Authors: Jo Ann Ferguson
She grimaced and slapped his hand that was reaching for her. “You need to make progress more slowly.”
“This is charming, Romayne. I never expected you to be so concerned for me.”
She smiled. “Neither did I. Mayhap it's as simple as what you said before. There is no need for us to be pulling caps each time we are together. What time do we leave on the morrow?”
“I would say at dawn,” he said as he sat on the rock and reloaded the gun. Looking up as he pushed the top back on his powder horn, he laughed. “I fear your abigail will make it impossible to put Struthcoille behind us until nearly midday. She worries every part of this journey.” He sighed. “I want us loaded and out of here as early as possible. It still will take us several days to reach Westhampton Hall, because we cannot push that carriage far each day unless we wish it to fall apart beneath us.”
She sat next to him and clasped her hands on her lap. “You must be anxious to get to England.”
“Every minute we delay means that traitor might be able to complete his perfidious mission.” Shoving his pistol back in his pocket, he cursed. “I was close to nabbing him. Instead I was saddled with you and your troubles.”
Romayne flinched when his cool words reminded her sharply that this affable conversation was an aberration. Wishing he had let her continue to believe for the afternoon it was possible for them to be friends, she rose.
“Don't go,” he called to her back.
“Is that an order, master?” she asked without turning.
“Romayne, it may still be possible that we can be together without arguing, but it is impossible when you are irritated by every comment I make.”
Keeping her back to him, for she did not want him to suspect that tears were filling her eyes, making the hills waver in the sunshine, she whispered, “If you would not make vexing statements, I would have no reason to be angry. If I had my choice, we never would have met, but you cannot lay the blame for that night on me.”
His hands on her arms slowly turned her to face him, but he released her. “You are misunderstanding my words as an insult to you when I was being only honest about my frustration with this delay. Misunderstanding again, I would add, if I was not trying to make you see the sense you disregard.” A smile teased the corners of his lips. “Have you decided to become a cantankerous Scot?”
“I shall leave your irksome national habits to you.”
“So you will be a stubborn, imperious English-woman instead?”
She shook her head. “I have no interest in drawing daggers with you today. This is my last day here. I doubt I shall ever return.”
“That would be a surprise.”
His voice was so empty of emotion she could not guess if he was jubilant at that fact or saddened. She was eager to leave, but, like Thatcher, something about this untamed land fascinated her.
Not like Thatcher
, added that small part of her brain that refused to be silenced, for
in this untamed land fascinated her.
Was she bereft of any sense? This was not a true marriage. Letting her longing for James's touch confound her would be insane.
As her eyes met his, she was astounded when he turned away. Staring at his back, she was curious why, unlike ever before, he had been the first to lower his eyes. When he spoke, she sensed the false lightness in his voice. “Nor do I wish to spend too many weeks in England. I find it without the charm of my homeland.”
“I shall miss Ellen,” she said, wanting to heal the newest rift between them.
“And Ellen will miss you.”
She smiled. “She will miss chatting about the Season in London. I never considered there might be people who wished to be there when I often longed to put the maddening pace behind me.”
“Ellen wants to go to London?”
At his slow question, he faced her. She saw a smile forming on his lips as his eyes began to twinkle. A cramp in her stomach warned her that he was about to spring a new aspect of his scheme on her, and she collected she would like it as little as she had liked any of the others.
He spoke lowly, as if to himself. “So my little country cousin wishes to experience the flirtations of the
. With your experience in such matters, I am sureâ”
“My experience?” she asked with sudden heat. “If I had suspected that you had invited me for this walk so that you could aim demure hits at me, I would haveâ”
He interrupted her. “Romayne, do you need to twist everything I say?” He cupped her chin and smiled. “Or could it be that you have something to hide from me? You seem unwilling to return home. Shall I learn that your innocence has been at my expense?”
“You are intolerable,” she snapped as she walked back toward the wall.
“Intolerable? That is different, at least, from being beastly.” He scaled the wall in one easy movement, then held out his hand. With another challenging grin, he said, “If you wish to know the truth, I meant only that you must have been the witness to many flirtations during the whirl of the Season.”
The familiar embarrassment sank through Romayne. Guessing what was behind James's comments was impossible, for he used words with the same skill as he did a pistol.
Easily he lifted her over the wall and set her on the road. His hands remained at her waist as he asked, “How certain are you that your grandfather will be hesitant to accept you back?”
Startled, she said as she stepped away, “Grandfather is mostly bluster to me, but I have wounded his pride. There is nothing more important to a Smithfield than pride.”
“That I have noticed.” He gave her no chance to do more than bristle at the slur before he continued, “He might be willing to fly up to the boughs if you arrive with only me, but if Dora and Ellen are with us, even the Duke of Westhampton would have to think twice about granting no shelter to two female wayfarers.”
“Grandfather's rules are his own.”
He seized her by the arms and smiled. “But don't you see, Romayne? This is the perfect solution to everything. If you announce that you are going to fire off Ellen, we will have a reason to go anywhere among the
“You think someone among the
is the traitor?”
“Who else would have the means to travel about the countryside with such ease?” His face became somber as he said, “As you know, I once considered your late betrothed a possible candidate.”
Romayne walked along the road. When her foot sank in the mud, she said her prayers backward. James's laugh did nothing to ease her frustration. “Why must you be so odious?”
“Because I cannot chance that traitor slipping through my hands again.”
She closed her eyes and sighed. Never must she allow herself to forget that capturing his man was the only thing of importance to James. If he could enjoy stealing a kissâor moreâfrom her along the way, that was all to the better, but his mind was always on his mission.
“Will you help me, Romayne?”
“Yes.” Taking a deep breath, she faced him. “The first thing we must do is contact a
for Ellen and a tailor for you.” Pointing at his clothes that wafted in the steady breeze, she said, “You cannot be seen in London with these galligaskins.”
He brushed at the mud stains on his breeches. “Are you planning to redo me as you will my cousin?”
“You must present a stylish image if you wish to have a collection of swains dangling after Ellen.” Romayne tilted her head to one side to appraise him as openly as he had her. “I would suggest for now a forest green coat, cutaway with two rows of gold buttons to close it. A gold waistcoat with wide stripes would go well with that along with a ruffled white shirt and pale pantaloons that are strapped beneath your shoes.”
He arched a single brow. “I never guessed you to be such an expert on men's clothing.”
“Do you think that men are the only ones who take notice of a well-dressed person of the other sex, James?” She tapped her finger against her cheek. “Of course, if you wish to be in high kick, you shall need a blue coat and a white waistcoat and breeches for evenings at the theatre or when we go to a rout. Do you have any stockings?”
“Any I had have been long since filled with holes.” With a laugh, he said, “I trust you shall find something subdued. I own to being disgusted by the garish things that some of the men have donned.”
Romayne clamped her lips closed. He had been humoring her. For a moment, she had forgotten that he must be familiar with the ways of the Polite World. A major's commission was beyond the grasp of most men. Curiosity taunted her. Who was James MacKinnon when he was not Major MacKinnon? He seemed comfortable in the cramped house, but she saw his amusement with the low ceilings and doorways. This could not be his usual life.
“I trust you have the means to make all this come to pass,” he said as they continued along the road.
Leaning against a tree, he said, “Surely you didn't think that I currently have the means to dress Ellen in fashion. My pockets are far from plump, and, besides, while she is getting herself ready to blind her suitors with her smiles, Cameron and I will be searching for our man.”
“What about you?” He twisted a finger in her hair, drawing her closer. “Do you mean that you wish to become a spy-catcher, too? Not the proper life for a fine lady like you, dearie.”
“Leave off!” she snapped. “Have you given a moment's thought to what will happen once you have found your traitor? Ending our marriage may be the least complication. Think of your cousin.”
“She will have had her Season and, no doubt, a husband.”
“James, there are no guarantees that Ellen will find a match in her first Season. Many girls go two or more before the right match comes along. And if you have failed to nab the turncoat, where do you plan to live once the Season is past? No,” she said, answering her own question, “you cannot be so shortsighted as to believe that my grandfather will welcome you back to Westhampton Hall, even if he deigns to greet you upon your arrival.”
“Then we shall have to lease a house in London.”
“I assumed that you have money. You come from a well-laid family. If not from your grandfather, you must have some legacy from your parents.”
“It is in trust for me until I marry.”
“Which you have.” He brushed the back of his hand against her cheek and laughed. “I truly must be a wretched husband that you have forgotten me so quickly.”
“James, the trust my parents left me is not much.”
“Your grandfather will surely not allow you to starve, for Grange told me you are his only living relative.”
Dampening her lower lip, she said, “Grandfather put much of his money in an investment scheme when I was but a babe.”
“And it failed?”
“No, Grandfather is astute with money. He planned for this investment to take care of me, but the money is locked up in a peculiar arrangement where it remains in trust until the other investors die. Then the money reverts to me, because the investment comes to a close then.”
“That is peculiar.”
She smiled. “Grandfather had his reasons, I am sure. However, with only the money from my parents available to me now, we might survive for a few months, but no more.”
“Then we shall succeed in those few months.”
Romayne laughed softly. “I never thought to chide you for being naÃ¯ve.”
“I am not naÃ¯ve. Cameron and I know our work. We won't let the cur escape us again.”
Taking her hands, he raised them to his shoulders. “Romayne, you fret too much. My cousin is charming. I collect she shall have her choice of suitors.”
“Along with all the other young misses emerging from the schoolroom to be fired off.”
“Dearie, you may possess the name MacKinnon, but you aren't one of us. You can't understand that a MacKinnon is not easily dissuaded from obtaining what he or she wants.” His arm inched around her waist. “What this MacKinnon wants now is to change the fact that he hasn't kissed his wife since yesterday.” When she stiffened in his arms, he did not let her ease away.
“I would as lief not think of that,” she said tightly.
She shuddered. “You took advantage of me yesterday.”
With a terse laugh, he picked up a lock of her hair and rocked it between his fingers. “Of course, I took advantage of the opportunity to kiss the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. What fool would have passed up such an opportunity?”
“You need not ply me with compliments. I know that you were thinking only of your reputation. Your comrades would have thought you quite the odd man if you had not kissed your bride.”
His fingers brushed her cheek as he whispered, “I wasn't thinking
of my reputation. You are beautiful, Rorriayne, and you have a way of looking at a man that causes something to stir in his gut until his mind is full of fantasies of holding you.”
He framed her face in his hands and tilted her mouth beneath his. The fascination of his lips had haunted her through the night, but that sweet memory faded as a thrill coursed through her when he gently and thoroughly kissed her. As his hands slipped down her back to draw her to him, her fingers curved along his nape to feel the coarse silk of his hair.
Ravenously he tasted her cheeks and teased her sensitive eyelids. The furtive touch sparked embers deep within her, weakening her knees. She clung to him, every brush of his body urging her closer. The pulse of his breath, rapid and warm, matched the tempo of her heartbeat. A moan oozed from her lips when his tongue touched her ear.
At the sound, he recaptured her lips. Eagerly he wooed them to soften beneath his gentle assault. His tongue delved within her mouth, stroking hers. Overmastered by the rapture consuming her with its sweet fire, she pressed to him. A gasp of unrestrainable delight burst from her when his mouth sent that flame along her neck.