Hugh couldn't see her flushed face - and could only burn holes in her back with his eyes.
"Your father said this MacCarrick has just returned after a long absence," Freddie began, "and that you two had been promised to each other years ago. Is this true?"
In a way. In her mind. "It's rather involved, Freddie."
"Is Weyland forcing you to do this, sweetheart?" He stroked her hair. "Jane, you poor thing. You're trembling." He looked as if he might kiss her to comfort her, and Hugh immediately descended from the carriage, unfolding his towering height. In a clear warning, he crossed his arms and leaned his muscular frame against the side of the carriage.
Freddie's expression was aghast. "My God, he looks more barbaric than before! I still cannot believe your father is lettinghim marryyou ." Then Freddie gave Jane a look that suggested he was amazed by her fortitude in surviving the marriage even this long. "What is Weyland thinking? This won't be tolerated! We will figure out some way to free you from this man."
Jane glanced at Hugh and had to admit that he looked fearsome. Unfortunately for her, she'd always liked that about him, when it was directed at others.
"I'll take you away from here this very moment," Freddie vowed.
In a toneless voice, she said, "It's done, I'm afraid." Yes, her father did have significant influence with persons of power, but even he wouldn't be able to smooth this one over.
In her letter to Freddie, Jane had broken it off with him - completely.
"This is probably for the best," she said with a sigh. "You know your mother and sister don't approve of me." She would have been Lady Whiting by the skin of her teeth.
"I hope that is not what has swayed you in this, because I say to hell with them."
Despite these heroic promises now, Freddie actually wasn't accustomed to taking stands or becoming involved in discord in any way. That was one of the reasons she'd liked him so much, because he was so opposite to Hugh, who'd always been so quick to roll up his sleeves and fight for her.
"I just don't understand this," Freddie continued. "I-I won't accept this!"
Yes, he would. Because the truth was that he wasn't in love with her, either. He'd lost his heart to Candace Damferre, their mutual friend and his childhood sweetheart, who'd been forced to marry a doddering old man who was, impossibly, richer than Freddie.
But Jane and Freddie had promised each other that if they did wed, they'd do their best to make a go of it, and Jane had known that Freddie was looking forward to a future with her. The entire situation waswrong .
"I'd be sending you off to your doom - " He broke off as Hugh stalked toward them, exuding menace. Freddie's voice scaled an octave higher when he said, "He's going to hit me again, isn't he?"