If You Desire

Page 32

"Why?Because your father ordered my death, and he almost succeeded. Four bullets in the chest in return for nearly twenty years of murder for the old bastard. And because, once, when I was in a very bad way, your husband beat me to within an inch of my life - over you, incidentally - then left me to rot in a dark basement. I'm going to kill you to punish them for their slights. It's nothing personal, you see."

"Myfather ? What are you talking about?"

"You didn't know any of this?" He cast a glance at Hugh, and tsked. "That's not very forthcoming of you. And now that I think on it, it's arrogant. You never told her, because you didn't expect me to last long enough to be a threat. Take me out and she never has to know? But here I am." To Jane, he said, "Your father deals death for a living, and Hugh is his most prolific assassin. Your father, Hugh, Rolley, even Quin have all lied and hid their real faces from you. How much you must have trusted them all to protect you. I bet you feel more foolish than frightened right now."

She spat the words, "They knew well enough thatyou needed to die."

"Yes, Weyland sought to destroy what he'd made."

"He didn't make you like this - your addiction did - "

"Wrong! When your father was doling out jobs, he made sure I took the brunt of the bad, the ones that really twist a man.My sacrifice made your husband what he is. Know that Hugh could so easily have been like me."

"Never," she hissed.

"Why not? Hugh's a cold-blooded killer too, creeping about in the night and taking lives - just as I do." He drew his lips back from his dark teeth. "But he's not ruined, not yet. Because your father made sure he preserved Hugh foryou ."

She blinked in confusion.

"Did they tell younothing ?" He gave her a pitying smile. "Dear girl, Hugh has yearned for your heart so badly and for so long that I'm finally going to give it to him. Still warm from your chest."

Chapter Forty-four

As he gathered the last of his strength, Hugh was forced to do nothing but listen as Grey revealed what Hugh was. He saw Jane's face, stark with confusion, her gaze darting to him as if waiting for a denial.

But when Grey took the merest step closer to her, Hugh lunged forward, tackling Grey's legs. They plunged forward and struck the ground.

Hugh rolled away. Grey's body lay poised, propped at a grotesque angle by the remains of the arrows - until with a sickening rush, the tips pierced his back.

At once, Hugh struggled toward Jane. Over his harsh breaths, he barely heard the faint gurgling sound coming from Grey. When Hugh reached her, he drew her up in the crook of his arm, gently touching her face, but she couldn't seem to focus on him. "How badly are you hurt, Sìne?"

"Hugh, you got...hit, kicked."

"He pulled the blows. Wanted me to see."

She gave a weak cry. "Oh, God, I feel his blood." It was seeping outward from Grey, soaking her skirts.

Hugh swooped her away, moving her into the sun.

"Is he d-dead? Make sure he's dead, please."

Hugh gently laid her back against the wall, then bit back pain as he closed the distance to Grey. When Hugh turned him over, the man's eyes were open. He lived still, but the arrow through his chest ensured it wouldn't be for long.

Leaning in so Jane couldn't hear, Hugh hissed, "Goddamn you, where's the list? Did you release it?"

Grey made a small movement as though he'd tried to shake his head. "Have it," he said with a gasp, blood bubbling up from his lips.

"Did you do something to Ethan? Tell me!"

Grey's face split into a gruesome grin. Just before he died, he rasped,"Ethan...was...my last number."

Through a haze, Jane felt Hugh lifting her in his arms, though he had been injured as well. She felt him shuddering as he clutched her, but she wanted to walk on her own, to take care of him. Yet every time she made a move to free herself, he squeezed her to him like a steel vise.

She frowned when her skirts dragged down, then remembered they were wet with Grey's blood. As Hugh walked, the material made sickening smacks against his legs. Nauseated, she fought to keep her heavy eyelids open, but it was impossible....

When she cracked open her eyes once more, she found herself in Hugh's bed, already stripped of her bloody clothes.

"You're awake." Hugh was gazing down at her with an agonized expression.

Well, of course she was. She only had a bump to her head and a bruised jaw.He was the one who was hurt, with dried blood tracking down his face and neck. When he began washing her off with a wet cloth, she said, "Hugh, stop this...let me get up to see to you." He continued on as if she hadn't spoken, and she couldn't summon the strength to rise.

Just when he'd finished and had slipped a new shift on her, Mòrag entered the room, took one look at the pile of bloody clothing, and began firing questions.

"Go downstairs," he ordered, talking over her. "There will be a saddled horse somewhere near the main house. Secure it outside the stable." Then, seeming to rethink the matter, he said, "The Englishman who'd been aiming to hurt us is dead in the stable. Doona go in there."

"Well, if he's dead, he will no' need his horse!"

"Do it!" Hugh barked. "And doona read anything in his bags."

"I canna read," she called over her shoulder as she hurried from the room.

Jane reached a hand to his temple. "We have to see to your head."

"It's nothing." He knew from experience that he would be foggy and would sleep more for a couple days. His ribs would hurt like hell for weeks, but he'd recovered from far worse than this. "I'm a hard headed Scot, remember? But you..." He studied her jaw, touching the tender area, and she couldn't prevent a wince. "The bastard meant to break it." His voice thrummed with cold anger when he said, "And would have, if he'd been stronger."

"What did he say to you in the end?"

"He said he...killed my brother."

"Oh, Hugh, I'm so sorry."

Mòrag bustled into the room again. Between breaths, she said, "I've secured his horse."

"Good." He rose unsteadily and told her, "Stay here till I return."

"Hugh?" Jane whispered, not ready for him to leave her sight. She was shaken to her bones, in pain, and still afraid, even though Grey was dead.

"I have to check on something," he answered, not looking any happier that he had to go. "I'll be right back." To Mòrag, he said, "Stay with her."

The girl replied, "Fine horse o' his, with such high-class tack.My saddle was ruined by English with the sludge - "

"Take it," he barked. "Just doona dare leave this room, in case she needs anything."

Mòrag nodded, and as soon as Hugh had left, she said, "What the hell is going on, English? Did you shoot that man full of quills?" She appeared almost admiring.

Jane nodded, feeling no regret for helping to kill a man, so she was surprised to find tears tracking down her cheeks. Her mind was a tangle of thoughts and questions.

How much of what Grey had said was true? He was either a madman speaking lies - or her life was not at all as she'd thought. Was she surrounded by deceivers, by killers? Did Hugh truly lurk around in the dark and kill unsuspecting people?

Could Hugh have wanted her to the desperate degree that she'd wanted him?

Grey had been as dangerous as they'd said, but now he was dead, and the threat was gone. Even after this, she sensed nothing had changed with Hugh - which meant soon she'd be going home.

To live among people she didn't even know anymore.

Hugh found the list in a sealed, waxed tube in Grey's saddlebag, and burned the paper, watching until nothing remained but the finest ash.

Jane was safe from Grey, and this other danger would never touch her or her father. They'd come through unscathed. But Ethan hadn't.

No. Hugh refused to believe it. He didn't think Grey would lie about this, but maybe the man had been mistaken. He might have hallucinated.

Wouldn't Hugh feel it if one of his brothers were dead?

Hugh would write and request information about Ethan. Yes, he'd get Mòrag to ride to the telegraph office this morning. Grey's death needed to be reported, as did the recovery of the list.

He wished he had an idea of what he would be writing about Jane - other than the fact that Grey had told her so much that Hugh would now be forced to explain the rest.

When he returned with the message and sent Mòrag off to post it, he found Jane was sleeping, her cheeks still wet. How could the events of the day - and of their long night before - not have left her exhausted?

He washed himself, gritting his teeth against the pain as he removed the dried blood from his beaten body. After he'd wedged a chair against the door, he crawled into bed beside her.

When he woke, he found her on her side, watching him. It was night, but the moon was firing light into the room.

"How is your head?" she asked sleepily.

"Doona worry about me, lass. I'm concerned only with your jaw."

She brushed her fingers over it. "It'll be sore. And it's already starting to bruise, but I'll be fine."

He touched it too, needing to make sure.

"Hugh, I want to understand what Grey was talking about. What did he mean about you, and about my father?"

She'd heard too much - she'd have to know the rest. And didn't he owe her the truth after what had happened with Grey? She'd tolerated so much, had coped with all that had been forced onto her. Hugh knew this, and yet, still he hesitated.

As many times as he'd imagined making love to her, he'd imagined the look on her face to learn of this. "Jane, I worked as..." He trailed off.

"Go on. Please."

"I was a gunman."

"What is that?"

He swallowed. "I...I killed people for the crown."

"I don't understand. I thought you worked with Courtland. And how could my father be involved in that?"

So Hugh explained that Weyland headed an organization that dealt withsituations  - ones that couldn't be resolved diplomatically. He revealed what all of their roles were.

"Quin and Rolley, too? Why didn't I ever discover this?" she asked.

"Most family members don't. And your father never wanted this to touch you. That's always been his worst fear. Lying to you sat ill with him."

Her voice soft, she asked, "Did lying to me sit ill with you?"

"Never lied to you."

She bit her lip, frowning as she clearly thought back. Then she said, "My father did try to have Grey killed?" At Hugh's hesitant nod, she asked, "Was Grey right to say that you were favored over him?"

He ran a hand over his face. "I dinna believe so before. I thought Grey got the jobs he did because he was a bloody decade older than me and had years more experience. Now...I think unconsciously, Weyland might have."

Her eyelids were getting heavy though he knew she was burning to ask dozens more questions. "And what about Grey's comment about...you and me?"

After a lengthy hesitation, he grated, "True."

His answer seemed to hurt her more than anything. "How long, Hugh?"

"Since that summer. Same as you."

She met his eyes. "Do I know all your secrets now?"

"Aye, lass. Every single one of them." When she fell silent, he said, "Jane, will you no' tell me what you're thinking about all this...about me?"

She answered his question with one of her own: "Will what happened today change anything for us?"

He finally made himself shake his head.

"Then nothing will." She turned away from him, murmuring, "So it doesn't matter what I think."

Chapter 45~46

Chapter Forty-five

Hugh shot up in bed, wracked by a nightmare worse than any he'd ever had. The piercing pain in his ribs and head was still unfamiliar, momentarily confusing him when he woke. He frowned at his surroundings, rubbing at his eyes. It was well into the afternoon. Had he slept through the entire night and morning?

His body was still shaking; his sheets were soaked with sweat. He'd dreamed of Ethan's fiancée on the cold flagstones, head framed by her blood shining in the moonlight. But instead of seeing her glazed, sightless eyes, Hugh saw Jane, cold and still in death. He shuddered just remembering it -

Where the hell is she?

When he heard her in her room, getting dressed, he let out a relieved breath. After rising in stages, he staggered to the basin, wetted a cloth, then ran it over himself to wash the chill sweat from his body.

Her light footsteps sounded in the hall outside his room as she made her way downstairs. He dressed as quickly as his injuries would allow, then followed. When he eased down the steps and into the kitchen, he found her motionless, staring blankly.

The first thing he noticed was that her bruise had darkened and spread since yesterday, and he flinched to see it. Then his gaze landed on the object of her rapt attention - theLeabhar .

He crossed to her side, silent. Even after all this time, the mysteries of the book still stunned even him. He wondered again how many of his forefathers had futilely tried to burn it or bury it in a locked chest, desperate to rid themselves of it. But theLeabhar was tied to his family like a disease passed down.

"It can't be the same," she said softly. "I threw it in the water."

"It is the same."

"S-someone must have dragged it up from the bottom. You got Mòrag's brothers to retrieve it."

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.