He marveled at the sweep of her dark lashes, the gentle parting of her lips. Even after all this time, he was still fascinated with her, still filled with affection for her.
Nothing would ever change that.
Hugh had known she was the only one for him since that night all those years ago when he'd returned to the lake and had seen her after more than a year away. Her eyes had sparkled as though from some secret amusement, and her hands held the doorway behind her as she rocked her h*ps up and back. Playful, bright, smiling. Everything a man like him would crave like air.
"Why, Hugh MacCarrick, do my eyes deceive me?" she'd asked.
"Jane?" he'd bit out incredulously.
"Of course it's me, darling." She'd sauntered up to him and touched her pale, soft hand to his face.
With her touch something passed over him, shocking him, calling him.
"Jane?" he'd repeated in a strangled tone as he tried to assimilate all the changes in her. Her voice had grown sultry, would forever be that way. Her br**sts were lush. She'd become a woman, the most beautiful one he'd ever seen. His heart had thundered in his chest.
"It looks like you're leaving," she murmured. "That's a shame, Hugh, because I've missed you so."
"No' goin'anywhere ," he'd growled, and his life had never been the same.
Jane had heard him return to the room last night and wondered if that was how their situation would work. All done? Passion spent with Lysette? Go back to protecting Jane?
When she'd seen him leaving Lysette's room, tucking in his shirt - only to be coaxed back inside once more - Jane had lurched back to her room. Berating herself as a fool, she'd clutched the basin, close to being sick.
This morning in the carriage, which now seemed far too small, Jane kept her eyes averted so he couldn't see how much his betrayal had hurt her.
But what had he betrayed? The vows of a sham marriage - a marriage he'd made clear he couldn't wait to discard.
So why did it hurt so badly?
Even knowing what he'd done, she'd dreamed of him last night. She'd dreamed he'd done exactly as he threatened - taken her, sinking into her body.
Though she was still a virgin, she could imagine how he would feel thrusting inside her, how his big body would flex and move over hers as she wrapped her legs around him. In her fevered dreams, he'd fondled her br**sts in his hot palms and sucked her ni**les.
Instead, he'd probably been doing those things earlier to Lysette. She turned away and put her knuckles to her mouth.
What a bewildering position to be in - and she wasn't particularly steady and clear-thinking in the best of situations! She knew her own weaknesses. She was impulsive, often saying and doing things without thought. She had emotions that swung from one extreme to another like a pendulum, and she felt things too strongly.
Worse, all her faults seemed to be exacerbated when he was around. Her emotions ran high, and actions and words that seemed undeniable at the time made no sense in retrospect.
She'd always been like that to a degree, but she'd endeavored to better herself. She'd learned that whenever she got into a temper, or whenever she was inundated with what her cousins labeled Bad Ideas, she needed to step back from the situation, perhaps leave the room to compose herself - to give herself a chance to see things rationally, reasonably.
Stepping away had always helped her; now here she was, trapped in a coach.
She let out a weary breath. Shewished she were a reasonable person, wished that inexplicable urges and impulses didn't goad her.
Why was it that everyone could see these faults in her, but no one bothered to suppose that she didn'twant to be so flawed?
Jane could imagine what it would feel like to be reasonable. She imagined she could do something as simple as donning spectacles to see the world more clearly. She would peer at her relationship with Hugh, and see a very simple equation.
Hugh equaled pain.
By the second day after they'd left the inn, Hugh had decided he would welcome Jane's games.
She'd ignored him with an ease that would bruise any man's sense of worth. As their coach rolled through another sleepy town, he glanced over at her by the open window, watching as the sun and the breeze streamed in, toying with her loosened hair.
Over the past day, she'd silently readA Gentlewoman's Apprentice - or whatever book was behind the false cover. He hoped it wasn't a novel in the same vein as the one he'd skimmed in her room in London. Especially since her eyes had been riveted to it as she ate an apple, or nibbled on a piece of hay she'd plucked when they stopped for food at midday.
He should be glad that she'd left him alone. So why did he hate it when she ignored him, if the alternative was enduring her teasing?
How many more days - and nights - can I take?
For the tenth time that day, he silently willed his brother to work fast. Ethan had an uncanny way of finding people, and the best case scenario would be for Ethan to locate Grey and stop him before he even reached England. The worst case was that Grey could evade him for months....
Hugh thought back over his and Ethan's last conversation. He should have pressed him about what had happened with the Van Rowen girl. He should have given Ethan the benefit of the doubt and asked if his brother might be searching for something more. Hugh had, Court had - why had Hugh never considered his older brother would have the same needs?
When Hugh saw him again, they would split a bottle of scotch and discuss this situation like men. If Ethan truly wanted the lass - even after discovering who she was - Hugh could share strategies for putting her from his mind.
Strategies to share?Smug once more, MacCarrick? When he could think of little but Jane?
Eyes wide, she gasped and flipped to the next page.
At least she was in better spirits now than yesterday. Then she'd appeared deadened - not sullen, just lacking her usual animation. Jane generally exuded energy, but she had stared out the coach window, seeming to see nothing.
He'd feared he had startled her with his attentions. Or that she even felt guilt for allowing his kiss because of her relationship with Bidworth. Perhaps she'd been appalled with herself for...enjoying it.
As much as he couldn't comprehend it, shehad enjoyed his lips on her. He kept recalling how she'd appeared - breathless, pupils dilated, her skin flushed. But if she'd been like a firebrand that night, the next morning, she'd been like ice....
Jane was clearly unhappy - a condition Hugh had never been able to handle well. "Sìne, I want to speak with you about the other night."
She didn't glance up from her book. "So speak."
"Lass, I am fallible," he said quietly. "And I'd asked you no' to taunt me like that."
She raised her face to him in a flash, eyes glittering with fury. "So what you did at the inn ismy fault?"
Taken aback by how strongly she felt about this, he said, "No, I should have been able to govern myself. It will no' happen again." Of course she felt strongly. She'd thought she could play without repercussion. She'd never expected him to kiss her like that.
"Why do you care how I feel about your...your behavior?" she asked. Had her accent ever sounded so proper?
He hesitated, then admitted, "Your opinion of me is important."
"Is that why you won't talk about your profession?"
He said simply, "Aye."
"Silly, Hugh." Her slow, unexpected smile in the sunlight was spellbinding. "I can't think less of you than I do right now."
"Lysette," Grey whispered at her ear, stroking her blonde hair from her forehead. "Wake up."
She did in an instant, shooting up in bed. Her jerky scream into his hand turned to a whimper when he placed his knife against her pale throat. The polished blade reflected the light from a nearby lamp, glinting when she began to tremble. "You've got so many men watching the place, I'd started to think you were expecting me," he murmured. "Don't tell me you've missed me." He eased the pressure of his grip on her mouth, but increased the pressure of his knife. "I don't have to remind you how short your scream would be, do I?"
When she cautiously shook her head, he grinned in the face of her fear, of the tears beginning to fall, before finally removing his hand. "Yes, you must have suspected I'd visit, since you have your inn guarded like a fortress. But you of all people should know I can get past anyone you've brought in."
"What do you want from me?" she whispered, easing the bed covers up to just below her neck.
"Hugh and Jane stayed here on their journey north. I want their destination."
"You know he wouldn't trust me with that information."
Grey raised his brows. "And you discovered nothing in all of your customary prying while they were here?"
"Hugh's cautious, and I don't believe the girl knows."
"I have a good idea anyway," he said honestly. "I merely was hoping to confirm. So it seems this might have been a wasted trip." He removed the blade. Just when her big blue eyes began to fill with hope, he said, "Of course, since I'm already here, I plan to make you pay for selling me out to Hugh and Ethan."
Her shoulders slumped. "They wanted to help you."
"Helpme?" He remembered Hugh in a terrible rage, his bone-crushing blows raining down so quickly that Grey hadn't had a chance in hell of defending himself. Then the two brothers had forced Grey into a murky basement where his muscles had curled and tightened, until he'd screamed with pain. For day after day, he'd suffered hallucinations in the dark, interrupted only by his vomiting.
Even now, shadows passed before him as he remembered how those haunting faces with their glassy, sightless eyes had descended on him. He hadn't been able to escape them. Because of her duplicity.
"I only told them because I wanted you back with me," she cried. "I wanted you to get well."
"You wanted me to get well, or you wanted to ingratiate yourself into the bed of a strapping young Highlander?"
She looked away. "What are you going to do to him?"
Grey spotted a bottle of scotch - fitting, he thought - beside her bed. He helped himself to a glass. "Take away what's most precious to him."
"The girl is innocent in all this."
He nodded. "Which is lamentable, but, in the end, incidental."
"Hugh will die before he lets you hurt his woman."
Grey sipped, savoring. "So I'll likely kill him within minutes of Jane."
"His brothers would hunt you to the ends of the earth."
He shrugged. "Ethan's already on my trail. With all the subtlety of a charging bull." That was how Ethan had always operated. No sneakiness, just annihilating his enemies with relentless pursuit. He would wear them down until they got sloppy - or grew too wearied of looking over their shoulders expecting to find his gruesome, scarred visage in the night.
Ethan was incredibly effective in his occupation, a legend of sorts. Not famed like Grey, of course. "He nearly found me three nights ago. Apparently, he somehow knew about my London loft," he said in a chiding tone. That was his Lysette, selling out to the highest bidder. Not a drop of loyalty.
Luckily, Grey knew all of Ethan's hideaways and properties as well.
"I didn't tell anyone about it" - she shook her head, her blonde tresses dancing about her pale shoulders - "I swear it."
Deciding that she was actually being truthful, he said, "Don't worry, I believe you. I can admit that Ethan's good." If information was as valuable as coin, then Ethan had amassed a fortune from others like them who secretly worked in service to the Crown - outside the law. "And I realize now that he must have been keeping tabs on me ever since he deigned to free me from his basement." Grey's fist tightened on his knife handle.
Lysette saw it and flinched.
"I'll take care of Ethan, though his life's so bloody miserable, it's almost not sporting to relieve him of it." Which would be more cruel, to make him live or to kill him? Didn't he himself have an affinity with Ethan? Ethan was a man who had nothing left to lose. Wasn't there power in that?
"And Courtland?" Lysette asked softly. "Do you think he won't seek retribution for the rest of his life, if it takes that long?"
"Lysette, I'd be more worried about your own survival right now." He gave her his most affable grin. "Or you can just relax and accept what's inevitable." He would finally sever her from his life...slowly.
That got a fine Gallic rise out of his little Lysette. Her tears stopped, and her eyes narrowed. "Hugh's going to win. And I just wish I could be around to see it."
Grey threw his glass to the floor and lunged across the bed. "I try to avoid allowing last words." He grabbed her chin, skimming the knife up her body. "And I don't normally tolerate last-minute confessions, but I'll make an exception for you."
Hatred burned in her expression. "My last words? You'll lose - because Hugh hasalways been better than you. Faster, stronger. Even before your affliction you were a pathetic shot - "
The knife flashed and blood sprayed over him.
"You clever girl," Grey said wonderingly with a cluck of his tongue. "You got me to do it quick."
Jane slammed the door on Hugh hard enough to make him grit his teeth just before the impact. The pictures on the walls were still rattling when she locked it behind her.
After two days trapped at Ros Creag, the MacCarricks' depressing lakeside manor, with Hugh's curt surliness as company, she was ready to march up to Grey and say, "Do your worst. I defy you."