If You Desire

Page 7

He could take her away without marriage. As soon as Jane had, as expected, scoffed at the idea of wedding him, Hugh would prevail upon Weyland to allow them to go into hiding without that bond. The man couldn't know that there was a risk to Jane in marrying Hugh - one that might even outweigh the danger inherent in Grey.Not to marry...

What was he thinking? Jane wouldnever agree.

But what if she does?

In the park, Hugh spied Quin lounging on a bench on one side of a whitewashed folly, admiring young women strolling in the sun. "MacCarrick, good morning," Quin said when he caught sight of him. Strangely, he stood to block the path around the folly.

"Anything happen last night at the warehouse?" Hugh asked.

"We lost Claudia's friend, Maddy."

Damn it, Ethan.

"I forced my sisters to return home while I searched for her. When I finally decided to check back at home to see if she'd come in, she had just arrived, pale and shaken but unharmed. I think the chit was so frightened, she might have learned a lesson," he said, then gave a long-suffering sigh. "My sisters, of course, remain undaunted."

Hugh was glad to hear that at least nothingpermanent had resulted from Ethan's pursuit. His brother must have taken the girl home.

"The lot of my cousins should be married off to unsuspecting Yanks," Quin added in a grumble. "So, what are you doing here this early?"

"Come to fetch Jane for Weyland."

"I'll bring her back in a trice," Quin said quickly.

"No, I'll do it."

A flash of something likepity flickered in Quin's eyes. "She's meeting with someone."

Hugh immediately determined two things: Quin knew he'd wanted Jane. And she was even now being kissed - or worse - in hermeeting with Freddie.

He shoved Quin out of the way, but the man followed.

"And how did you know, Quin?" Hugh asked in a seething tone.

Quin didn't bother pretending he didn't understand what Hugh spoke of. "Grey told me. Said you were...in love with her."

Who else had Grey told? Who else pitied the big, lumbering Scot his obsession with the exquisite Jane?

He stormed around the folly.

Chapter 9~10

Chapter Nine

"Here, Jane?" Freddie asked, his voice breaking as he glanced around. "You want me to kiss you here?"

Nodding, Jane leaned forward. "There's no one to see us." She cupped his neck and tugged, and finally, he met her, brushing his lips against hers.

No, kissing was not new for them. Whatwas new was Jane's recognition that his kiss felt as good as someone reassuringly patting her cheek. Last night, the feel of MacCarrick's big, hot hand surrounding her own hand had aroused her more than this.

Dismayed, she kissed Freddie more deeply, clutching his shoulders to provoke more from him, desperate to convince herself she could live with only this for the rest of her life. Even as she went through the motions, she remembered the books she'd read - the lascivious ones that weresuppressed  - and she knew there was more than what he was giving her. There was passion and aching and longing. Just not withhim  -

Freddie's body flew away from her.

Jane stared up in shock. "Hugh?" His wild eyes raked over her, his black hair whipping across his cheek. His jaw and fists were clenched. He shot her a disgusted look, then turned toward Freddie, looking for all the world like he would kill him.

Jane could do nothing but gape as she rose unsteadily. Freddie was stunned as well, struggling to get to his feet.

"No, MacCarrick!" Quin snapped, barring his way. In a lower voice, he said, "You could easily kill him."

"That's the goddamned idea," Hugh grated.

The next moments seemed to go so slowly. She watched, as if from a distance, Hugh shoving Quin far to the side. Freddie made it to his feet - just in time to catch Hugh's fist. Blood spurted from his nose as he went hurtling back.

Quin caught Hugh's arm behind him; Jane screamed and ran to Freddie. She grabbed him under his arms and tried to lug him to his feet, darting nervous glances over her shoulder. Freddie was big, yet Hugh's one blow had sent him flying.

"You'd best get out of here, before the constable shows up," Quin warned. "Don't know if you're aware, but you just broke the nose of a well-respected earl."

Hugh's look of hatred only seemed to deepen.

"You have to get Jane out of here," Quin insisted. "You hurt her more than you know with this insanity."

Hugh flung Quin off so readily that Jane realized he could have done so at any time, then he lunged forward, seizing her elbow to drag her away from Freddie.

This morning, Hugh's touch against her neck had been so gentle that she had scarcely felt it. Now his massive hand clutched hard, squeezing.

"Obviously, Quin's been spying on me," she said, her tone strident. "But what in the hell areyou doing here?"

When he didn't answer at once, she pried at his fingers, trying to get back to Freddie. She gave Hugh's hand a withering glare when her efforts failed to loosen his grip. "I want to make sure you didn't kill him!"

Quin said, "He's fine, Jane. I'll stay with him, but you need to go."

"I won't do it - " She broke off with a gasp as Hugh dragged her along the walk toward her home, uncaring of the morning pedestrians staring or scrambling out of the way.

"Hugh, unhand me this instant!" she hissed. "What in the devil has gotten into you?"

"I ask you the same." Out of sight of the folly, Hugh stopped to grasp her shoulders, his hands shaking. In the minutes before, he had seen nothing but a red haze over his vision, felt nothing but the need to rip the man limb from limb. He knew what he must look like, but Jane stood her ground, chin up.

"Who is he?" Hugh bit out, trying not to notice that her lips were swollen. "Why're you kissing some man there for all to see?"

Formeto see.

"His name is Frederick Bidworth,Lord Whiting."

Naturally, she'd be kissing a peer. One who'd never seen Hugh coming because he'd been too drugged by her kiss.

"And he's not justsome man to me," Jane continued. "How can you react like this, when I was just at a courtesans' ball? This is mild! You told me I was a grown woman just last night!"

That was before he was expected to marry her. Before there was the possibility that he was to take her under his protection. Now everything felt different.

"Why are you behaving this way, Hugh? I demand an answer. Now!"

Because I wanted to kill him for touching you.The first man he'd everwanted to kill. "Because the daughter of a close family friend was being compromised." Not a lie, an understatement. When she began to deny it, he said, "You ken he should no' have been risking your reputation by kissing you in the park."

"It's not as though any of this concerns you!" Her face tightened into a glare. "I do not have to explain my actions to you! This is none of your business."

"No? Perhaps no'yet ," he said, making her frown at his words.

He knew that he was wrong to behave this way, but the idea of marriage to her, no matter how far-fetched, was like an opening wedge freeing every possessive instinct inside him. When he'd seen that bastard kissing her, a thought was seared into his mind:Mine. He's taking what's mine.

On the walk to the park, Hugh had been trying to determine what his move should be, wanting to make a cold, shrewd decision and ignore the fact thateverything within him burned to possess her.Is the sacrifice to marry her or not to marry her? he'd asked himself with damned near each step.

Now he was so furious that there was no reasoning. All he knew was that he never wanted Bidworth to touch or kiss Jane again.

Hugh knew a fine way to ensure he couldn't.

Back inside the town house, Hugh yanked her into Weyland's office, ignoring her gasp and furious glare. "See it done, Weyland," he bellowed to the unperturbed man. Had Weyland known Hugh would find Jane in a compromising position? Of course. Weyland knew everything. And Hugh was responding just as predicted, being manipulated. "Just see it done."

"Consider it so." Weyland nodded solemnly. "Why don't you go round and pack a case, son, make anypurchases you'll need? I'd like to speak with Jane privately."

Hugh strode out and shut the door, but listened for a brief moment.

"Papa," she began, "how can you stand by and let him treat me like this, manhandling me and ordering me? If you knew what he just did to - "

"I can and I must," Weyland interrupted, "because Hugh's about to be your husband."

"Have you gone mad? Married to Hugh MacCarrick?" Her sharp laughter grated. "Never! Never, on your life."

Chapter Ten

"What iswrong with you?" Jane cried as soon as she heard Hugh slamming out of the house. "Have you sustained a blow to your head in the half-hour since I've been gone? Perhaps Hugh did it in his present state of violence?" She snapped her fingers. "Of course! Rapid senility!"

"If you will calm yourself." Her father's lined visage looked so serious. His kind blue eyes were now grim.

"How am I to be calm? Hugh justattacked Freddie." Hugh's face had been set so cruelly, she'd thought he would kill him. "Like some crazed man - "

"I trust there was no permanent damage?"

" - and you just told me I'm to marry him! You should know - I was accepting Freddie's proposal this morning!"


She gawked at his tone, at his utter lack of reaction. This man before her was somehow harder than the easygoing father she'd seen earlier this morning.

"I know this is difficult to accept," he said. "But I finally must put my foot down."

"Put your foot down? I'm twenty-seven! You can't force me to marry him."

He continued as if she hadn't spoken. "I have turned a blind eye to all your doings with your cousins."

When she peered at the ceiling, all but whistling to it with guilt, he went on, "I know that Samantha hasaccounts with the printers' shops on Holywell. I know Claudia is having an affair with her groom. I know of Nancy's penchant for dressing in men's clothing. And your cousin Charlotte is most likely even now waiting in line to get into the divorce court to hear every scandal firsthand."

"I get the point," she hastily said, wondering how he could possibly know all this.... Quin! Quin had told on them. It must be. But he should know better than to call down the wrath of the eight cousins.

"I've allowed these things because it seems your entire generation has gone mad."

She rolled her eyes. "This isn't the Regency, Papa."

"But I've also allowed them because on her deathbed your mother made me promise that I would give you the freedom she was afforded and never stifle your spirit."

"She did?" Jane gazed up at her mother's portrait. Lara Farraday had been the only child of a famous artist, and a gifted one herself. Lara's unique upbringing had been acceptable for a celebrated artist's daughter. "I never knew that."

"Already at six, you were so much like her. And I have kept my promise, even when I was stricken with worry for you."

Jane narrowed her eyes. "Is that why Quin was spying on me?"

"No. That's not why. He was doing that for the same reason I'm going to break my word to your mother."

"I don't understand."

"I've had ill dealings with one of my business associates. I made a decision that affected him and his fortunes critically. He wants revenge, seeks to hurt me in some way. Everyone knows you are what I hold most precious in the world."

She said slowly, "Hurt you?"

"He's afflicted with a hunger for opium. He hallucinates. There could be violence."

She nodded, adding sarcastically, "And who is this dastardly businessman who has struck fear in your heart? Who moves you to force your daughter into marriage - a marriage, I might add, that is much less advantageousthan the one she arranged for herself ?"

He ignored her rising tone. "Do you remember Davis Grey?"

"You're jesting?" she said, as a shiver of alarm ran through her.

"Not in the least."

"I-I had tea with him a couple of times while he waited here for you." Of all the men he could've mentioned...

Upon first meeting Grey, she'd been struck by his soulful brown eyes, boyishly handsome face, and open mien. He'd been extremely well dressed and had an urbane polish to complement his congenial air.

Yet he'd given her chills when she'd been forced to be near him.

She'd once caught him examining her with an eerie concentration. His expression had never been lustful.That she could have dismissed. She hadn't understood it, but for the first time in her life, and at the age of twenty-five, she'd wished for a chaperone. Now she said softly, "He gave me chills."

"Then you sensed that he could be capable of violence?"

"Yes," she finally admitted. "But why such drastic steps?"

"Hugh knows Grey from the past, knows him better than anyone does. He can protect you."

"Freddie could protect me."

"Jane, we are both pragmatists, realists above everything. And we both know that Frederick couldn't protect you from anything worse than committing a fashion mistake."

She gasped at the insult, and her father shrugged. "You know it's true."

"Why not just call the police?" she demanded. "With all your influence, you could get Grey on a prison hulk by teatime."

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