James watched as Magda swung her club back and forth over the ball in extended deliberation, and he finally yielded to temptation, sneaking up behind her to cover her eyes with his hands. He'd taken her by surprise and, guard down, Magda unthinkingly bumped him away playfully with her hip.
"Well," he laughed, taken aback himself, "if you're going to waggle so over that ball, I'll not be able to help myself." They strolled across the fairway in amicable silence, enjoying the sun on their backs and the pounding of the sea in the distance.
James sunk a particularly difficult pitch shot, and Magda startled them both by yelling, "Nice putt!"
Mouth cocked in a half smile, he looked at her, his face unreadable.
She paused, uncertain, and asked, "That is a word you've heard of, right?"
"Please, hen," he grinned, "the Scots taught the world to putt, aye? 'Tis a Scottish word forbye."
Tom approached, his mood uncharacteristically somber. "I lost the bloody ball in the rough." By the end of the front nine, he'd taken over Margaret's half of the game, yet still was well over par.
James's sister had given up feigning interest in the game, and struggled toward them, navigating her way through the bank of gorse that had swallowed Tom's ball.
"Tom"—James pinned his friend with a serious look that said he'd brook no disagreements—"you and Margaret find that ball of yours. Magdalen and I will move on." He found he wanted to spend a bit of time with her not under his sister's disapproving eye.
They crested the rise, and James bent to stick his tee in the grass. "Now, hen, if you'd be so kind as to take this shot for me…" He held his breath for a moment, then, throwing caution to the wind, shot her an exaggeratedly sultry gaze. "I'd see how smooth your stroke is."
Magda's cheeks flamed. "My stroke is just fine, thank you," she managed.
"Oh, but I'd be happy to coach you." He stood behind her. slowly drawing his fingers down her arms to take her hands firmly in his. What had begun for him as a playful challenge intensified, and he was struck with the shock of it. His voice was low in her ear when he added, " But I'll first work on your grip."
"There's really no need." Her knuckles were white beneath the light touch of his hands. "My… my grip is fine."
Magda held her ground, and yet James heard just the slightest waver in her voice. Something vulnerable. A need there, belying the self-proclaimed strength and independence of another era. He was fluent in the language of seduction, knew how to beguile a woman and what it was to feel temptation in return. But suddenly, surprisingly, this was about more than just a game.
He wanted Magda. Wanted her soft and open beneath him. Wanted to see an invitation in her eyes, and an easy smile on her face. And he'd not be satisfied until he knew what it was that had made her so severe, had hardened her so. James knew his breath was hot in her ear. It took everything for him not to nibble that delicate skin, not to trace kisses down her neck, nor draw his tongue along that creamy slope of collarbone. Not to feel her smooth flesh give between his teeth.
He was losing control. His want for her was maddening, pushing all thoughts from his mind. He found his hand smoothing the seat of her dress, cupping her in his palm. Felt himself slowly turn her in his arms.
"But…" she murmured weakly. Magda made a small noise in her throat, and it nearly unmanned him. He pulled her more tightly to him, felt the hard ridge of his cock push angrily along her hip.
He wanted to stop, knew he should stop. Yet he heard his voice, husky with desire, whisper, "Don't fret, hen, I thought we might work on your stance."
He vowed to stop at any moment, yet found that he kneaded her gently, her derrière rounded but firm in his palm, and was easing his hand slowly down between her legs. He sensed her respond to him, felt her breath, quick and shallow, on his cheek. And he found his mouth at her ear, saying, "I fear we must spread these splendid legs of yours apart if you're to "—
"I…" She stumbled out of his embrace. "You shouldn't…"
James stared at her intently, as he came back into himself. "I just came to find out about… about that monk."
"Aye," he cleared his throat. "Yes, of course." He shut his eyes tight a moment, then swept her a deep bow. "You have my sincerest apologies. That was quite boorish of me. I…" His voice was remote. "I've no idea what possessed me to such coarse behavior." And truly dumbfounded he was that a wave of such unbidden lust could overcome him, making him lose his senses in such a way.
"Do you accept?"
"What?" she responded, still reeling from his touch.
"My apology, do you accept it? It is sincere and I hope it finds your pardon." A gentle curve touched James's lips, as he willed himself back in control. He vowed to acquit himself in a manner more seemly for the Marquis of Montrose. "I do still hope to finish the game. Our Tom thinks himself a better player than he is. I'll wager this routing will take him down a peg."
Magda considered him. "You're maddening."
Taken aback, James let out a laugh, genuinely amused by her response. He'd expected her to slap him, or kiss him, but not this. Not this inscrutable dare in her voice.
"Aye, I am that."
"And you won't touch me like that again?" . "You've my word."
"And you promise to find this friar of yours who can maybe get me home?"
"All right then," she smiled weakly. "Play on."
James tossed onto his side. It was rare for sleep to elude him so. A brandy by the fire, and he was always out by the time his head hit the pillows.
But tonight was different. Tonight brought with it Magda, appearing over and over in his mind's eye. He'd watched her from behind as they golfed, and fragmented images spilled into his thoughts now. How she'd knit her brow in concentration, unconsciously flicking her tongue along the corner of her mouth as she contemplated the course. How the tight bodice of her dress had highlighted the gentle curve of her waist and the long ivory line of her neck as it rose elegantly from the neckline.
Her power and poise had awed him as he'd watched her swing her arms down, pivoting her body to connect with the ball. And more than once, James had to force himself to look away from the forward jut of her pelvis as she followed through.
He'd let himself go too far with her. James had known many a woman, and never had he lost control in such a way. The urge to touch Magda just a moment longer, to slide his hand a trace deeper in her skirts, to grip her to him that much harder had seized him like a madness.
He had to harness his desires. Magda had a home, and he needed to return her to it. She was too much of a distraction. He had responsibilities. His obligation to his country far outweighed anything—or anyone—else.
The thought brought with it an unexpected stab of melancholy. No woman had ever surprised him; none had ever caught him unawares with merely a word or a look. Were it another time, he'd perhaps keep her close, unravel the mystery of why a single lass could humor him so.
He worried for a moment whether taking her to Aberdeen might not be the wisest course. He'd a duty to his country, though, and sometimes speed outweighed sense.
Surely they would find Brother Lonan in Aberdeen, and James would deposit Magda with him.
With his regrets.
"I beg your pardon?" The distant lapping of the waves on the shore had mesmerized Napier, still fogged and trying to chase the remaining tendrils of last night's sleep from his brain with a cup of tea. The air was particularly brackish that morning, as if the receded tide was a blanket pulled back to release the strong scent of seaweed and shells that lay beneath, littering the stark stretch of wet brown sand. He'd just taken another sip when he thought his wife had begun to broach the topic of golf, of all things. "It sounded as if you said "—
"I did indeed," Margaret interrupted. "Which you would know already were you abed at a reasonable hour last night, instead of partaking in more of these tiresome political ruminations you seem to be obsessed with of late." She paused to pick up the teapot and, with great deliberation, warmed their cups. Margaret and her husband would soon go down, as always, to join the rest of the household in breaking their fast, but to sit each morning on their balcony, overlooking the seashore and greeting the sun with a spot of tea, had become their treasured routine. Dawn had well and fully broken, and a rod of white sunlight glared along the wet sand. "I did indeed say golf." She blew on her tea and sipped it gingerly. Napier hid a smile. He could always tell when his wife had some juicy bit of news. He knew she enjoyed the telling of it, and he'd let her prolong her pleasure. She'd been a beauty in her youth, and he had been shocked when she'd chosen his quiet reserve over one of the many men more outgoing in their charms who'd courted her. Napier vowed he'd never give her cause to her regret her decision. They'd never been blessed with a child, and though Margaret didn't hesitate to make her opinions known, she'd not once complained of her lot. So, if his wife wanted to delight in telling him her gossip, he'd delight in the hearing of it.
"But I thought nothing vexed you so much as to hear about your brother's golf games," he said.
"Oh, you've the truth there," she replied tartly. "But I'd endeavor to play at swords and longbows if I thought I'd gain some insight into my brother's heart. We've tried for years to find him a suitable match, and he shows up one morning with some accented beauty."
"A beauty, eh?" Napier raised his brows with affected gusto. "Archibald!" Margaret swatted her husband with her napkin, and not missing a beat, continued, "I tell you, this Magda is a peculiar one. But I dare say, I quite took a fancy to her. Do you know she plays golf as well as a man?"
"Not so." He'd been feigning his interest somewhat, but now Napier leaned in. truly intrigued.