She put her hand out, palm up, motioning for him to give her his hand. Before he even had time to think better of it, he'd reached across the table. She captured his hand in hers, then ran the soft pads of her fingers over the calloused, scarred skin of his palm. Such a simple touch, but she made it sensual.
Glancing up, she met his eyes. "I believe you're a mercenary."
She was getting close.
"Is that what you do?" Increasing the pressure, she ran her forefinger down the center of his palm, then back up.
His voice was rough when he asked, "What makes you think that?"
"It make sense. Father said you'd just come from travels with your brother Courtland on the Continent. Court is a known soldier of fortune - we've all heard of him wreaking havoc down there with a band of Highlanders. You must be one of them."
Hughhad been in Andorra riding with his brother's men, but he'd only been there to help Court. They'd fought the Orden de Rechazado - the Order of the Disavowed, a band of fanatical assassins bent on killing Court and Annalía.
"That would be how you cut your face," Jane continued, with a feathery brush over the back of his hand. "And that's how you saved up some money."
Somemoney? Hugh had turned his earnings into wealth with meticulous planning and calculated speculation. He was rich by anyone's standards, with a grand seaside estate in Scotland. Her words sparked another first for Hugh - the unfamiliar need to boast, to impress her. Which was purposeless. "Why do you no' believe I work in your father's business?"
"Hugh, I'm not a complete imbecile." She tapped her finger against the worst scar on the back of his hand. "Look at your hands. And look at how muscular and fit you are. You did not hone a physique like that by working incommerce ."
He checked a flush of pleasure at her inadvertent compliment and said, "I get outdoors a lot."
"I've been to pugilist matches with my cousins." Her wee hands worked his into a fist, and she studied it before meeting his gaze once more. "I know what those fighters are capable of, yet after I saw the way you hit Freddie, I'd put you up against them with stacked odds."
Another roundabout compliment. He thought. "I had two brothers. I received a lot of practice. You ken that I used to fight with Ethan more hours than no'."
Of course, she was aware he was being evasive, but he knew that was only making her dig in her heels. "Father covered for your career as a mercenary, didn't he?" She released his hand abruptly. "The youngest son gone bad would be met with a clucked tongue and a head shake. But two brothers? That would start to affect Ethan's reputation, and he has a title."
Ethan's reputation? She had no idea. How such a cold-blooded bastard could somehow keep his deeds secret amazed Hugh. Especially since Ethan had never bothered to try to. Still, he only shrugged.
She leaned back. "Hugh MacCarrick, the mercenary. Unless you want to offer another explanation."
"No, no' at all."Take that one, lass, and run with it.
"What do mercenaries do?"
"Mercenaries fight for money - professional soldiers."
"Have you gotten to travel all over the world?" she asked, her tone suddenly wistful.
"No' to many places you'd want to tour."
"It must be exciting at times." When he said nothing, she admitted, "I've always wanted to travel to exotic places. Quin has promised again and again to take Claudia and me on a grand adventure, but he's always so busy."
Quin, take them traveling? Only if the two lasses wanted a tour of the world's upscale brothels.
"Do you ever get scared?" she asked. "During the fighting?"
Hugh's objective was to avoid fighting. "Even if I did, men doona admit to things like that."
"So you've been in wars? How many people have you killed?"
He ignored her question. "You're no' eating, though you told me you were famished."
"I am." At his look, she amended, "I'm eating distilled grapes. Answer me, won't you?"
"I have no' kept a count." Grey had taught him that. He'd said,One day, Scot, you'll wake up, and you won't be anything more than that number.
"Whatdid happen to your face?"
She would bring that up again. She was pale and perfect in her silk.
When Grey had begun sinking farther into the abyss, he'd loved to remind Hugh how far out of reach a woman like her was for a man like Hugh - a man with a beaten, pained body that made him feel so damn old and weary, a man who was awkward in social situations.
A man who'd crossed a line from which there was no going back.
"I was cut by falling rocks." After he'd exploded a mountaintop to blow up the Rechazado camp - while they were still in it. "There was an accident." True, he hadn'tmeant to be in the way of a shower of slate.
Hugh had killed thirty Rechazados, dead in an instant.
She has no idea what kind of man sits across from her.
"On the job?" She looked as if she was truly curious about him. But it wasn't genuine interest. She only delved to gather what Hugh refused to give her - andonly because he'd refused. Jane loved nothing more than fighting for something she wanted.
He took a drink of wine, remembering that he was the fool who'd encouraged that drive.
Once, when she was fifteen, Hugh and a grumbling Court had taken her to a nearby archery tournament. When the other female contestants discovered that she'd entered, none would compete against her.
Hugh had seen the sharp disappointment in her eyes, a glimpse of a vulnerability that was so rarely seen. It had torn at him, and he'd found himself telling her under his breath, "Challenge the men, lass."
She'd brought a bloody medal home.
It hadn't been her first - there was a reason the women knew they'd be trounced - but Jane had stared at it as though it were, as if with that one came realization. She'd clutched it in two hands and met his gaze. "I wantmore ."
"You've the skill for it," he'd said, hedging, saddened. He'd known there weren't many more for a young lass to go out and fight for - no matter how badly sheneeded that fight....
"That's why you don't want to be married?" she asked. "Your job would prevent it."
"Jane, why is it that I'm always the one being interrogated?"
"At least tell me where we're going."
"If I'd told you this morning, would you have told Bidworth?"
"No," she said quickly, then admitted, "Well, I might have. But Freddie wouldn't have told a soul."
"Then no, I will no' tell you." When she opened her mouth to argue, he made his voice like steel. "No more questions."
She sighed, glancing around the room, visibly restless. She didn't seem to notice when her wrap slid from her smooth, pale shoulder, while every muscle in his body tensed. The thin nightdress beneath clung to her breast, and he found he couldn't drag his riveted gaze from it. The material was so stark against her fair skin, and he imagined brushing the silk down her shoulders, letting it whisper over her ni**les and slide down her lithe body. He exhaled a breath and hoped it sounded exasperated instead of enthralled. "Put your wrap back on."
She glanced down with a frown, then studied his reaction. "I need to leave it off. Because it's warm in here, and I can'task you to crack a window."
"Put it back on."
She quirked an eyebrow. "You stared at my br**sts so much in the coach today, you should appreciate when more of them is displayed."
"I admit I take pleasure in looking at you." He wouldn't even bother trying to deny that. Even now, her small ni**les jutted hard against the fabric, and he imagined taking one between his lips, feeling it swell and throb as he sucked it. He glanced away and said quietly, "You're a beautiful woman."
When he turned back, he thought she had blushed at his comment.
"But seeing you like this makes me desire to do more, a desire you doona share and one we canna indulge."
She tilted her head, seeming to weigh his words very carefully, then said, "What if I told you I did share that desire?"
"I'd answer that you're a merciless flirt, and then I'd remark on how easily you have forgotten Bidworth."In the space of an afternoon. Inconstant woman.
Her eyes narrowed at his words, but she didn't offer an answer.
Not even ashow of loyalty. And to think Hugh had worried that he might have to see her pine for the man.
Hugh wouldn't want a woman like Jane, even if he could have her.
Didn't matter. He was only here to protect her, and her games would get in the way. In a deadly calm tone, he said, "I've given you warning. You know what will happen."
She made no move to cover herself. This was just another battle of wills with her. Yet another.
But he wasn't the same compromising lad he'd been. Couldn't be, even if he wanted to be. The things he'd seen had changed him. The things he'd done had tainted him.
He'd killed with his bare hands.
He shot to his feet and crossed to her, tossing her onto the table. He'd only planned to stand before her and yank her wrap up, yet he found himself grabbing her slender arms, pinning them to her sides. He could still back away; why was he drawing closer?
No good can come of this.Because he was a hardened killer, obsessed for the last decade with an inconstant woman. One who loved to provoke him. A woman he could not touch, specifically because he'd married her.No good...
She seemed to wait breathlessly to discover what he would do. Hugh had no idea either. When he eased his h*ps between her thighs, she began trembling. He was learning that her skin was sensitive, her entire body so damned responsive.Taking her would be like handling a firebrand.
What if he sought to make love to her, and shelet him? He swallowed hard, his breaths coming fast from the mere thought.
To finally possess her.
With a defeated groan, he leaned forward to briefly catch her sensitive earlobe between his lips, flicking it with his tongue. She hissed in a breath and shivered. With one hand flat on the small of her back, he tugged at her hair with the other, making her arch till she rested back with her elbows on the table.
Dazed with intent, he leaned down to press his mouth to her silk-covered nipple.
As Hugh moved his lips down her breast, he rasped harsh words in Gaelic against her skin, seeming lost, as if he was so absorbed in what he did that he truly had no comprehension of it.
She threaded her fingers through his hair, cradling him to her as she sighed with pleasure.
Thiswas what she was missing with Freddie. And, no, she couldnot live without it.
It wasn't only that he'd made her desire him; she sensed heneeded her, or needed something from her. She was desperate to give him whatever that was.
Thoughts of the future and memories of the past all dimmed before the hunger she'd seen in his eyes.
Still gently tugging her hair to make her arch, he nuzzled her hard nipple, rasping against it, "Damn it, you're supposed tae tell me tae stop." After a hesitation, he closed his mouth over the aching peak, then began languidly circling his tongue around it.
"Oh, my God," she whispered in wonder.
He glanced up, eyes dark, measuring her responses, studying her. "You like that?" At her helpless cry, he moved to her other breast. "You think that I'll react the same way to your teasing as I did years ago." He repeated the same tender exploration, saying against her breast, "You're going to push until I finally break."
"B-but in the past - "
"In the past, I was young and honorable. Now I'm old enough to know what I need and dishonorable enough" - he softly tugged on her nipple with his teeth, making her gasp and arch harder into his mouth - "to take it."
"Hugh," she murmured, "Hugh, please."
"Do you want me to take it, lass? Push me more, and you'll soon feel me sinking into your soft body." He pulled back, met her eyes. Whatever he saw there made him recoil from her. Stabbing his fingers through his hair, he opened his mouth, then closed it. Finally, he bit out, "Stay here. Lock the door behind me and doona leave this room."
"Why?" she whispered.
"I never thought you would be like this," he grated. "No' with me." Then he stalked out and slammed the door behind him.
She wasn't supposed to be likewhat with him?How was she wrong?
He remained outside, leaning against the door. He would have to wait there before going downstairs - she'd seen his thick erection bulging against his trousers and knew he'd have to get his body under control. Hers was just as ungovernable.
As Jane sat panting on the edge of the dinner table, a fork parallel to her thigh and a glass of wine perilously close to the hand she'd thrown back to support her, she realized something dire. The kiss in the carriage hadn't been an anomaly.
She and Hugh were going to be like this every time they were together.
She'd known Hugh would be a skilled lover - he was accomplished at everything he did, and whenever he'd assisted her from a carriage or into her saddle, he'd handled her as if she were made of glass. But she'd never imagined that the towering Highlander would be so...erotic.
He'd made herburn for him, made her wet and aching between her thighs. Again.
His kisses were slow and devilish, his lips firm and carnal. Could he guess that his threat to, oh, dear Lord,sink into her soft body , made her yearn for him even more? She'd almost cried, "Yes, do it!"