If You Desire

Page 28

Hugh shrugged. "From now on, I'll make sure she understands some things are dangerous around here, but, no, she'll no' know she damaged an entire mahogany floor."

"I'd have been tarred." But then Hugh knew Jane had started growing on the girl when Mòrag glowered and threw her hands up. "English is no'stoopid  - you ken we'll have to bluidy age the new floor, too?"

"It's time you told me why're you've been working so hard, lass," Hugh said when he returned.

She was feeling tipsy and cold, and yet delightfully shivery as Hugh's rough hands rubbed up and down her arms, checking for oil residue. She grinned drunkenly. "I'm endeavoring to impress you. So you'll keep me. And let me live in your seashore house."

When he gave up a shadow of a grin, she said, "Actually, that wasn't a joke."

His face creased into a scowl. "You bring marriage up? Again? You're as stubborn as a Scot! Do you know that?"

"I could make you happy," she insisted. "And you're in a position to take a wife."

"Damn it, lass, you would no' like being married to me."

"How would it differ from what we've been doing?"

When he'd agreed to this marriage, he'd anticipated her wanting out at the first opportunity. That was supposed to be the one constant. He'd never imagined he would be grasping for arguments againsthimself , as he stared at Jane's shift getting soaked with cool well water and clinging to her plump br**sts. His hands on her arms began to move more leisurely.

He hadn't been concentrating well anyway, but how could he be expected to formulate an argument when faced with her little ni**les stiffening under every spurt of water that hit them? He was in a bad way. He remembered that last time he'd kissed them, he'dfelt them throb beneath his tongue....

He broke away, removing his hands completely from her body. "Jane, forget this plan of yours. I'm no' a good man. And I would no' make a good husband."

"This makes sense to me. It's a logical move for us. We're already married, and we've done the formalities." She lowered her voice to say, "All you have to do is make love to me."

"Logical? You want this because it's logical? That's the one bloody thing it is no'."

Her brows drew together as she gazed up at him. "Hugh, what is so wrong with me?"

He'd never imagined a woman like her could fear herself lacking. He couldn't allow her to think that in any way. Which meant telling her the truth. At least, part of it.

"It's no' you. It'sme ."

Whatever he'd said had evidently been the worst he could have. Her face grew cold in an instant. "Do you have any idea how many men I've told that to spare their feelings?" She crossed her arms and eased away from him. "Oh, how the worm has turned. Now I'm the unwanted, unhappy recipient of platitudes."

"Jane, no." He reached out and laid a hand on her hip, tugging her closer. "You are everything a man could ever want in a wife." He caught her eyes. "The truth is...the truth is that if I were ever planning to marry, I'd have you or none at all."

She tilted her head. "None at all?"

"None. It truly is my problem. I have...difficulties that prevent me from marrying."

"Tell meone reason you don't want to marry."

"That will merely invite more of your questions. As I said before, you doona seem to be happy unless everything's laid bare."

"Hugh, this involves me, and I deserve to know more. I'm just asking you to be fair."

"Aye, I know. Believe me, I ken that. But you need to get inside and dry off."

"I'm not leaving until you tell me one reason."

Finally, after a long hesitation, he bit out, "I canna...give you bairns."

Chapter 38~39

Chapter Thirty-eight

"Oh," Jane said, letting out a breath she hadn't known she held. "Why not?"

"Just never have."

He was right. Now she wanted to ask a slew of questions. "I suppose you purposely tried," she said, struggling to disguise the hurt she felt. The thought of him wanting a child with another woman scalded her inside.

"Christ, no, I have no' tried."

She frowned. "Then how can you know?"

"My brothers canna either."

Her eyes widened a touch. A childhood illness. It would have to be. Her eyes widened even more - was this why he'd never wanted to marry at all? Never wanted to marryher ?

It would explain everything! She swayed, and Hugh's grip on her hip tightened. Hugh wouldn't want to deny her children. He was always selfless like that. This made sense - this was the reason she'd wracked her mind for! She wasn't daunted by this in the least. If she had her Scot, she could go without children. After all, her cousins would continue to spawn at an accelerating rate, inundating Jane with children to play with.

If her heart had turned like a cart's wheel at the sight of her wedding ring, then this latest revelation made her feel like someone had lit the cart on fire and sent it careening down a mountain.

Her first impulse was to tackle him to the ground and kiss him, but she stifled that impulse, realizing almost immediately that it had been a Bad Idea. Surely he would be vulnerable after his admission, and she didn't want to appear pleased over what he considered a loss. Her second impulse was to scoff at what he erroneously thought was a major obstacle, but to scoff would mean she didn't respect his beliefs on the subject.

Men really cared about these things, didn't they? Did he feel he was less of a man because of it? She took a steadying breath.Be rational .

"I see. I appreciate your taking me into your confidence." She sounded calm, reasonable.

He nodded gravely. "I've never told anyone before. But now you understand why I would no' want to marry."

"I understand."

He nodded grimly.

"But it doesn't change my mind about us whatsoever."

"What?" he bit out, releasing her to take a step back.

"I don't know how to convince you that this wouldn't have a huge impact on my life."

"You told me you love children. Even gave me reasons."

"I loveother people's children," Jane said with a wry grin. When he scowled, she grew serious. "If you think I've ached in my breast wanting my own, it just isn't true. I love the ones you saw me with because they are my family." She glanced away. "I hope you don't think I'm an unfeeling woman because I haven't experienced that need. That's somethingI haven't told anyone."

"Did you never think to have them?"

"If I got married and it happened - or didn't happen - I wouldn't have cried either way."

"This is no' how I expected you to react to this," he said, running his hand over the back of his neck.

"I'm sorry to disappoint you. But this changes nothing for me."

"Damn it, the only reason you want this is because you have to fight for it. And once the fight is over, the desire will be, too."

"That isnot true."

"In the past, you've fought for things you dinna necessarily want - you did it only because you needed the challenge. Admit it!"

Well, maybe once or twice...But when she was younger she'd also believed she was all but married to Hugh - no challenge there, and yet she could think of little else but him.

"And what happens if I give in and your interest fades?" Hugh demanded. "When you get back to England among your friends and family and parties, your desire to stay with me will wane. This is obvious to me, Jane."

"It hasn't faded yet," she muttered.

He gave a humorless laugh. "Oh, aye, for the entire few weeks we've been together?"

She shook her head - now, where's that cliff?"I meant for the ten years we've been apart - or you can just round it up to half of my life."

He visibly swallowed. "Are you saying...? You doona mean..." His voice broke low. "Me, Jane?"

Jane sighed. "Yes, you - "

He tensed just as she thought she heard horses down the wooded drive. In one movement, he turned, shoving her behind him, and ripped off his shirt to cover her.

After Hugh's trail vanished in Scotland, Grey's options hadn't been promising.

This was Hugh's country, and the wilds were his element - never Grey's.

Worse, Hugh would bloodyknow he was good enough to lose Grey. That galled him.

If Grey hadn't been dallying with Ethan, he wouldn't have missed Hugh and Jane's nighttime departure. He found it ironic that by taking the time to kill one brother, he let another one escape.

Though he knew the countries of western Europe and northern Africa like the back of his hand, he'd never worked in Scotland. He was fluent in four languages, but Gaelic was not among them. The farther north he traveled, the more closemouthed and hostile the people were toward Englishmen - even more so toward Grey, who was emaciated and appeared ill. And possibly mad.

He had thought about returning to London to torture Weyland, but he knew the old man wouldn't talk - and Weyland probably didn't know for certain where they were anyway.

Just as Grey had begun to wonder if he could ever find them, he'd remembered that it was standard procedure in the Network to stay as close to telegraph lines as possible - and that only the most vital information, coded, of course, was dispatched.

Hugh would stay within a day's ride of a telegraph office, checking in periodically for word of Grey's capture or death, so he'd know when to return home. Even though Grey knew all the codes and possessed the keys, no message would be sent without his own defeat. Which was a conundrum. How could Grey get Weyland to telegraph?

Then he'd realized he didn't have to be defeated before a message was sent.

Word of Ethan's death would be considered critical.

Grey had suspected an urgent telegraph to Hugh about his brother would be sent to several stations throughout Scotland. In the end, Grey uncovered - through varying degrees of violence - that only four went out, and two of the receiving offices were located in this small area in the south central Highlands. Grey had combed every inch within a one-hundred-mile-radius of the first station and had almost completed the radius of the second. Hugh had to be around here somewhere.

Unfortunately, the people here were cold, as usual, and money had no effect on them.

He'd just decided to throttle someone for the information when he heard the nicker of a horse behind him. Glancing back, he spied, far up the road, a girl emerging from a path in the woods - one that he hadn't seen as he'd passed.

She was alone, leisurely riding a pony in the opposite direction, and she had no saddlebags. A day trip. Interesting. What was out in this wilderness? Perhaps Hugh's hideout?

This girl would likely be as closemouthed as every other Scot he'd encountered, but Grey just smiled, slipping medicine between his lips to ready himself. The wee black-haired miss obviously worked for a living. Grey's hand flitted to his blade, holstered at his hip.

Grey knew that women who worked for their bread were particularly keen on keeping their fingers.

Chapter Thirty-nine

Jane rested her chin in her palm, staring out the window down at Hugh as he drank with the other brawny Highlanders.

The sounds they'd heard on the drive had been half a dozen towering Scots riding what looked like warhorses - Mòrag's brothers, come to arrange work on the last part of the roof.

Hugh had joined them for homemade scotch, but hadn't invitedher to socialize. Which didn't bother her. Whatsoever. Nor did the fact that Hugh hadn't even seemed particularly interested in her earlier revelation, at least not more than he was in swilling mash with other Gaels well after sundown.

She was still reeling fromhis admission, and had dozens more questions for him, but he'd remained down there for hours. For someone who professed to being a loner, Hugh seemed to be getting along well with the men, and they treated him like one of their own. She frowned. Hewas one of their own. He was a tall and proud Highlander, and when he spoke to them in his low tone, these men quieted and listened. They already were growing to respect her steady, patient husband.

Jane twirled her hair at her lips, then sniffed. Lord, would she have to bathe in a vat of acid to get rid of that harsh wax smell? Barring a vat, she was having another bath - and she wouldn't be heating water for it. Hugh wouldn't miss her if she headed for the spring, and she couldn't go ask him to accompany her without being accused of "teasing."

Gathering her bathing gear and a towel, she exited the side door, away from the men. During the pleasant stroll, she gazed up at the nighttime sky and mused over the last few weeks with Hugh. She'd sensed she was wearing him down with each encounter they had, but did she really want a man she had to "wear down" to get him make love to her? A man who hadn't particularly seemed to care that she'd always had feelings for him?

When she reached the loch, she marveled at how beautiful it was here. The moon was full, yellow and ponderous in the sky, reflecting over the hint of fog enshrouding the surface. Steam rose in wisps from the concealed pocket of rocks containing the hot spring.

Breathtaking. Damn it, she didn'twant to leave Scotland. Now London seemed so drab, sooty, and heartless. When Grey was caught, how could Jane go back there, knowing what she was missing both with Hugh and with this country?

With a sigh, she disrobed. The water looked too appealing to resist any longer, and she slipped in. After setting her soaps and oils on the small ledge jutting from the side of a cliff, she washed her hair thoroughly. She'd just dunked under to finish rinsing it when Hugh appeared.

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