The moment she opened the door to let him in after her bath that night, Court knew he had a problem, and was actually thinking to himself, Court, we have a very serious problem.
Anna, breathless and smiling, with her hair down and curling about her bare shoulders was bad enough. That and Anna in a blouse with damn little underneath it to conceal her full breasts and clad in skirts that begged to be snatched to her hips as he turned her to a wall?...
"Why are you dressed to go out?" he demanded.
"The maid who brought my bath up told me there's going to be dancing tonight. I love to dance."
"You ken you canna go tonight. Too risky."
"I thought you'd say that, but I am asking you to please let me go." She took his hand between hers and clasped them to her chest, exactly as Court had instructed at the posting house. "I know you'll keep me safe."
"Have you forgotten the danger you're in? You just opened the door without asking - "
"If the knock is really high and hard that means you. And I haven't forgotten - that's why it's so important to go tonight. MacCarrick, it was made very clear to me when I was shot how short life can be, and if you knew how much I have to make up for, you'd let me go!"
She looked so young, so eager, and damn it, there was a hint of desperation in her eyes. He'd wondered how she could lightly brush off the attacks, and now understood she hadn't at all.
"Will you let me pretend for one night that I don't have this hanging over me?"
He finally said, "You'll have your night, then. But you canna go out like that."
"Why not?" She glanced down at her blouse and skirt, then frowned at him.
He scrubbed a hand over his mouth and muttered, "Your hair's down."
She smiled coyly and confided, "I know it is," as if she'd pulled off a bold coup to have it free.
"Only the young women wear it so."
She put her hand on her hip. "I am a young woman."
"You're a lady, as you like to remind me incessantly. So you should dress as one."
"You're right, of course." She twisted her hair around behind her, tying it into a knot, just like that.
He exhaled as though put out, then offered his arm to escort her down. Once on the street, he braced for the torture of her breasts grazing him, fearing she'd discovered today to do that on purpose.
Still he walked proud to have a lady like her by his side. Even as he wanted to kill the men who ogled her, and envied him....
Some children ran by, laughing, and she smiled after them. "Thank you for taking me out, MacCarrick," she said with a sigh, resting her head against him.
Her voice was so pleasing and the gesture so welcome that he almost regretted one of his reasons for agreeing to do so tonight - he planned to give her something more to think about when she stared out the window.
Annal¨ªa was determined to enjoy herself tonight and as she and MacCarrick walked to the center of the village, the music, the laughter, and the excitement around them helped relax her. As did the glasses of wine MacCarrick had gotten for her, though he didn't touch a drop. She felt warm and reckless and dimly noted that she couldn't seem to stop touching him. "MacCarrick, do you think I look pretty?" Where had that question come from? Did she care about the answer? Yes. Yes, she did.
"You know very well how you look," he said, but ran his gaze over her appreciatively.
With a laugh, she asked, "Am I the type of woman who could bring you to your knees?"
He caught her gaze. "Depends," he began in a low, husky tone, "on the context."
The look in his eyes made her shiver, though she didn't understand what he was implying. "Context? Then right now, right here."
"Right now, right here, you're the type of woman that drives a man to drink."
She gave him a mock scowl to match his. "Take me to dance, MacCarrick."
Her face fell. "Why not?"
"Canna keep watch."
"Oh." Of course, he wouldn't be able to. She thought about returning to the inn, but just then a daring young man marched up and asked her to dance. She glanced back at MacCarrick, but he appeared as though he couldn't care less, which vexed her, so she accepted. As she'd known it would, her hair fell loose with the first turn.
After that, she danced with man after man. The whole experience was heady, though she had the regrettable habit of comparing each partner to the Highlander. As if he were the template others should aspire to? His manner was gruff, and she'd certainly seen more handsome, genteel men. Still, she wished he would look at her as these men did. As if they were besotted. As if they were on the verge of spontaneous poetry. MacCarrick always seemed to be studying her, yet never letting her know what he had decided.
But life was short and she was young. Another man swept her into a dance and she laughed - not a practiced ladylike laugh but a full-hearted one. And why not? Wasn't she already ruined? She'd been kidnapped by a gang of mercenaries. In fact, barring pirates, she couldn't call up a scenario where one could possibly be more ruined than that.
Young and ruined - there was a lot of freedom in that. Salut to young and ruined! She laughed again at her thoughts, and the man leaned in to whisper in her ear that she was lovely beyond words and that he wanted her.
Why, how adorable -
She was wrenched from him, leaving the man stumbling. MacCarrick had a viselike grip on her good arm and was hauling her away. The men she'd danced with actually booed him until he turned back. She didn't see the look he gave them, but whatever it was made them quiet.
She frowned. Quiet and a good deal paler than before.
"Where are you taking me?" Anna asked with a hint of slurring in her voice. "I was enjoying myself."
Court bet she was. Tonight he'd recognized that while she was with him he would kill any other man who touched her. "What did he tell you?" he asked as he cut through the park, pulling her along to their inn.
She frowned. "Pardon?"
Court stopped and faced her. "The man dancing with you."
"Oh, him," she said with a grin. "He told me I was lovely and that he wanted me."
He hid his clenched hands behind him, fought to control his tone. "A fine idea. I'll take my payment now."
She blinked at him. "Your payment?"
"My kiss. I want it. Now."
"Oh. Well, you are due, I suppose," she said, shocking him. He'd expected her to beg out of it.
"Then put your arms around my neck." Damn, if she didn't do just that. "And bring your lips to mine." She stood on her toes to reach him. He'd wanted to go slow, to teach her - not frighten her as he had at the lodge.
Yet he found his lips on hers, hard and intent, and when he flicked his tongue against her lips, she gasped. At once he touched his tongue to hers, tasting the sweet wine she'd been liberally drinking.
She pushed at his chest and broke away, breathless. "You can't do that! That's not right."
"It's a French kiss. We're in France." It was then that he noticed her choker was not on her neck. This was the first time she'd left it behind, and it signified something, he knew it, but then when she mouthed "Ohhh," he set right back, saying against her lips, "Kiss me back."
She hesitantly did, with the tiniest stroke of her tongue. Then she broke away again, a look of wonderment on her face. "That felt nice."
His voice was harsh. "Then let's do it instead of talking about it."
"Oh, of course." She closed her eyes again and offered her lips up to him. He took them, kissing her, savoring her. When she lapped at his tongue, pleasure shot through him, making him squeeze her hips and grind her against him.
A last haze of sense returned to him. They were in the center of the park. No privacy. By the time they reached the inn, she would realize what she was doing. He knew her. He knew that tonight nothing would cool her ardor like the sight of a bed.
He scanned the area and saw a stone grotto only a few yards away. He took her elbow and led her inside, wondering if she would break away now, if she would come to her senses, but he didn't wonder for long. She reached up and kissed him, as she grasped his arms and squeezed the muscles there. He laid his hands on her face as he deepened the kiss, then slipped them down, glancing past the tips of her breasts.
She moaned against him and her hand flitted low on his torso. Without thought and greedy for her touch after her torture today, he took it and placed it against the ridge in his trousers. She froze and broke the kiss.
"I shouldn't do that," she whispered.
"No' curious? You doona have to do more. Just feel me."
She bit her lip, appearing to weigh his request, then she leaned up to kiss his chest in the V of his shirt. While he tried not to groan, she adjusted her hand on him - because she hadn't removed it.
He took her lips again as he dipped beneath the hem of her skirt and worked his hands up the sides of her thighs. He continued up, hungry to put his fingers inside her for the first time, to watch her come, but she stiffened and locked her legs together.
"Open your legs for me."
"No, I-I can't."
She was an innocent, he reminded himself, but he'd still hoped he could seduce her into giving him anything he wanted. "If you let me, I'll make you feel even better than the kiss did."
She removed her hand from him and put her forehead against his chest, shaking her head, as if she regretted that she couldn't.
Growling his frustration, he rasped against her neck, "Then tell me I can kiss your breasts."
"I think it will please you."
"You've thought about this?"
"Every night since I met you." He was kissing lower and lower until he reached the line of her bodice. "Anna?"
When she finally whispered "Yes," he tugged the cloth down.
With the first mere brush of his lips against her nipple, her head fell back and she moaned. He'd known how much she would love this, had suspected he could make her come just from pinning her arms over her head and slowly tonguing her. And he'd hated the impossibility that a man like him would ever witness it. Now he suckled hard, savoring her flesh.
"Oh, my God," she cried, and his cock pulsed with need. He put her hand back on him and forced her to rub it up and down.
He alternately sucked at the crest and flicked his tongue until she arched her back, offering. When she was in this state, he put his hand behind her head and pushed her against the grotto wall, pressing her hand between them.
"MacCarrick, what do you want of me?" she whispered wildly.
What did he want? Everything and nothing. With Annal¨ªa, he'd bloody well take whatever he could get. "I want to see you come tonight. One way or another." When she frowned in confusion, and removed her hand, his lips found hers, but she turned her face from him. "I can't think. My head's spinning."
He knew she couldn't think - or else she'd deny him. He hated that he was the type of man a fine lady like her shouldn't - wouldn't - consider for anything more. He pressed his hand against her skirt between her legs to palm her through the material.
"Wh-What are you doing?" Her eyes opened wide, meeting his own, and she let out a tremulous breath. He leaned down to press his lips to the top of her breast just as he stroked his fingers against her. "Oh, my Lord," she moaned and relaxed into him.
"You like this."
"Yes," she cried.
"Do you want me tae keep touchin' you?"
When she nodded eagerly, he made some sound of amusement, then said, "No' so ladylike right now?"
Her whole body went rigid, and she pushed at his chest. She snatched up her blouse and swatted at his hand, though he resisted releasing her. When she peered down at his hand, shoved into her skirts, her face and chest colored, her eyes widening in horror. Too late, he remembered how she'd reacted the last time he'd made a comment like that.
Humiliated. She'd reacted as if she'd been hit.
He pulled his hand away. "Anna, I should no' have said that - "
"No, but it's true, isn't it?" She gave him a tight, false smile that didn't reach her eyes. And he knew the bloody choker would come back the next day like a collar. He hated the damn thing now.
He wanted to know who'd hurt her - besides himself. Who'd hurt her originally.
And he wouldn't mind knowing why he wanted to kill that person.