When MacCarrick approached her the next morning, she was standing by the breakfast sideboard, alternately staring at her steaming, laden plate and frowning at the disconcerted footman.
"I know you've explained this before," she said to the man, "but I want to clarify. These are eggs?"
She mumbled in Catalan, "I know what eggs look like and these are not they."
MacCarrick peremptorily took the plate from her, and set it away so he could start her with a clean one. "Why are you so pale?" he asked, as he scanned the sideboard, unfailingly choosing things she would enjoy.
She heard Hugh at the end of the dining table turning the page of his newspaper, and suspected he was listening. MacCarrick must have as well because he leaned in closer when he asked, "Could you no' sleep?"
She shrugged. "I'm sure I just need to get used to the new bed."
He escorted her to the table, setting the plate in front of her, then selected an orange and an apple from the table center. He held each one up with a questioning look, and she nodded for the orange.
"Is something wrong with your room?" He began to peel.
"Besides the fact you felt you needed to nail the windows shut?"
His jaws bulged at the sides - a sure sign he was grinding his teeth. "To say you sleep heavily is an understatement. I'm trying to keep you safe."
"I know, I know," she said more gently as she took the section he offered her and chewed thoughtfully. MacCarrick took a roll from her plate, pulling a piece of it for himself and some apart for her. "It's just difficult to be reminded of how much danger there is."
Hugh approached, frowning at them. Only when she saw Hugh studying them did she realize how the scene looked. MacCarrick had been hand-feeding her, and they'd been eating from the same plate without even noticing. MacCarrick appeared uncomfortable, as if he'd been caught doing something he shouldn't.
"Court, if you need to catch up on some sleep, I'll be here all day," Hugh offered. "I'll check in on the two of you."
When he nodded in response and Hugh exited the room, MacCarrick turned to her. As his gaze flickered over her face, his irritated expression eased. "Lass, I think you're the one who could use a nap."
"I'm not tired in the least," she said, then betrayed her assertion by yawning. She thought she saw a hint of a grin as he took her hand to lead her into the library. He scanned the shelves and chose a book on Scottish history for her. "If you read this" - he held up the tome - "on that settee" - he pointed out a plush crimson settee - "you're guaranteed to be asleep within twenty minutes."
"Why is that?"
"The book is...detailed, to say the least, and that settee was the death of my studies often enough."
She took the heavy book from him with a pained smile - where was a good gothic novel when you needed one? - and sat where he directed, opening it without enthusiasm....
She was startled when Hugh glanced inside - over an hour had passed.
Hugh's gaze fell on MacCarrick, who sat across from her on a sofa. With his eyes closed, his body motionless, and an arm stretched along the sofa back, MacCarrick looked as if he'd merely closed his eyes for a moment, but apparently he was sleeping, because Hugh looked satisfied and shut the door quietly.
As soon as Hugh was gone and with book in hand, Annal¨ªa crossed the room to kneel on the sofa beside MacCarrick. She studied his face and sighed, marveling that she'd ever considered him anything other than remarkably handsome. When the urge to feather her fingers over his lips grew overwhelming, she took up her book once more and sat under his outstretched arm, with her back nestled against his side. She briefly closed her eyes, luxuriating in his solid warmth, then turned to the last page she'd read. Her mood grew grave as she mused over what she'd learned so far.
Now that she understood more about what and who MacCarrick was, she felt ashamed of all the things she'd called him - ruthless Scot, brutish Highlander, ill-mannered barbarian...and she could write a page more. She'd insulted him again and again, and yet here she sat, enjoying his warmth and strength - alive only because he'd protected her.
Her face burned when she remembered her taunts and jibes. Andorrans lived in a state of constant peace - Pascal was the first threat since the thirteenth century - but the Scots had not. They would be different. MacCarrick was different from her, and she'd vilified him and his kinsmen for it. No wonder his men had given her amused expressions, as though she were just a silly girl. No wonder MacCarrick had looked as if he wanted to throttle her.
If he hadn't been a fierce Highlander and a trained mercenary, she'd be dead. How had she thanked him? With insults.
Annal¨ªa was just as he'd said, a small-minded Andorran shut off from the world.
She put her hand over her mouth in disgust and turned to curl up with her head against his chest.
She wanted him more than she ever had - had realized she wanted all with him - but she had to wonder if he didn't want the same from her because of her behavior. It was one thing to desire her physically but another entirely to like her, to respect her.
He was still protecting her, still keeping her safe, for nothing in return - she literally couldn't give away her virtue to that man - and maybe, maybe, he was doing it because he saw more depth in her than she'd given him reason to -
She heard his heart speed up and thought he'd awakened. He tensed, but after a moment, his body relaxed and his arm descended around her. As he slept once more, his heartbeat returned to slow and steady, lulling her.
Before she joined him, she decided that she never wanted to sleep without that sound again.
That night Court sat in his chair outside her room with his head against the wall, staring at the hallway ceiling, imagining her only a door away. She would welcome him into her bed the second he entered her room. She wanted him and made no secret of it, and he was humbled that she desired him. He was also amazed he'd stayed away this long....
Waking this afternoon with her soft and trusting in his arms had nearly been his undoing -
"A lot on your mind?" Hugh asked, arriving then with coffee. A convenient break, as if he'd sensed how close Court was to crumbling.
"For certain," he answered as he took a cup.
"You stay outside?" he asked. "All night?" Hugh stared at the door, and Court knew Hugh was wondering what he himself would do if it were his Jane Weyland inside.
"Canna be near her."
Hugh slapped him on the shoulder. "You're a strong-willed man."
No, Hugh. No, I'm really no'.
When Hugh sat down against the wall with his own coffee, Court asked, "Do you ever think about defying it?"
"No. Da's death was warning enough for me." He looked lost in thought, no doubt remembering that day.
Leith MacCarrick, not yet forty years old and strong as an ox. The next morning dead and cold in bed with their inconsolable mother. And he'd known he was going to die. He'd believed. "It's no' your fault, sons. The book will no' be denied. I'm just glad I got tae see the men you'd be." Their mother, mad with grief, tearing at her hair and screaming, "I told you no' to read it! How many times did I tell you? It always wins!"
Yes, she'd forbidden her sons to read it, but she'd gone a step further to protect her husband after she'd failed to burn the book, or bury it, or escape it by casting it out to sea. She'd forbidden them to learn to read Gaelic. The clan cooperated, hoping their beloved chief wouldn't die before he was a glad old man. Everyone helped ensure that not one of them could read or write it.
Hugh and Ethan still couldn't. Court could but had only learned in the last few years, and mainly just for spite. Yet as their mother had said, "It always wins!"
Court had been twelve when it had happened, just old enough to answer her screams by bellowing back, "Then why in the hell did you have three sons?"
She'd answered that they'd tried not to.... At twelve years old, Court mightn't have been old enough to hear that.
"If that was no' enough," Hugh continued, "then Sarah's death convinced me."
No one knew how Ethan's fianc¨¦e had died, and since he wouldn't explain anything about her last night, many blamed him, which didn't seem to bother Ethan in the least.
Striving for a casual tone, Court asked, "Ethan's never gotten a child on any lass since I went away, has he?"
He shook his head. "Court, you ken he has no'. And no' from lack of opportunity."
Court exhaled. "Aye, I know." It was hard to believe that before Ethan received the scar on his face he'd been a favorite with the ladies - at least with those outside the clan who knew nothing of the book. Yet he'd not fathered a child. And though Court had worked tirelessly over the last decade and hadn't sown his path by way of skirts as Ethan had, there'd been ample opportunity. But nothing.
Court knew Hugh hadn't either - not that he expected him to since he'd partaken of women sparingly, which was understandable since he was always miserable afterward. Hugh didn't have an eye for the ladies - he had an eye for one lady, the English chit who used to torment him when he was just a young man. "Do you ever see Jane?"
"No' in years." He repeated Court's words, "Canna be near her."
Four summers spent with her and Hugh had never been right. He'd thought her too young for him, but from what Court had been able to discern, she definitely hadn't behaved like it.
After his days with that witch, Hugh would stumble home, hands shaking, out of breath, looking like he'd been beaten dumb. Court remembered one time he'd asked Hugh what was wrong. Hugh had answered in a low, dazed tone, "Jane swimming. In a wet shift. Refused my shirt to cover herself. 'Hugh, darling, 'she said, 'can you see through?'" He'd lurched off as though in pain, but Court had heard him grate, "And, Christ Almighty, I could..."
"I can take over here if you like," Hugh said.
"No. I'll stay."
"You look like hell. When was the last time you slept for more than a couple of hours?"
"I'm going out of town tomorrow. Something I canna get out of. Be gone about a week or two."
"Weyland got a job for you?"
Court thought Hugh was an intelligent and brave man, but he must be one of those poor bastards who liked to be tortured. How else could he continue to work with Jane's father, continually hearing details about her life?
He rose and gave Court another slap on the shoulder. "I doona have anything to worry about here?"
"No' at all," Court lied, impressed by how convincing he sounded.
Yet it should be true - after all, he was supposed to be strong-willed. So much so that not ten minutes after Hugh left, Court opened her door. Just to check on her....
The hinge creaked.
"MacCarrick?" she whispered.
"Aye, it's me."
He heard her breathe a sigh of relief and his brows drew together. "Did you fear it'd be someone else?"
"Did you need something?"
He gritted his teeth.
"I had the most awful nightmare." She was shivering. She'd never had nightmares when he'd stayed with her in the past.
"It's over now," he said, as he retrieved another blanket. At the side of her bed, he shook it open to fall over her, then pulled it to her chin.
When he turned to go, she caught his hand. "Courtland..."
He said nothing. Just stood, tensed.
She used his hand to pull herself to her knees at the edge of the bed. "Don't leave yet. Even if you don't want to touch me, I still don't want you to leave."
He was stunned when she pressed her face to his callused palm, showing him tenderness. "Woman, do you think I doona want to touch you?" He lowered his voice and admitted, "I crave it."
"Because it will no' only be touching the next time." He wanted her, wanted the pleasure they would have, but the urge to take her, to make her his, was overwhelming. "I'll be just outside." The door represented a barrier. Outside he couldn't hear her soft breaths.
"Or you could sit there." She pointed to a chair that he could've sworn was closer to the bed than it had been before.
"I canna. I'm no' as strong as I'd like to be - "
"Yes, you are," she quickly interrupted, gazing up at him. "You are very strong. And brave."
Her comment made him frown. "I'm wantin' you all the time, and sooner or later I will no' be able to resist. Then there will be consequences."
"Yes, very well."
"Are you feelin' poorly?"
"No, I feel much better now. Ignore the chair, come to bed with me."
"Anna, do you no' ken what I'm saying? I'm no' the man for you. I doona have near the wealth you're used to." Nor the ability to afford his growing addiction to give her everything she wanted.
"I have my own fortune."
"Are you tryin' to insult me?"
She looked down, clearly embarrassed, and he regretted his tone. "I will no' ever be the Castilian gentleman you want. I will always be the rough Scot you think me."
"I want you."
"Why do you continue to argue when you ken what will have to happen if I bed you?" he asked in a deadened tone, struggling to understand her behavior. Then realization came. "You think you can talk me from it. You think we can enjoy ourselves and then you'll be able to walk away. It might have been like that before, but it is no' anymore. You'd be forced to marry me."
"Why do you think I want you in the bed?" she said in exasperation.
His jaw went slack. "Are you sayin' you want tae marry me?"
She glanced down and nodded shyly. Marry him? His heart was hammering in his chest. "You would no' like being with me. You'd have to live in Scotland among strangers with strange ways." The gulf between their nationalities was daunting. His grandmother had been English and her ways had been infused in their family, but Annal¨ªa was far from English.
He loved the difference. He was charmed by her manners and captivated by the way she spoke, but he didn't know if she'd like how foreign Scotland would be for her. He didn't know how the Highlands would treat a vivid Castilian - who delighted in mocking a Scots accent - in return.
Why was he even considering this? As if this were the only obstacle? He was bloody cursed.
"I can learn. You said I learn quickly." Her voice was...hopeful? Couldn't be.
Best to end this. "And do you want bairn?"
"Children?" She smiled at him and breathed, "Yes."
Now it seemed like his heart stopped. "I canna give them to you."
She tilted her head at him, brows drawn.
"That's right, Anna - if you are tied to me, you will no' have them."
Her frown deepened. "Do you mean you can't have children or you can't father children?"
What was the bloody difference? "I canna father children."
"But you can have them. In Andorra it's very common to adopt."
He'd never expected this. It took a moment for him to work up an answer. "You're young yet. You'll come to want your own."
"What if I can't have any? The women in my family have never been fruitful. Did you not notice the age difference between my brother and me? Twelve years. My mother was an only child and her mother was before her." She added softly, "MacCarrick, would you not want me if the situation were reversed?"
"Christ, yes, I'd want you," he said in a rush, then wished he hadn't. But as usual the thought had returned: Take you any way I could. He was staggered. If he'd ever envisioned a scenario where she might come to want him, he'd always been so sure that upon learning he couldn't give her children, she would gasp, then demur, and then want him no more.
He forced himself to turn from her and strode outside, knowing that that was why he'd been so hesitant to tell her now.
"What does it say?" Olivia asked for the third time in as many seconds.
"I could tell better if you'd stop blocking my light," Aleix answered with an impatient look over his shoulder.
They'd come to Annal¨ªa's old school on the off chance that her former headmistress might have some kind of information, and had been astonished when she produced a message for him from Annal¨ªa, written in Gaelic. Aleix felt constrained to tell the woman as little as possible, so she'd left them alone in the library with an ancient English-Gaelic dictionary and a worried glance.
Apparently weary of blocking his light, Olivia hopped up to sit on the table, tilting her head down this way and that at the message. He exhaled loudly, then returned to the words he'd managed to translate so far. Definitely directions. Concentrating, he could see patterns forming. "The Square Mile? Wait...London proper is known as that."
With more excitement than he'd ever seen in her, she said, "Then I believe we're going to England!" He shot to his feet, took her waist, and swung her around. She was smiling, genuinely, and it softened her whole face. A maddening urge surfaced. He wanted to know what it'd be like to kiss her.
As he was contemplating it, she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his. Surprised, he set her to her feet, but the hands clutching her waist soon moved to gripping her back to bring her closer so he could return the kiss. He did, harder and more intently, and when she moaned, desires he'd thought were dead came clawing back to life in an instant. She was slim and tall, and as he clasped her tightly, molding her to his body, she fit him well.
Which couldn't be right since Mariette had been petite.
He broke away, pushing her back, breathing hard. She appeared bemused, but she shouldn't be. This shouldn't have happened. He'd sworn to wed her, but he could never give her a true marriage.
With a wavering breath he sank back into his seat, fighting to ignore Olivia and how sweet her lips had been. Somehow he attempted to continue translating. It helped when she said, "I don't even like your ninny of a sister, but I can't wait to find her. It is so fitting that she be the mouse."
He clasped his head in consternation and returned to ordering the words he'd translated, then frowned. Annal¨ªa had copied MacCarrick's translation unaware she'd more or less written to her brother, "If you let them follow you to my bloody home, I will beat your arse."
The seamstress looked very aggrieved when she handed Court the bill.
He'd been prepared to be bowled over by the statement, and he was. Shocked because it was less than in the village. "What is this? Get her more."
"She said you'd say that and that I should disregard your orders."
He glowered and snapped, "Bring her more."
The woman appeared frightened, and as she darted away she assured him she would return with additional garments.
Court had brought the seamstress to Annal¨ªa and knew the consequences and could handle them. He wasn't destitute yet. Thanks to Hugh.
How ironic that Hugh's robbing his accounts would be saving Court's arse right now. Hugh had stumbled onto the new firearms company of Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson through his work, and had believed so strongly in it, he'd unilaterally invested for Court. Court had been prickly about his hard-earned money, but could only grumble now because this Wesson and Smith deal had begun providing income that would allow him to chip away at his debt. At least Hugh had the decency not to rub it in....
Now Anna, with her obvious forbearance, was shaming him. He would make her accept more. His brows drew together.
Oh, she was good.
He found her as she was gathering more books from the library. "Why did you no' get more?"
"I'll only need a few dresses. Aleix will be here soon to collect me, don't you think? It will be silly to lug so much around and then all the way back home when we can return. Especially since I already have to use an entire bedroom for my dresses now."
"You can have whatever you want."
"I know. You are very gracious, but truly this is all I need." She leaned up to kiss him on his cheek before she turned for her room with books under her arm. Her face had been sad.
Surely she wasn't this good.