She thought he hit something outside their room, then she heard him finally leave.
She hadn't wanted to charm and cajole Hugh into staying married, because she knew that he likely would leave her behind again, married in truth or no. And she'd been so angry with him for putting her in the position to be hurt all over again, and had vowed that she would protect herstill raw emotions.
Now she reasoned that they were both hurting at this moment. Though she didn't want tostay married to him - she hadn't wavered that much - she didn't want to be separated from him right now. Not so soon. She half-expected him to disappear for another ten years, and wasn't nearly ready for that to happen again.
Get him back here.... Give him what he needs.
Decided, she smoothed her gown, pulled her wrapper closed, downed a glass of wine in one unladylike gulp, then made for the door. She glanced out, but he wasn't on the landing.
Looking both ways, she hurried down the landing and peeked over the railing, down into the boisterous common room. Hugh sat at a table draining some liquid, his hand white from clenching the mug.
She exhaled in relief. She wasn't alone in this feeling - she'd affected him just as much as he had her.
Perhaps he'd never returned for her because of his dangerous occupation. Her eyes widened. Perhaps he'd always wanted to but couldn't -
Her lips parted when she saw Lysette saunter up to him, draping her arm around him. The woman drew in close, whispering something in Hugh's ear as she ran her hand up and down his back.
He pushed her away, but Jane saw to her shock and horror that he did so only to follow Lysette to a back room.
"MacCarrick, it's been too long," Lysette said, closing the door behind them.
"Do you have information about Grey, or no'?" Hugh's voice was still rough from the pleasure of kissing Jane, his mind still in turmoil.
When Jane had been pleading before, Hugh had looked into her eyes and seen something he'd never expected. She hadn't been pleading with him...tostop . She'd wanted him to take her, had beenasking him to.
Never. Never was it supposed to be a variable that Jane might desire me back.
He strode to the whiskey decanter and helped himself, then stared down into the liquid. He'd counted on the fact that even if he lost control, Jane would remind him with a stiff-wristed slap that she would not welcome his attentions. Without that check, he was doomed.
"No pleasantries?" Lysette said. When he turned an unbending look on her, she asked blithely, "Why would I have information about Grey?"
Women and their games.Hugh was sick of them. "Because you slept with him for years. And I know you've been keeping tabs on him since he left you."
Her look turned calculating. "If you want to know anything about Grey, then tell me whoshe is."
"You owe this to Weyland regardless." Weyland arranged loans for people like her - information gatherers - to open shops and taverns and inns at crossroads all over Europe, like nets. Lysette was good at her job - she was observant and intuitive - and in exchange for information, she made a good living.
"Doesn't Weyland have a daughter named Jane? One who is reportedly lovely."
He swigged, knowing he wouldn't drink more than a glass. "One and the same."
"Now it all makes sense. Everyone expects Grey to strike out at Weyland, and you show up here married to his daughter, taking her out of London. You'd do just about anything for the old man. Apparently, you'll brook a marriage in name only."
"So sure it's a marriage of convenience?"
"Yes, when I find you here inmy room - away from your new bride." When he only drank again, Lysette said, "Grey told me once that you were in love with her."
Whohadn't Grey told? How many people pitied him his feelings for Jane Weyland? Christ, JaneMacCarrick . Hell, he pitied himself for how much he liked the sound of that. "Grey said a lot of things that were no' true. You of all people should know that."
"It's obvious she's playing with you. That one cares nothing for you."
"And why would you say that?" he asked, striving for an uninterested tone.
"When I was flirting with you earlier, she looked at me as if she was amused. The last thing women regard me with is amusement, especially when I'm draped over their husbands."
"Perhaps she's confident."
"You reach too high with that one."
"Lysette, you are the third person today to express that exact sentiment. It's ingrained." Ethan, Bidworth, Lysette. Hell, even Jane's servants recognized the divide between him and Jane.
Lysette approached him, running her finger down his chest. It left him cold, and he drew her hand away with an expression of distaste, but her other hand was busy easing his shirttail from his trousers. "You should be riding a woman tonight. Even if the arrogant English chit would let you, she still wouldn't be woman enough for a man like you."
Lysette had no idea. He'd had a glimpse of Jane's unfettered passion just moments ago, and it had staggered him.
Hugh exhaled and took her wrist, removing her hand. "Doona speak badly of her in front of me. We were friends long before this. Besides, I took a vow." Until their marriage was annulled, he'd keep it.
She pouted. "You'd deny yourself for a marriage of convenience? When I've been attempting to seduce you for years?"
Hugh had noticed her flirtations. Might even have taken her up on it. She had all the qualifications - in other words, she looked nothing like Jane. But she'd been sharing his friend's bed, and Hugh had never needed it badly enough to lose his head as some did.
"Let me give you what she won't. Or can't." Her voice went low. "I can do things to your body that will make you wonder how you've lived without me for so long."
Here he had a willing, attractive, and, apparently, wicked bed partner who'd gladly accept a night with him. And the only desire he had was that Jane would give a damn if he did it. Lysette ran the tip of her tongue over her bottom lip, gaze locked on him.
Knowing what he'd just come from, he felt vaguely insulted at Lysette's interest. He still had Jane's taste on his lips and could almost still feel her warm, soft flesh against his tongue. Hugh had learned long ago that it was of little use trying to find a substitute for her.
He set the glass down. "If you're no' going to give me information on Grey, then I've no other reason to be back here."
"Where are you going?"
"Back to my arrogant English chit. Who could teach you a thing or two about seduction."
"You're still in love with her," she said stiffly. "You're different. Already." She gave a humorless laugh. "You're satisfied with the mereidea that she is yours." When Lysette cast him a pitying look - yet another to add to the count today - Hugh wanted to roar that Jane had wanted him, too.
He turned to the door.
"Oh, Hugh. You stupid man! People like her don't want people like us. I know this. Your Jane Weyland might flirt, she might even desire you. But you'llnever have her heart."
He bit out over his shoulder, "JaneMacCarrick ." For however long.
"And what happens when she finds out you're a cold-blooded killer?"
"What will she think of you then?"
He couldn't imagine. Killing as a soldier was a celebrated thing. Even the mercenary she thought him sounded better than an assassin. Assassins hid and struck from the shadows. That's what people believed. Generally that was true, but Hugh had also had to fight for his life more times than he wanted to remember.
He feared that even if she could get past all the killing he'd done, fierce Jane still might find his means...cowardly.
"Even if she wanted you, you can't go back to a life like the one she lives."
Lysette was right. The odds were against Hugh ever settling back into society, finding those day-to-day rhythms. They called itreverting - when battle-weary soldiers or assassins too long in the field went back to civilian life and somehow made a go of it. It was extremely rare, especially for someone like Hugh, who had always been adrift in social situations anyway.
Just as he'd made it out of the doorway, stabbing his shirttail into his pants, she said, "Hugh, wait!" She hurried over to him, putting her hand on his chest to stay him. "Grey reached France this week."
He shut the door behind them once more. "How do you know?"
"Because the woman I solicited help from to keep tabs on him showed up dead there."
"Does no' mean - "
"Her throat was slashed so violently, her head nearly came off."
Grey. No doubt of it. "He's out of his mind."
"Even so, he's still lethal. And he hates you and Ethan for what you did to him."
"You were right in league with us," Hugh was quick to remind her.
"But something else happened that night. What did you do to him?"
"I've no sodding idea," he lied, finding it easy with her.
"If he's coming after Jane, it's just a matter of time before he finds you two."
"He'll seek you out as well, Lysette. You canna reason with him, and he's beyond saving. I hope you're prepared."
"I will be." Her expression resigned, she said, "Aren't we a pair? A coquette about to be taken down by an assassin, and an assassin about to be taken down by a coquette."
When Hugh returned to their room, Jane lay curled up in bed with nearly all the lamps out, though he could tell by the tenseness of her form that she was still awake.
He sat and watched her for more than an hour, and eventually she fell asleep, but it wasn't long before she grew as restless as she was during waking hours, tossing and turning. Her eyes moved rapidly behind her lids. He wondered what it would be like to see her utterly relaxed.
A real husband could join her and pull her to his chest, pet her, soothe away whatever dream gripped her. He wouldn't fear that she might want him to make love to her for comfort, or that he'd need to for the same reason.
Hugh wasn't a real husband. No matter how badly he wanted to be.
He reached for his bag and drew out theLeabhar . Ethan was right. Reading it would strengthen his resolve. It would remind him of the consequences of his actions and keep him from musing about what it would have been like to take Jane right on this table.
Walk with death or walk alone.What more did Hugh need to see?
The three brothers all walked with death, just as had been predicted. Court was a mercenary, and somehow Hugh and Ethan had met the one man in England who could guide them into their current occupations - Ethan, a jack of all lethal trades who was called in to deal withunpleasantries , and Hugh, an assassin.
Hugh had been fortunate. He'd only been dispatched to kill grown men, and on each mark, he'd agreed that they'd needed to be taken out. Still, the faces began to accumulate. The grueling hours of preparation and the innate loneliness of the job took their toll.
Always, in the back of his mind, he imagined the look on Jane's face if she found out.
On his first kill, he'd hesitated, knowing that if he pulled the trigger, he would cross a line and could never go back. But he had done it. He'd killed in cold blood, purposefully, determinedly. How dare he think to entwine his life with hers in any way?
The idea flashed through his mind that there was still time to summon Ethan to come take her away - from himself. He dismissed the idea. Hugh wanted Jane protected - not terrified.
Lost in thought, he barely heard her soft moan. She still slept, but she'd turned onto her back. One arm slowly fell over her head, stretching her gown taut, outlining her br**sts in cool silk.
Another soft murmur and a very sensual shiver accompanied her quickened breaths.
This was not happening. She couldn't be dreaming of something erotic, but her body and her movements told him otherwise. Could she possibly be dreaming of him? Of the way he'd kissed her earlier? No! He couldn't let himself think like that.
No good can come of this.
Yet, as he looked from the book back to her, he realized his resolve was already faltering.She would need an outlet for all that passion. Like handling a firebrand....
She raised her other hand and her ring glittered in the lamplight as her fingers brushed the side of her breast. He swallowed hard. He could give her an outlet, provide her release. His hands were fists as he fought not to touch her. If he were truly married to her, he could wake her by sliding his shaft into her. He'd find her already wet, already close, and he would slowly rock her to orgasm. But she wasn't his to reach for in the night. All he could do was spy on her from the shadows.
She turned her face into her auburn hair spread over the pillow, nuzzling the curls as if she desired to feel them against her skin as much as he did. A lock tangled around her pale neck, and he rose, reaching down to tug the thick strand free.
Unable to help himself, he carefully lay beside her. As ever, he had to gnash his teeth against the pain that stabbed at him whenever he finally let his body be at rest. Everyone believed rising in the morning was hell on old injuries, but relaxing for sleep was just as bad, especially after what he'd put himself through over the last few days.
At length, once the pain had subsided to bearable, he levered himself up on an elbow to gaze down at her. Surrendering to the need to touch her, he brushed the backs of his fingers over her cheek. She stilled, but didn't wake, her breaths growing deep and even.
I could take care of you, he thought.In all ways. Some part of him had always believed that if he worked hard enough, he could give her whatever she needed. If things were different, he could try to win her, to prove that he was the man for her.