If You Desire

Page 34

Nor had he any idea where to go or what to do.

Without Jane, nothing held appeal.

In the past, his life had at least had some purpose, but he didn't know if he could go back to his occupation. Yes, the odds had been against Hugh reverting to a normal life - but, damn it, hehad changed. Jane had changed him, and he had to wonder if he could return to that same existence. Besides, if it was true that Weyland always knew everything, then he now knew that Hugh had compromised Jane - and then all but kicked her out. He feared Weyland had washed his hands of Hugh.

In his place, Hugh would have.

Hugh's official missives to Weyland were responded to promptly, but coolly.

If not having Jane in his life had been painful before, now it was agonizing. Hugh knew exactly what he was missing. Worse, he knew how badly he'd hurt her. The more he thought about that morning, the more he regretted letting her go. But what choice did he have?

Where to go?He hadn't been to Cape Waldegrave for almost a year. He should go check on his estate and see if any improvements needed to be made - then do them all himself. Beinn a'Chaorainn was on his way there. He could pay Mòrag in advance to oversee the property. He could pick up the rest of his things and close down the house for good.

To go there and not hear Jane's laughter? Hell, who was he fooling? He just planned to go there to do eighty thousand pounds' worth of brooding.

Jane's cousins were hovering.

Claudia had basically moved in, and Belinda and Samantha visited as often as they could between time with their husbands and children. Today, Claudia and Belinda were flipping through fashion plates, smoking French cigarettes, and raiding Jane's clothing.

During the last two weeks, Jane hadn't had an hour to herself. Apparently, when Jane had returned home, she'd worried her entire family with her mottled jaw and insouciant demeanor. But now the bruise on Jane's face had healed, and her headaches had disappeared.

She often wondered if Hugh had completely recovered.

When she reflected over her time with him, she could think of only one thing she'd have done differently, even after all that had occurred between them. "Trust me with your secret and you won't regret it," she'd told him. She felt a flush of guilt, knowing he would have to regret it. She'd demonstrated no understanding or compassion, but then she'd never felt such fury, such strangling frustration.

Jane had comprehended that she was losing the only man she'd ever loved - and that all the fight she had in her wouldn't change that fact. Because she was losing him to something that didn't truly exist....

"Janey," Claudia began in a scolding tone, "are you thinking about Tears and Years again?" She shook her head slowly. "We don't think about him any longer, do we?"

For obvious reasons she hadn't told them what Hugh's profession was. For some unknown reason, she hadn't confided to them about the curse. Though telling them about it would actually have made Hugh more sympathetic to them, she knew Hugh wouldn't want them to know. As it was now, they suspected he let her go out of shortsighted stubbornness or, taken with his past behavior, inconstancy.

Shehad told them she'd made love to Hugh, and they'd all counted down the days together until she could determine whether she was carrying.

Jane had been relieved that she wasn't, of course. But she'd also felt a confusing pang....

"Jane, I don't believe I've reminded you today," Claudia said, flicking her mane of raven hair over her shoulder, "that you spent adecade of your life pining for him." She gave Jane a piercing look. "You can't get those years back. Gone. Spent."

The first time Claudia had made this observation, Belinda had chided her, saying, "Jane needs to look to the future, not dwell on the past." Now she said, "Claudia's right. It's been two weeks, Jane. You've got to at leastbegin to get over him."

Claudia made a sound of frustration. "My Lord, Jane, I think you'd take him back - "

"Don't you dare think that!" Jane snapped. "I'm not a complete idiot. Getting thrown over by the man I've loved - not once, buttwice , mind you - destroyed any hopes for a rekindling."

"Then what is it?"

"Things remind me of him. And every time I look at my father's guilty expression, it kills me inside."

With a firm nod, Claudia said, "Right, then. I think getting over him would be more easily done while traveling, perhaps to Italy, where gorgeous, virile men abound." When Jane raised her brows at the idea, Claudia continued, "Haven't you ever heard the old saying? The best way to get over a man is to get under an Italian."

Chapter 47~49

Chapter Forty-seven

"Courtland, you made this place sound awful!" Annalía Llorente MacCarrick said as she skipped along the winding walk to Beinn a'Chaorainn. "It's beautiful - I can't believe this is my new home!"

"Woman! Slow down," Court grated, limping after her.

Now that she was feeling stronger after two months of illness, he always seemed to be slowing her down, chasing after her bright skirts. With his still-healing leg, he was scarcely able to keep up - which made him a nervous husband.

What if she stumbled, and he wasn't there to catch her?

Yet once he'd taken her gently by the h*ps and glanced up, Court could do no more than stare past her.Whose home is this and what did they do with mine?

Squatters. Of course. Squatters with good taste clearly had taken over here.

The shutters and front door, which had been barely hanging on by their hinges, were new and painted. A shining brass knocker beckoned visitors, the gravel walk was free of weeds, and greens were planted in intricate, immaculate beds. The roof seemed to have been completely repaired, and through the spotless new windows he could see furniture and carpets. Had his mother done this? Who else would it be?

When he unconsciously squeezed Anna's hips, she laid her hands over his and gave him a flirtatious smile over her shoulder. "Again already?" she purred, her accent giving the words a lilt. "My lusty Scot."

He raised his eyebrows at her clear invitation, and just like that, the house was forgotten. His voice grew husky. "I dinna give you enough at the inn last night? Or this morning?"

She turned in his arms and whispered, "I don't believe I can ever get enough of you." She cupped his face with her wee hands. "Courtland, why did you tell me your home was so awful, when it's grand? Why did you say we'd have to live at the inn until you got itinhabitable ? I remember the words you used:decrepit ,dilapidated , and, um, what was the other? Oh, yes - sty."

"I...it was no' like this when I left it." He dragged his gaze from her face and pondered his home once more. He'd known one day it would be beautiful, had vowed to make it so, but he'd never imagined this.

And he didn't even know who to thank.

"I can tell you now that I was so uneasy," Annalía continued, "not knowing what brutal Scottish wilderness you were bringing me to. And with the baby..."

Court had been dreading this, especially now that they were starting a family - albeit unintentionally. Even had she not been carrying, he had cringed at the thought of bringing her here. But then, he didn't have a lot of options.

To keep her, he'd had to give up his life as a mercenary. Without doing that work, he had little money. It had been a conundrum that had crazed him. His inability to keep her in the style to which she was accustomed had been one of his concerns in marrying her, a wealthy and regal - literally - beauty. And after that first time she'd tried, she knew better than to offer money to him.

He'd planned to fix one room, then do his damnedest to keep her in it until he could afford to do more. Now Court felt like a weight had been lifted.

Anna tapped her chin, frowning in the direction of the freshly painted stables. "Courtland, isn't that the horse my brother gave to Hugh?"

Court followed her gaze. It was indeed. Aleixandre Llorente had given Hugh that stallion for bringing his "unique talents" to Andorra to help rid his country of the Rechazado. Even Court hadn't known Hugh could blow up a mountaintop, or that he'd do it, killing thirty men, without blinking.

Hughhad come here and done this for him? This was where he'd been? Court had scoured London for him and Ethan and sent messages through a dozen channels to tell them about theLeabhar and the curse and the future - as in, now the brothers allhad a future. He'd gone to Weyland to ask about Hugh's whereabouts, but the old man was cryptic, as usual.

And here Hugh was in the one place Court had never thought to look for him.

Court shook his head, remembering how indebted to Hugh he already was. First, Hugh had invested Court's money, giving him a steady income that freed him from having to ride with his gang. Then he'd come and renovated this property completely, knowing Court couldn't pay him back, at least not for a while.

Christ, he already owed his brother for something he couldnever pay back.

Hugh had also saved Annalía's life -

Something caught his attention from the corner of his eye. Turning, he saw a panicked young woman lurching from a side door, fleeing the house followed by some indistinct bellow. That couldn't be his brother's voice. Hugh didn'tbellow unless there was a sodding good reason.

When Hugh yelled once more, tension shot through Court. He drew out the pistol holstered at his back and pulled Annalía into the house, then straight to the stairwell. "Anna, get in there. Now! And doona come out until I return."

Eyes wide, she climbed into the closet tucked beneath the stairs.

He turned back with a glower for good measure. "Woman, I bloody mean it this time."

Once she nodded, Court made his way up the stairs quietly - thanks to a plush carpet runner and the absence of groaning and loose boards. He followed the sound of his brother's cursing, punctuated by slamming and crashing. Was he fighting someone?

Court lifted his gun, and with his other hand he cracked open the door.

His pistol hand dropped, in time with his jaw. Not only had someone replaced his house, but they'd replaced his brother as well.

Even-tempered, steady Hugh was unshaven, dead drunk, and regarding him with crazed eyes.

Hugh pointed at the door, and the movement made him stumble. "That little witch took my goddamned whiskey."



Court applauded the girl for having the ballocks to do so, and then the sense to flee. "Aye, and it looks as though you'd be lost without it."

"Go to hell," Hugh said, but his tone was more tired than angry. He sank down on the edge of the bed, elbows to his knees as he hunched forward. "What're you doing here?"

Court stared at his brother. "This is my home. Or it was. Why'd you fix it up?"

"Because Jane wanted to. Never could deny that lass."

"You were with her here?" Court couldn't fathom her reason for wanting to fix uphis home, but he knew it wasn't out of any concern for himself. "I think it's time you explained everything," Court said, then listened in amazement as his brother recounted the threat from Davis Grey, the man's subsequent death - and Hugh's hasty marriage to Jane Weyland.

"...I sent her away, and now she hates me," Hugh finished. "But hell, you made the sacrifice for Annalía, so I could for Jane." He exhaled with a measure of weariness Court had only ever seen in Ethan before.

He reckoned this was probably not a good time to mention that as soon as Hugh had left him in France, Court had seemed to lose all reason and had sped back to Andorra to win his wife back - the wife presently stowed under the stairs.

In fact, after weeks of searching for his brothers, and now that he finally had the opportunity, Court hesitated to tell Hugh about Annalía's pregnancy. Once Hugh sobered up, Court would break it to him.

"I was on my way north to my place and found myself here for the last week," Hugh said, then looked away to mutter, "Miss her." Seeming to shake himself, he said, "You can have your house back directly. No' good for me to be here any longer." Then he frowned. "I thought you'd go east with your men."

"Changed my mind," Court said shortly.

"Seems you're reactin' to the loss of your woman better than I am. Damn, Court, you looked like hell when I last saw you. Got over her so quickly?" He ran his hands through his disheveled hair, then winced and swayed - no doubt from a healing head injury. The movement must have worn him out, because he rested his forehead in his hands. "Tell me how to go about that. And be smug about it."

"What the hell happened to your head?"

"Grey knocked me a good couple of hits."

"At least the bastard's dead."

Hugh nodded, his expression grim. "Court, I have to tell you something. About Ethan."

Court exhaled. "What has he done now?"

"He...Ethan is - "

"Courtland," Annalía said softly from the doorway.

Hugh's wild eyes got wilder at the sight of Annalía, but they seemed unfocused. He shot to his feet and roared, "What the bloody hell have you done?"He pointed a shaking finger at Court, advancing on him. "You vowed to me you would no' go back for her."

In her nervousness, Annalía fluttered her hands to her rounding belly - a gesture she'd assumed in the last couple of weeks - and the movement drew Hugh's gaze. Court saw when realization took hold.

He rocked forward, the heels of his palms shoved to his eyes.

Then he plunged backward to the ground.

Chapter Forty-eight

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