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 c*ck 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?"
As Hugh neared, Bidworth's face paled, making his bruises stand out. Hugh heard him murmur, "Jane, th-there are ways to amend this predicament, I'm sure. You're not inescapably his wife, not yet."
"Seems like she's more mine than yours," Hugh bit out, aggravated by Bidworth's statement, because it went to the heart of this whole situation. And the galled look the man was casting him tried his patience.
Why did everyone find it so unbelievable that Jane would wed a man like Hugh? She'd kissed him in the coach like she was bloody well wed to him. Hugh placed his hand on her nape, an obvious sign of possession.
Jane shot him a look that promised reprisal. "I wanted five minutes."
"Get in the carriage. Now." When she only gaped at his command, Hugh leaned in and told her in a low tone, "Do it, or he's going to get more than a tap this time."
In a rush, she took Bidworth's hand and briefly shook it. "I'll write, Freddie," she said, then hurried to the coach.
When she paused outside, Hugh told Bidworth, "Doona follow us. Doona come near her again. Forget you even know her."
"D-do you have..." Bidworth swallowed and began again, "Do you have a-any idea who I am?"
The miserable coward,Hugh thought with disbelief, grappling for control of his temper. He had expected a jilted suitor, especially one nearly engaged to a woman like Jane, would be a threat waiting in the wings.
Not a threat. Not even giving Hugh a serious argument.
"Aye, I ken who you are. You're the man who's letting a woman likethat go without a fight." If Hugh had been in Bidworth's position - able to have a life with Jane without risking dire consequences - he'd have fought off a bloody legion before handing her over to another man. A real brawl, with mud flying and blood spraying.
For Jane as a prize, he would have spit blood with a grin on his face.
"You doona deserve her, and you sure as hell could no' have handled her," he snapped. Leaving Bidworth floundering for words, Hugh turned to the coach, scowling as Jane climbed in instead of waiting for him to help her. When he joined her inside and the coach began to roll along, she waved at Bidworth until he was out of sight. Long after, she continued to gaze out the window, her little hands in fists. If Hugh ever expected a woman to cry, it'd be now.
Jane had rarely cried when younger. On the few occasions when she had, he'd been at an utter loss. Seeing she was on the verge, he ran his hand over the back of his neck, realizing that hadn't changed. "If you wanted him so badly, why did you no' fight for him? You've always gotten your way in the past."
"This is your fault," she snapped at him, "this entire situation. If Father hadn't been able toorder up another lackey bridegroom so handily, he would have let me marry Freddie."
"You blame me more than your father, who arranged all this? More than yourself, who agreed to go through with it? Maybe you might blame Grey?"
"Why did Father pick you? You weren't even in London. I demand to know what is really going on! Is this some scheme you and he cooked up to get me to marry you?"
"As I said, I dinna go to your home thinking I'd be leaving with a bride. I never asked your father for you."
"So I'm actually supposed to believe that Grey might do violence to me. The business of imports must be spectacularly dangerous. And all this time I never knew the risks Father was taking."
Hugh said nothing.
"Look me in the eye and tell me Grey's unhinged and might hurt me."
Hugh met her eyes. "I can say with absolute certainty that Grey is soft in the mind and has dangerous intent, probably toward you."
"Grey was always nice to me," she muttered.
"I'll bet he was." When Grey became increasingly crazed, his taunts to Hugh always involved Jane. He'd known that she was Hugh's one weakness. "Did Grey ever say or do anything odd to you? Show an untoward interest in you?"
"No, I wasn't around him that often." She shivered. "Why would he want to do something so drastic?"
"He was becoming unstable. Your father broke off ties with him and ordered an action - something that was within his right to do - that furthered Grey's ruin."
"What do you mean by 'an action'? What kind of ruin? Where doyou fit into this?"
Weyland had again stressed that he didn't want Jane to know anything about the Network until they'd confirmed that the list had indeed been made public. Until then, Hugh was supposed to brush aside her questions, or lie. As Hugh wanted to avoid telling her of his own role, he'd readily agreed. Unfortunately, he found it impossible to lie to her. He needed some time to get his bearings with her, to find a way to deter her questions. "You're keen on interrogating me, but I doubt you'd answer questions so readily."