An hour later, when Hugh shot up in bed, he reeled once more.
Court caught his shoulder. "Drinking while concussed! You bloody know better. What are you trying to do? Kill yourself?"
His voice hoarse, Hugh said, "It is no' yours?"
Court ground his teeth. As much as it infuriated him, he had expected this question, and when Hugh had appeared to be rousing, Court had made sure Annalía was out of earshot, leaving her downstairs with the recently returned housekeeper.
"It's my child," Court answered. "I know why you ask, know you doona want to hope. I trust Anna with my life, but for your benefit, I'll tell you that I was with her every hour, day and night, for weeks." He struggled to rein in his formidable temper. "I'll say that once. Doona ask again."
"But, she's...you canna. What about the goddamned curse?"
"It's no' what we'd thought. The last lines must qualify the others, cancel them out. The general consensus is that it's about finding the right woman."
"Consensus?Who else bloody knows?"
"Annalía's family and...Fiona."
"You're speaking to our mother?" Hugh gazed at him wordlessly for a moment. "I canna believe this."
"Aye, I know. But she regrets her actions so much, and she wants to talk to you. Now that I'm married, I see...I can see why losing someone you love would make you crazed."
And Fiona and Leith had been deeply in love.
"When did you figure all of this out?" Hugh asked.
"After you left, I replayed the words from the book in my mind," Court explained. "No' to know love. But I did. I was lost for Annalía."
"I thought that meant no' to know love from another."
Court shot him a guilty look. "I was no' thinking. Bit desperate. I was ready to convince myself of anything. Then, when I got there, she told me she loved me, too. And that she was having my babe. The curse is wrong, Hugh."
Court knew exactly when Hugh felt a glimmer of hope, because he grated a harsh oath. "Ah, God help me. I might have gotten Jane pregnant."
"Best hope you dinna," Court muttered.
"What? Why's that?"
"Imagine your new wife delivering the babe of a six-and-a-half-foot-tall Highlander, and tell me if that is no' enough to keep you up nights for nine months. If I'd had any idea I could get a babe on Anna, I'd never have done it.Never ."
Hugh's brows drew together at the warning. "If it's no' already too late." Rising a shade more slowly this time, he bit out, "Going for her."
Court pushed him back and assured him, "There's plenty of time for that." Now that Court knew what it was like to have a good woman's love, he wanted it for his brother as well. And certainly there were better women out there for him than Jane Weyland. "Hugh, how can you be sure it'sher ?"
Hugh's grip on Court's wrist was shockingly strong. "Are you...are youjesting ?" Hugh cast him an incredulous look. "I've wanted her for a third of my life, I'm presently married to her, and I'm so bloody in love with her it pains me."
Lost for that woman!There was nothing to be done for what Court was seeing now. "You will no' make it to the property line in your condition," Court said. "So you'll sleep this off and leave when I think you can ride."
Hugh stubbornly shook his head, rising once more.
"Do you really want to face Jane coming off a drunken bender and still recovering? And I doona like to say this - but what makes you think she'll welcome you as her husband, just because you slept together? You said that you sent her away and she hates you now."
"Aye, and I know I hurt her. But the lass told me she loved me. She did. She has since she was a girl." Hugh glowered. "Doona look at me like that. I ken how unbelievable it sounds." He walked unsteadily. "She believed we were to be married, then thought I'd abandoned her."
Court whistled through his teeth. He had never seen that one coming. "That'swhy she teased you? Then, brother, you've got an uphill battle ahead of you, I fear."
"Tell me something I doona know," he mumbled as he began scouring the room for clothes.
All the clan thought Court was the volatile one. Ethan was considered cold as ice. Hugh was supposed to be the even-tempered, logical - and neat - one. If they could see him now, grumbling about his injuries and sniping complaints as he quickly dug for clothing from haphazard piles on the floor, they wouldn't recognize him.
"You're no' up to this yet," Court insisted. "Just do me a favor. Stay here until dawn."
"No' a chance."
"Then for a meal and coffee? You need to sober up." He gave Hugh a pained expression. "And, brother, a bath would no' go amiss. You do know there are hot springs out back?"
Hugh stumbled over a boot, then coughed into his fist. "That so?" he said, flushing for some reason.
As Hugh neared London after a day of rail and riding, he fought a sense of urgency so strong it knotted his gut. After struggling against his feelings for so long, to give them free rein now was nigh overpowering.
And the crushing presence of the curse was...gone. Hugh finally believed he could have a future with Jane. He had seen Annalía, and he trusted his brother's judgment. On the subject of theLeabhar , Hugh trusted his mother's as well - and Court had said she believed as he did. At last, Hugh could reconcile that sense of rightness, of inevitability when he'd been with Jane.
A storm was whipping up to match his turbulent mood, but he didn't care - he'd still reach her on this very night. All he had to do was get to her and win her back.
One mile down, another mile closer. He leaned into the wind, frowning to realize that the only thing that stood in the way of his keeping Jane was how well he could persuade her.
Hugh had rarely had need of that skill. He usually got his way by intimidation or force.
He'd have to convince her that he would make an effort with her family, and that he could fit into her life. If he took it slowly, instead of a sudden immersion like he'd endured at Vinelands, he could get used to them.
He'd bloody figure it out.
Though she'd promised not to take him back, right now, anything felt possible to him. In fact, he hadn't even told Court about Ethan because, for some reason, Hugh had a strong sense that his older brother still lived. He would continue to search for Ethan, unleash runners to investigate, then make a determination one way or another before he heaped more apprehension onto Court's plate.
Court was already dreading the upcoming birth - Hugh had seen him eyeing Annalía's belly guiltily, even as she was unmistakably delighted.
Hugh had never thought about worrying for a wife in labor before - he'd never believed he was meant to have a wife or children - but now the idea of Jane going through that made him shudder.
Even as he reassured Court that women had bairns all the time, Hugh was promising himself he'd be talking to Robert, the laughing quack, and asking him exactly what the best way was "to wait" to have bairns - if she wasn't already pregnant.
By the time Hugh reached London, the rain had let up, but he hadn't. His horse's hooves clattered as they raced down the wet streets of London. A life with Jane, free of this constant dread, depended on his skills of persuasion. He swallowed.
Hell, Weyland might not even let him in the house.
Hugh owed the man yet another huge debt. Weyland was the only bloody one who'd seen so clearly that Hugh and Jane needed to be together that he'd taken steps to see it done. He'd forced Hugh to confront his feelings - and, Christ, he'd prevented Jane from becomingengaged to another man.
Hugh had repaid him by sending his daughter packing.
As more guests continued to arrive, Jane smoothed the silk of her new emerald green gown and pasted on a fake smile. She was preoccupied, restless, and bored at this party her father had manipulated her into hosting - her and Claudia's own going-away celebration.
Though she and her cousin had decided weeks ago to take a trip to Italy, her father had stalled them at every opportunity. Finally, they were departing by steamer in the morning.
Though her father was furious with Hugh, she knew he still had hope for them, believing Hugh would return for her. Yet without receiving a word from him for weeks, Jane knew better.
When Freddie and Candace arrived, Jane's smile turned genuine. Not only was she happy for the laughing and obviously adoring couple, she also experienced a renewed sense of relief that she hadn't wed him. Once she'd greeted them and they'd moved on to speak with someone else, she breathed a sigh.
"Why the serious look, Janey?" Claudia asked, handing her a glass of champagne. "You always liked elegant parties."
"I know." She loved the scent of the rose arrangements all over the house, the glitter of their chandelier fully ablaze, and the tinkling of crystal flutes kissing champagne bottles.
"Has anyone said anything about your marriage?"
She shook her head and took a sip. "No. Everyone's been tiptoeing around it." Most everyone here - a crowd of family and good friends - had heard rumors of Jane's hasty marriage, and just as hasty separation, but no one except her London cousins had dared to ask her about it.
"Well, then, cheer up! Tomorrow begins the adventure. We're actually going to leave this sodding little island."
"Claudie, won't you be sad to leave your groom behind for months?"
"His eyes watered today," she admitted, glancing away. "And I had a moment when I thought about backing out. But we're not getting any younger, Jane."
Jane exhaled. "That's too true."
When Belinda and Sam joined them, Claudia resumed taunting them. "Admit it, you old matrons, you're jealous of our trip. We leavetomorrow , sailing toward sun, cuisine, and virility...."
From across the room, Jane caught her father's glance, and he gave her a quizzical look. She smiled at him in answer - she'd made an effort of late to be cheerful again, to get on with her life, but he'd been keeping a close eye on her tonight. He was continually worried, had been since she returned, and it showed. He'd barely agreed to let her go to Italy, until she'd reminded him that she didn't need his consent.
Suddenly, his face broke into a wide grin - which he immediately checked. His expression grew stern just as the crowd went silent.
She heard a commotion in the hallway - a banging, then arguing, then the booming:"I'm here for my wife."
Loud, striding steps echoed down the hall behind her. No. It just wasn't possible.
"My God," Belinda murmured. "Janey, what did youdo to your Scot?"
Jane turned slowly to find Hugh at the doorway, seeming to fill it. Her eyes went wide at his appearance. He was soaking wet, his boots covered with mud, and his neck was bleeding readily from shallow lines where a branch must have struck him as he rode. He'd lost weight and his wet hair whipped across his face - his unshaven face.
But his eyes were what held her attention - they were black as night and burned with intent. He caught sight of her and his body tensed, like he was about launch himself at her.
Everyone was silent or gasping. Hugh just continued to stare at her as if he couldn't do anything else, his brows drawing together.
At length, when he finally dragged his gaze from her, he surveyed the crowded party in progress, swallowing because everyone here was dressed to the nines.
Except for him.
His expression turned grim, and his shoulders went back.
He'd just walked into a room full of people - normally punishing enough. But to look like hell washed over - and to be clearly embarrassing her? He swallowed again, wiping the rain from his face with his sleeve.
An older woman tittered. "Thatis Jane's new husband?"
Jane swung her gaze on the woman and snapped, "Oh, shut up."
So it's to be another trial by fire?
Didn't matter. Hugh was prepared to do anything. He strode toward Jane, past speechless guests, who stared at him so hard he could feel it.
He held out his hand for Jane. "Come, Sìne. I need to speak with you."
Her cousins were glaring at him, urging Jane to demand that he leave, telling hernot to go with him. She didn't appear to be in any danger of the latter.
"I am sure this can wait," Jane said. Had her accent ever sounded so crisp? "Come backtomorrow . Afternoon."
When some people nervously laughed at that, Hugh glanced around, brows drawn.
He met Weyland's gaze, trying to read the man - who was clearly trying to read Hugh as well. "I just want tae speak with her, Weyland." His brogue had never sounded so thick.
But then he spiedBidworth strolling into the room. Hugh gnashed his teeth, having never considered that Jane might take back up with her suitor. He'd also never imagined that Bidworth wouldn't heed Hugh's warnings to stay the hell away from Jane. The man caught sight of Hugh, blanched, and made a strangled sound.
If Bidworth had dared to touch Hugh's wife...With his fists clenched, Hugh strode forward.
Bidworth backed up to a wall. "Bloody hell. He's going to hit me again, isn't he?"
"This is not happening to me,"Jane muttered.
"Will he really harm Bidworth?" Belinda asked, eyes wide as Hugh stalked poor Freddie.
"Yes," Jane hissed desperately, casting her father an entreating look. He wasn't going to do anything! He only studied Hugh and her, back and forth, eyes watchful.