What imp had caused her to taunt him like this? She didn't feel like she was rubbing a bear's belly, she felt like she was jabbing it with arrows when the beast was in bed with her. And she knew better.
It was just that the ride here against his chest had been so surprising, and then seeing him grin had been confusing. Here was the man who'd just spied on her and seen her naked, but the look on his face afterward had been...rewarding?
Or she was simply drunk. Yet again.
"I like that," he said. His voice, so husky and rumbling, always pleased her. Even when she'd despised him and the words - and accent - his deep voice conveyed, she'd enjoyed the sound. But tonight she could no longer despise him. Tonight it made her tremble.
"You like what?" she asked, too curious to refrain.
"No' that you tease me."
"That you think you can tease me and actually keep my hands off your body with a finger."
She did think that. For some reason she'd always known he would never force himself on her, even when he'd kissed her at the lodge. "But I have." She needed to bite her tongue. Was she trying to provoke him? She'd already agreed to let him kiss her whenever he pleased!
"Tonight you have," he agreed, then pulled her to her back to face him. "But if you look at me like that again and speak to me in that voice, you will no' fare so well in the future." His tone was low, his eyes watchful. She realized she found his eyes as pleasing as his voice. They were dark, but now she noticed lighter flecks. She wished she knew what color those were....
Oh, Lord, she feared she was looking at him like that just this second. She tore her gaze from his and studied his lips. She remembered how good kissing him had felt and absently asked, "Then what would happen?"
"Then I would kiss your lips." He rubbed his thumb over her bottom lip, and the whisky insisted that she allow it. "And your neck." He caressed his fingers down her neck. The feeling was so pleasurable, she fought to keep her eyes open and lost. Then no touch at all. Just when she was opening her eyes to his, she felt the first contact to her breast. "And then your breasts."
Never breaking her gaze from his she sucked in a breath and tensed. Because she would pull away. Now she would. In one second...He continued watching her, making it impossible to look away, while lower, his fingers were slow and hot on her hardened nipple.
"You mustn't do - "
He pinched lightly, and her eyes slid closed again. She vaguely perceived him levering his body above her, but she felt his lips on her neck like fire. She moaned and soon his hands covered her breasts, his thumbs sinuously rubbing her nipples. Nothing could possibly feel this good....
Was he working his hand inside her nightdress? The jolt of his hot skin directly against her breast roused her, made her remember who this was and what they were doing. When she swatted his hand, he grasped her wholly. She tried to wriggle from him, and he groaned.
"MacCarrick, let go of me!"
"Let me touch you." He growled the words.
"No!" She broke from him, turning away, her breathing heavy. Her breasts were sensitive as if protesting the lack of his touch. She ached between her legs more strongly than she ever had alone in her bed, and to her shame she'd grown wet there.
She felt him roll on his back and heard him exhale a pent-up breath. "You'll be the death of me, Anna."
When dawn neared and he heard her finally sleeping, he rose, still hard as iron, miserable as only a man denied could be. He'd never felt skin so soft. Never dreamed of skin so soft. And he'd had his hands on her, teasing her to need again. Only his coarse touch had stopped him from uncovering more.
He glared at his scarred hands. They weren't changing.
He supposed he would have to get used to nights filled with heavy, aching erections and no relief in sight. Because apparently, he'd just signed on for many more.
She affected him, and for some reason, around her, he either became like a lowly animal or strove to be noble. Both were asinine in his mind. Noble? Him? He'd had difficulty keeping his hands off her when she was violent toward him. And in the nights before, when he'd removed her shirt to change her bandage, his fingers had itched to sweep across her chest, to slip beneath her chemise and grasp her breasts and cup her. How noble was that? She most likely still hated him, but now she was teasing him? He was a dead man.
As he washed his face with cold water, he looked in the mirror, scowling at his harsh reflection, seeing nothing there that would make her want his touch.
He dried off, then sat for some time watching her sleep, listening to her whisper occasionally in Catalan, wondering why he'd decided to leave his crew and the possibility of any income behind. Why had he promised to get her to safety when all he'd wanted was to pay off Beinn a'Chaorainn?
Court was the only man in his family in memory to have a note on his land, and it shamed him. The only thing that lessened the feeling was knowing it was a lot of land. Knowing he'd purchased it for less than half its value helped as well.
To make way for sheep, a foppish English baron had cleared the lands of Beinn a'Chaorainn of tenants, forcing them to the coast to eke out a living there. Then the baron left the administration to factors, who knew little about the land, and without good management the farm couldn't compete with the wool churning out of Australia. Debts from a high life in London forced him to sell at a loss akin to robbery.
Court smiled a mean smile. The violent removal of Highlanders from the land and sometimes even their forced emigration had been happening for years. In fact, many of them had been driven to Australia.
And now they owned those wildly profitable sheep stations that dominated the world wool market and bankrupted shortsighted English barons.
We will always win in the end, Court thought.
Before they'd been cleared, the tenants had been prosperous, and their rents, when fair, were still substantial - not grossly so, not able to support a high life in London, but comfortable. Court liked comfortable.
He'd planned to ask them back. But he couldn't - not until he owned his home completely and could never lose it. So why the hell had he decided to put his plans on hold? Why had he chosen to help her?
At that moment Anna turned on her back in sleep. Her brows drawn, she softly murmured, "Wolf."
He bolted from the room, then stomped down the stairs, uncaring of guests sleeping beneath them. Groot was already up.
"Need a coach," Court said as he sat at the common table. "And I'll pay extra for a driver worth his salt and horses that doona spook so easily."
"I can send the boy to Toulouse. Guess you're taking the lady?"
"Aye. I'll need some coin."
"Should I put the debt on Ethan's or Hugh's tab?"
It would serve them right. "Split it equally."
Groot chuckled. "And your crew?"
They would not be pleased. "I'll leave a message for them. They should be here soon." He might have wondered why they hadn't arrived yet, since he and Annal¨ªa had made such poor time, but he knew a standoff like that could take days, even weeks, to end, especially since both sides were in such defensible locations. It could take even longer if both doggedly refused to give ground. That was one thing he hated about the job - the bloody downtime.
He would write to Niall and tell him to ride for Otto. If Niall thought the odds good, he should sign them on.
When the coach arrived, he inspected the horses and quizzed the driver - a man called originally enough "Coachy." Finding both acceptable, he went to wake Annal¨ªa. Through the front window of the inn, he spied her rushing down the stairs, smoothing her hair, and looking none the worse for wear for their drinking. His head had been pounding since he'd sobered. When she strode outside, he asked, "How do you feel?"
She appeared surprised that he was still there, but covered it with a shrug. "I feel fine. Why?"
Because she'd been riding through a downpour last night, recently shot, and then got drunk, he almost answered. He was learning that the black plague personified could kiss her and she'd be fine. "No reason."
She glanced down and ran the toe of her shoe over some tufted grass by the walk. "I didn't know if you'd still be here."
Did she think that badly of him? He'd given her his word - when he was soused and under duress from needing to tup her - but still his word. "I made a deal with you, and I plan to keep my side of it."
She gave him a disbelieving expression. "Don't become testy, MacCarrick. It isn't as if you've presented yourself as the most trustworthy man."
He moved closer to her, to a point she would deem impolite. "If you will no' believe I'll keep my end because I'm a man of my word, then believe I will just so you'll keep yours."
She blushed and observed the grass again.
"So that means I'll be getting you somewhere I know you'll be safe."
She frowned when she faced him again. "You told me the posting house was safe. This was where you were going to leave me."
"Changed my mind after the attack yesterday, and I know a place in London."
"I'm not traveling to England!" She crossed her arms over her chest. He noticed she put her hands lower because of her injury. "You said you'd help me find Aleix, not take me farther away from him!"
"Your brother's coming for you. The Rechazado said he was on our trail to save you from the brutal Highlanders and then murder me for revenge. He'll go where we go. And he'll thank me later for taking you to safety in London."
"Why didn't you tell me this information sooner?"
"When should I have done that? During the downpour or when I was drunkenly trying to get you out of your gown?"
She gasped, eyes wide, but then she narrowed them. "You're attempting to distract me. To keep me from saying yet again that I am not going to England."
"Lass, we're leaving. Now. The subject's ended."
"I can't leave without sending him a message!"
"To where? Your home? He's doubtless already in France."
She paced and he wondered how many soles she went through in a year. Didn't matter - he would always encourage it. "Do you have relatives in France?"
Shaking her head, she said, "No, my mother's family is in Spain, in Castile."
"Any friends or connections?"
Her brows were drawn. "There are only two places in France that I have connections to and both are near Paris."
She answered absently, "My mother's grave and my old school."
Wait.... "Your mother does no' rest on your family's land?" He tried to read her expression, but she appeared deep in thought. Why the hell wouldn't she? And if not there, then at least in Spain?
"We could send a message to The Vines!" she continued as if she hadn't heard him. "He'll check for information there."
"I'm not going anywhere until you promise."
"Fine, promised," he grated. "Now go get in the coach."
"Coach? But the Rechazados will catch up."
"I doona want you riding anymore. And if it rains, we'd have to stop then anyway."
"I will not slow us down."
"Anna," he began in a warning tone, "the coach, or I'll take my kiss and I'll take it back in the bed."
She must have believed him, because she glowered at him, but only while sashaying to stand beside the coach.
When Groot brought out their things, Court tossed the bags to the coachman, then set about loading the weapons that Hugh and Ethan had unknowingly paid for this morning. He couldn't resist running a hand over his new rifle, near lovingly. A repeating rifle, five shots in one loading - he'd heard tales of them coming in the future, tales in the same vein as those of the beast of Loch Ness, but he'd never seen one. This rifle meant dead Rechazados.
Once they were set and Groot had returned inside, she mumbled, "I still say we should ride."
"Anna, you're no' as strong as you think."
"No, I'm not," she said, her chin at a stubborn angle. "Every time I conclude how strong I am, I surprise myself. I continue to exceed my conclusions, so I must be stronger than I think."
She surprised him, too. Constantly. Like now, when after her rousing statement about her growing strength, the prim little lady stood outside the coach's door, directly beside the folding step, waiting for him to assist her in. She didn't even realize she should be making a show of helping herself inside, making a gesture of independence.
His eyes narrowed. Or perhaps she did realize it and wanted all things her way.
As he strode toward her - and how could he not when she put her arms out to him? - he thought about the paradox. All Court knew was that a woman who peered at her nails infinite times in a day should not know how to hide a rock in her skirt to pummel the unwitting Scot.
Her incongruent actions went against all that was right and governable in the laws of nature.
He shook his head hard, then handed her in, growling under his breath, "Fascinatin' woman."