Jane now fully comprehended Hugh's reluctance to stay here. She suspected he and this curvaceous French woman had been lovers.
Hugh extracted his hand from the woman's, then presented her to Jane. "Jane, this is Lysette Nadine. Lysette, this is my...wife, Jane...MacCarrick."
Jane thought of all those times she'd written her name as Jane MacCarrick, and sighed. Hugh could scarcely utter the words. The pleasure that used to warm her turned into an annoying jab.
"Wife?" The woman's lips parted, but she swiftly recovered. "Must be a recent acquisition. You were unwed six months ago when I last saw you."
Hugh shrugged without interest. So they hadn't seen each other for that long?
Lysette lowered her voice to say, "I'd heard you'd sworn never to marry."
"Circumstances changed," he replied, and Jane knew she was only dipping a toe into the undercurrent of their conversation.Sworn never to marry?
This Lysette had big, ingenuous blue eyes - but she was actually very alert, taking in details, missing nothing. When Lysette rudely looked her up and down, Jane simply smiled at her as she might an unruly child seeking attention. She was confident enough in herself and, strangely, in Hugh's attraction to her over the voluptuous woman - even if they'd been lovers. However, this woman's misplaced possessiveness couldn't go unanswered. Though Hugh had warned her not to tease him, Jane sidled closer to him, rubbing her cheek against his arm. She felt him tense immediately.
Raising an eyebrow as if in challenge, Lysette asked, "How many rooms do you desire, Hugh?"
"One," Jane said before Hugh could answer.A challenge? Jane's hand traced up Hugh's back, passing a pistol in a holster she hadn't even known he carried, and her fingers settled about his neck, nails languidly scratching just above his collar. His body shot even tighter with tension. "And we'd like a bath and our dinner brought there."
Lysette looked at Hugh as if expecting him to naysay Jane.
Jane placed her other hand flat on his muscular chest, displaying her ring. "Have I overstepped,husband ?"
He glowered down at her, but he did tell Lysette, "One."
Lysette gave her a tight smile. "I will show you up myself."
Once inside the surprisingly spacious room, Jane hopped on the bed and patted it. "Yes, darling, this will do nicely." She gave Hugh a lascivious look and a teasing growl in her throat. "And I wager we'll even sleep well on it, too."
He and Lysette both shot her looks. Hugh's was one of warning. Lysette's was one of promised retaliation.
Finally Lysette huffed out, with a halfhearted, "If you need anything..."
As soon as the door closed, Hugh asked, "More games?"
"Shouldn't we act as if we're married?" Jane collapsed back on the bed, raising her hands above her to sneak another glance at her ring. She'd decided she would definitely keep the ring, even if she wasn't keeping the groom with whom it was associated. "This is how I will behave with my final husband when he comes into the rotation. I'll be eager to flirt with and touch him. And I won't take it lightly when another woman tries to do the same."
"You'd be possessive of your husband?"
"Quite so." She eased up to her elbows. "Especially when it's obvious that you - I mean,he has some type of history with a buxom innkeeper who's intent on making me feel like an outsider in your - I mean,their little party of two." She raised an eyebrow. "Care to enlighten me about your history with the Frenchie?"
"No, no' particularly."
"Hugh, sometime soon you're going to burn to know something from me. I won't be inclined to answer you if you continue to brush aside my questions."
Before he could reply, a maid knocked and entered to set up a copper bathtub behind a dressing screen.
Under his breath, Hugh said, "Do you need her to help you undress before she leaves?" At her look, he added, "I thought you might be missing your lady's maid."
"Oh, since you wouldn't let me take her with us? It's no matter - anything I require, you can provide. Besides, I'm sure you're quite well versed in undressing women."
Behind the screen, the maid coughed. Hugh gazed at the ceiling, as if praying for patience.
Jane ignored him, studying the maid behind the flimsy screen, noting that she could see every detail of her form in shadow or clearly through the slim gaps between the panels. If Hugh stayed in the room while Jane bathed, he would see the same. Jane shrugged. She wasn't going to develop a sudden case of modesty when she was traveling and confined with a man indefinitely.
Once the red-faced maid had carried in several cans of steaming water to fill the bath and retreated from the room, Jane crossed to the screen, slipping behind it. Was she undressing a trifle slower than usual? She thought she heard a low groan when her petticoats dropped, and a louder one when she slid her shift up her body, over her br**sts, then up over her head.
Oh, her poor, poor back wasso travel-fatigued. She raised her arms above her and stretched.
Hugh paced the room like a caged tiger.
When she finally got in the tub, Jane softly moaned with pleasure - not feigned, as she adored taking baths. Then she lounged back to reflect on her insane day.
She recalled the disappointment in Freddie's eyes and immediately felt a pang. She'd been wracked with guilt over the way things had turned out, and his expression had nearly been her undoing. Adding to her guilt was the fact that just seconds before Freddie had overtaken them, she had been on the verge of forgetting why she'd teased MacCarrick in the first place.
Even as impulsive and impetuous as she was, she was still was reeling. And it was by no means over. Now she was setting off on a grand adventure with Hugh.
Jane believed he was finally taking her to Carrickliffe far in the north of Scotland. After he'd described it to her years ago, she'd always longed to visit it. Now she wanted to go there to experience the place that produced men like Hugh.
She'd been to Scotland, but never north of Edinburgh, never into the wild Highlands. Was Hugh finally going to make good on a promise?
She felt out of sorts - naturally she would, after the day she was having - but she was especially concerned about her burgeoning fascination with her new husband. After seeing Hugh so beautifully menacing downstairs, and after feeling the pistol holstered at his back, she was burning to know more about him.
When he paced by once more, she stretched her leg up and smoothed bath oil down it. He stopped pacing, and she knew he could see her. In the past, she never would have worried that he was the type of man who might yank down the screen at the sight and ravish her.
Now, she was forced to wonder.
Exactly whowas Hugh now? If he wasn't in trade, why lie about it? Unless he'd been doing something illegal - perhaps with his younger brother, Courtland, the infamous mercenary? She raised an eyebrow. What ifHugh was a mercenary?
She sighed. The problem with this fascination was that fascination led to feelings, feelings led to love, and love led to misery. She'd endured this sequence before and would give anything to avoid it.
He was right. He wasn't the same lad. The quiet, steady Hugh she'd fallen in love with was gone forever. And she didn't know how to handle this new ruthless, intense man.
He'd warned her that toying with him would be like playing with fire, and her antics in the coach this morning had definitely earned her a nice singe.
She tilted her head to the side and frowned.But then, when have I ever hesitated to play with fire?
Hugh almost asked himself what he'd done to deserve this torment, but the answer would be too lengthy.
She was running her hands up and down her long, long legs. He suspected she knew he could see, though she was such a sensual person that he'd wager she rubbed her legs as lingeringly when she was alone.
What else did she linger over?
The thought of her running her fingers over her sex...He had to gnash his teeth as his erection stiffened even more. He'd wager anything he owned that she did indeed touch herself like that whenever the need arose. Did she ever think of him? He unfailingly did of her. After Hugh had seen her last night, even his beaten, fatigued body had hungered for her, and he'd taken himself in hand.
She had always been forward-thinking about sexual matters, and he knew she was filled with passion - passion that would need an outlet.
He remembered Bidworth buttoning her blouse. Had Bidworth fulfilled her needs?
Hugh should have killed him.
How long before he could escape this impossible situation?Hurry up, Ethan. Else I'll go mad . Striving to think of other things, distracting things, he paced to the window.
Hugh hadn't wanted to stay here. There were too many people he knew, and one who was privy to exactly what he was - Lysette, Grey's ex-lover. But they wouldn't have reached the next inn until nearly dawn, and once Jane had begun insisting, Hugh had thought he might as well try to extract some information from Lysette about Grey.
Lysette had always been partial to Hugh, and Grey had left her to be with a whore.
Yet the incident in the common room had proved this was a bad idea. Hugh should have had his arm around Jane's shoulders, but he'd been dragging her along to get through the crowds. And Jane had taken one look at Hugh's expression as he fought the urge to deal the drunkard a blow, and she'd known - not precisely what he was, but definitely what he wasn't.
He heard her rise from the water. Bounder that he was, he leaned back. When he caught a glimpse of her, he had to bite back a curse and shuffle his feet to keep his balance. In the space between the panels, he could see her damp back and hissed in a breath at the sight of the spot where her surprisingly generous arse met her long, slim leg.
He closed his eyes briefly, berating himself for looking - even as he imagined striding forward to palm that taut cleft as he ran his mouth down her neck.
He was stunned anew at how shapely she'd become. Her arms and legs were still slender, her torso as well, but her br**sts and arse were plump and seemed to taunt his hands to cup them.Pull her to the bed, cover her wet, slick body with mine, take her furiously -
The maid knocked once more, possibly saving them from disaster, and entered to set out their dinner on the room's dining table. Hugh stayed facing the window since his c*ck was stiff as wood. When the girl left, he sat so Jane wouldn't notice. He found the fare was simple, but the wine appeared to be a tolerable vintage.
A few minutes later, Jane emerged from behind the screen, having donned a deep blue dressing gown and wrap. She wore the wrap open enough that he could see the pale tops of her br**sts. When he could drag his gaze away from them, he saw that her shining hair was loose, with damp tendrils curling all about her face. Her flawless skin was pinkened, her eyes bright.
She was elegant and fine, the lines of her face and body so pure. For a moment he just wanted to pretend that he was a lucky bastard who'd somehowtruly landed her as wife. He wanted to pretend he saw her fresh from the bath at his leisure, and dined with her every night before they went to bed together.
Here he was with a woman so lovely she'd make any man conscious of his words and actions, concerned about how she perceived him. She would unnerve most men. And yet she was stillJane .
And when she allowed it, it was so damned easy being around her.
"My wedding night." She sauntered to her seat. "Darling, it isjust as I've always dreamed."
She wasn't going to allow it.
He felt a flare of anger. Everything he was doing was for her benefit. Now, if she would just allow him to do his job unhindered..."My wedding night as well. I'm just as disappointed."
"Disappointed in the circumstance - or your bride?" Never taking her eyes from his, she took a sip of the wine he'd poured, then dabbed her tongue to her bottom lip.
He shifted in his seat. "Any man would be proud to call you wife."
"Then, does this disappointment have anything to do with the fact that you'd sworn never to marry?"
"Partly? So why else...?" She trailed off, eyes widening. "You have a lover, don't you? One you didn't want to forsake? That's it, isn't it? You already have a woman."
"I'm...between," he said, hedging. He had never formed an attachment with another woman - didn't think he'd slept with the same one twice. If he got angry enough at the world, he might drink and take a woman to try to forget, but it just worsened his resentment.
Court had once asked Hugh why he bedded so few.If you felt like I did after, you would no' either. "I just never had any intention of marrying - "
"Never?" she asked in a strange tone.
"It was not in my plans," he said.
She drank deeply. "Between, then, is it? I'll bet you've had a lot of women."
"I'll no' speak of this with you."
"You used to tell me your secrets."
Never the big ones. Though he'd burned to.
Hugh had often considered telling Jane about that terrible and weighty curse, but knew she would scoff. Jane could be irrational, temperamental, unreasonable - but she was never,never fanciful. He could just imagine her smirking and playing along: "Then I must eschew your cursed company, darling, for I quite fancy being alive."
And now, why would he tell her? The closeness they'd shared was gone.
"So, Hugh, what do youtruly do? You're not a businessman. Unless a nefarious import attacked your face?"
He raised his eyebrows at that. She was such a curious female, and one who had an infuriating habit of deducing and then deciding fixedly on her own theories. That could help him now. "Knowing you, you've worked out a theory as to what I am."