No matter how badly he needed to leave, they couldn't be separated.
"Jane, I doona know what happened. I'm sorry." He should be humiliated to be near her, and yet it was she he wanted to be with in the face of his shame - so that he didn't have to take it alone. It was enough to drive any man mad.
"There's nothing to apologize for." She sat up on her knees behind him. "Nothing."
"No, I should have had more control."
"Hugh," she murmured, rubbing his back, "it's just me, remember? It's just your Jane. We were always comfortable around each other."
"This should no' have happened," he insisted.
Just when he'd decided to rise, she said, "Stay. Sleep with me, please." She coaxed with light touches and soft words until he somehow found himself out of his pants and in bed with her. When he'd resigned himself to staying like this, he drew her back to his chest, his arms smoothly crossing over her as if he'd locked her against him thousands of times before.
As he'd imagined that last summer again and again, she was finally na**d in his bed. He'd stared at this very ceiling and fantasized about touching her, kissing her. He'd dreamed of holding her as she slept.
The reality was so much more. He'd known he would love the scent of her hair. He hadn't known he would want to groan and shove a handful to his face. Or that he would realize her hair was long enough to brush his legs if she threw her head back while she rode him.
He'd known he would love the feel of her, but he hadn't realized how round her arse would be or that it fit like a puzzle piece to his lap.
"No more nightmares, Hugh," she whispered drowsily. "Or we'll have to do that again."
He already wanted to dothat again, was even now growing hard against her bottom. When she sighed in contentment, he frowned as he tried to recall how he'd ever thought living with her was bad.
When she woke the next morning, Hugh was sleeping soundly. She lay staring, fascinated with the man before her.
With his jaw unclenched, his face looked changed, younger even. The gashes on his cheek were healing, giving him a roguish look. That made her smile. Hewas a rogue - a mercenary - but he wasn't arake .
She skimmed the pad of her forefinger over his bottom lip, remembering how he'd kissed her last night - deeply, desperately, like it was the last kiss he'd ever take from her, and he had to make it last.
Everything in her had responded, and she'd let herself go. She shivered just recalling how he'd rocked his massive body over her, sliding his shaft against her sex until he'd brought her twice to orgasm. And then to see him take his pleasure as well, to see him spending over her flesh...wondrous. Though judging by his discomfited reaction last night, she doubted she'd ever be seeing it again.
Which was a problem, as she'd all but decided Hugh MacCarrick had to be her first lover.
If she'd ever needed her cousins' advice, it was now.
Today. Surely, today they would arrive.
When she tenderly brushed a lock of black hair from his forehead, his gorgeous dark eyes eased open. Seeming still half-asleep, he reached his hand up to stroke her cheek. When she smiled, his brows drew together in puzzlement.
Then he shot away from her.
After stabbing his legs into his pants, he paced for long moments, the muscles in his upper body growing more and more tensed. "This should no' have happened, and it canna happen again," he finally said.
His tone implied that they were discussing a tragedy, something akin to a death in the family - not the most mind-boggling pleasure she'd ever imagined. She couldn't help but feel insulted, and sat up, drawing the sheet up to her chest. "Honestly, Hugh, you're making a mountain out of a molehill." She waved her hand dismissively. "We...trifled a bit."
Instead of being grateful as she'd expected - after all, she could have called him a cad and pressed to stay married - he appeared furious. "If we'd 'trifled' an inch lower, there could be dire consequences. Have you forgotten that we both agreed no' to do this? We agreed at the outset. Do you want to get stuck in this marriage?"
"I wish you would stop living in terror that you might get trapped in marriage with me. We didn't make love. Now, it's very simple. We put this behind us and never speak of it again."
"I've never met a woman who could skewer a man's sense of self-worth like you can. Whoever marries you in truth will need to be a better man than me."
She glared up at him. Skewering had never been her intention, but at that moment, she didn't regret the outcome. "You are making too much of this," she insisted. "Why are you so angry when nothing permanent occurred? You're acting like a provincial."
"Maybe you can easily put it behind you, but thattrifling affected me." Suddenly his eyes narrowed as he lunged forward to grab her elbow. "You're no' a virgin, are you?"
She drew back her head in bewilderment. "Why would you askthat question?"
No, no, Hugh. Don't be like this.For ten years, he'd been out sowing his wild oats; yet he probably expected her to have been waiting for a husband. Of course, shewas a virgin, but, as was often the case, right now she wished she weren't.
Such a narrow-minded expectation was galling.
Her tone cold as ice, she said, "Darling, I've been as celibate asyou have been since we last saw each other."
He released her, but kept his hands raised as he backed away, as if he couldn't believe he'd touched her.
"Why would you care if I bedded a dozen men?" she asked in confusion.
He raked his fingers through his hair. "Because women like you doona get 'easy annulments.' No' based on lack of consummation."
Women like me.
He hit the wall, making her jump, then turned to her with the air of some trapped beast who knew the end was near. He was that averse to having her as his wife?
"How in the hell did you plan to end the marriage?" he demanded. "How?"
"I'm sure my father can manage something - "
"It will no' bloody stop me, Jane. I dinna sign on for more. If our annulment does no' go as planned, I will still leave you."
Her heart went cold. Memories of loneliness and hopelessness washed over her.
He'd left her before without a warning. He would again, this time after telling her to her face that nothing would cleave him to her - even as she sat na**d in a bed still warmed from him.
No longer would she open herself up to him. She couldn't.Self-preservation, Janey. Hugh MacCarrick was the only man who could ever make her cry. False smile in place, she said with all honesty, "Of course you will leave me, darling. I never expected anything else from you."
He shot her another disillusioned look, then strode away.
After his behavior the night before, this morning had already been grueling enough. But now to learn that Jane had definitely had at least one man was punishing for him.
He'd suspected she and Bidworth had been lovers, but toknow ...
The idea of Bidworth, or another man like him, taking her innocence made Hugh's stomach clench, made him want to roar with fury. He felt this even as he knew he had no right to, no right to hate the fact that she'd welcomed another - or others - into her bed.
He'd said those things to Jane out of jealousy and because he'd been furious with himself - for one foggy moment when he first awakened, he'd been about to start the madness again. Even now, he found himself wishing he'd just gone ahead and taken her last night, or even this morning, when she'd looked so tousled and well-loved.
He'd taken his frustrations out on her, sounding like some inflexible old-guard Tory, and she hadn't deserved it.
Jane was unique and independent, and she couldn't be judged by others' standards. She was twenty-seven and had a very healthy sexual appetite. Even as he understood this, the idea of her appeasing her needs with others maddened him.
Because he was obsessed with her. He wanted her to lavish that desire on him, wanted her all to himself. The idea of Bidworth trying to handle all her passion was laughable. After last night, Hugh knew that he was the man for it - even as he knew he could never allow himself to have her.
He'd given her a few hours to get over her pique, but now they needed to talk about what the hell they were going to do about their annulment. Hugh loped to her room, but found no sign of her. He made his way to the upstairs parlor. After dressing this morning, she'd sat in the window seat there for hours, gazing out at Vinelands as she had for the last two days.
He and his brothers used to do the same constantly. They'd first traveled down to this property at the suggestion of concerned relatives in the clan. Ethan had just received the injury to his face and would be able to heal in a more private setting; Court would have no one to fight....
They'd been there only a week before the Weylands had descended on the area.
From the lofty vantage of Ros Creag, the three brothers had sat and watched the goings-on at Vinelands. Always a huge fire burned outside, peopledanced in the yard, and singing and raucous laughter carried across the water.
Hugh, Ethan, and Court had gawked in confusion. Their existence had been dour, their home in the north of Scotland dark ever since the death of their father. They'd rarely spoken to their mother, Fiona, who couldn't recover from the loss of her beloved husband Leith.
The day he'd died, Fiona had pulled at her hair, screaming at her sons, "I told you no' to read it! How many times did I tell you? It always wins!"
Hugh shook himself, preparing to face Jane as he entered the parlor - the empty parlor. She wasn't in the window seat. Excellent, she was avoiding him again.
Or would she have tried to leave, after his callous words this morning?
A sense of unease settled over him. He bellowed her name. Nothing. Just as he was about to go tearing through the house, some movement outside caught his attention. He glanced out the window, saw bairns piling out onto the front lawn at Vinelands, with some harried woman running after them. Adults alighted from carriages. Weylands were here?Now? Brows drawn, he strode forward to peer out.
And spotted a glimpse of Jane's green riding skirt on the shore path to Vinelands.
He bounded down the stairs, then outside onto the terrace, disbelieving his eyes. As though she sensed him, she turned back, gave him a sarcastic salute, then turned away dismissively. Sprinting for the stable, he vowed he'd tie her arse to a chair before she did this again. He looped a bit on his horse, not taking time for a saddle, before charging hell-bent along the path.
As he neared, Jane began racing for Vinelands as if for a friendly country's border. But Hugh dropped from his horse to the ground and snared her around the waist in one fluid movement.
Swinging her around to face him, he snapped, "Never, never leave like that again!"
"Or what?" she asked, panting.
He clutched her slim shoulders. "Or I'll tie your arse to a bed." When hadchair becomebed ?
"Not likely, you brute - "
"Brute? This brute's tryin' to protect you, yet you treat all this like it's a game."
"How can I not when you tell me nothing? You've given me nothing truly tangible to worry about! You and Father both said Grey isn't in England, so how could he have followed us here?"
"Why take that risk?" Hugh said, loosening his hold on her shoulders. "Why're there Weylands here now?"
"They like the quiet season."
"You knew they were coming?"
She nodded. "Hugh, I need to go there. It's important to me."
"Why did you no' just ask me to take you?"
She rolled her eyes. "I knew you wouldn't let me. But I'm asking you now to come with me."
Go with her? To the other side?No' bloody likely. "I canna keep an eye on you among all of them." He was so unused to being around groups of people, it made him constantly wary. Much less aroundthese people. "And how would you explain us?"
"I'd tell them the truth." Her chin went up. "We're married. That's all I'd say, for right now. In the future, I'll explain what happened."
"Too many people," he insisted. He had no wish for Jane to know how utterly inept he was in social situations.
"This is my family. They'll never say a word. You've never seen such a loyal family."
"Jane, you've got to understand that your life is on the line."
"Look me in the eyes and tell me that a day at Vinelands will put my life in more danger than staying at Ros Creag."
Hugh opened his mouth to speak, then closed it directly. If Grey had somehow made it past the net into England, then he would have Ethan breathing down his neck long before he ever thought to approach Ros Creag. And if he somehow got past Ethan, Grey would have to traverse the lake by ferry, which could be seen from Vinelands.
Technically, Hugh deemed it safe enough. But the last social event he had attended as a participant, not just skulking in the shadows, had been the festivities the night before Ethan's ill-fated wedding, and Hugh had never seen any of those guests again.
His next attempt was to be a day at Vinelands? A trial by fire? Damn it, he'd avoided this all those times in the past - yet now she expected him to voluntarily walk among the mad, carefree Weylands. He'd be more comfortable walking into a hail of bullets.
And God help him if Jane told her cousins about his behavior the night before. He shuddered at the possibility. A trial by inferno. "Does no' matter. I've told you we're returning. So that's what we're going to do."