Authors: Sabrina York
It was probably too early for a lecture at this juncture, but there would be one. If she was to take over the management of the castle, she would not have her people barked at.
Andrew offered a too-charming grin. “Shall I leave it to Fergus to show you your rooms while I get your men settled?” he asked.
“That would be lovely.” She and Lana were both exhausted from the long journey. “And can you see my horse stabled?” she asked. Beelzebub had been restless on the journey, likely annoyed to be tied to the back of the carriage when she was not riding on him. “He prefers oats to hay andÂ â¦ you should probably not stable him near the mares.”
Andrew's eyes widened; they sparkled as well. “An irresponsible boy?”
“He does tend to knock down walls to get what he wants. And you might want to let Rory handle him.” She ignored Rory's sigh. “He does like to nip strangers.”
“He likes to nip everyone,” Rory muttered. But when Hannah glanced at him he tugged his forelock and cautiously approached Beelzebub's tether.
Andrew bowed to them both with a chuckle and turned to greet the men who had accompanied them while Fergus led Hannah and Lanaâholding Neridâinto the castle.
Hannah tried to take in every detail, but it was almost too much to process. The intricately carved front doors opened on to an expansive hall with gleaming wood floors and a grand curving staircase. Hannah's breath caught at the sheer splendor of it all.
Had she worried that Dunnet was marrying her for her money? For her paltry castle? For the Reay salt mines?
What a fool.
Which begged the questionÂ â¦ why was he marrying her? A woman he couldn't bestir himself to greet as she arrived at his home for the first time? Sadly, she knew the answer. For some men, there were not enough riches in the world. She attempted to swallow her disappointment. She had hoped for more from him.
Fergus didn't allow her and Lana time to gape at the hall. He whisked them up the staircase and down a hall, to the left into another wing, and up another flight of stairs. She was beginning to despair she would never find their way back when he stopped before a set of double doors. “These,” he pronounced, “are your chambers. His Lordship had them redecorated just for you.” With a great flourish, he flung open the doors.
Hannah stood on the threshold and stared.
It was a spacious room with north-facing windows and a huge four-poster bed. An arrangement of comfortable chairs arched around the hearth, in which crackled a cheery fire. To the left, another door opened to a parlor.
She should have been pleased. She reminded herself of her earlier resolution to attempt to be so.
But delight was beyond her.
The bedroom wasÂ â¦ hideous.
Oh, it had been redecoratedâthe carpets and the furniture all had a newish scentâbut the color scheme was atrocious. In point of fact, it was brown. It was all brown. Everything from the wall hangings to the coverlet on the bed to the carpets. Brown.
And not just any brown. It was the color of a turd.
The room was, at best, depressing. And at worstÂ â¦ turdy. It would be like sleeping in a barnyard. Or a privy.
She shot a look at Fergus. “He had these rooms redecorated?”
“Aye, my lady.”
“Aye, my lady.” He seemed so proud Hannah didn't have the heart to tell him she thought the rooms were ghastly. But they were. Perhaps, at some point in the future, she could arrange for a fire.
She forced a smile and murmured, “Delightful.”
The lie was worth the effort. For the first time, his harsh demeanor faltered and his expression softened. His ears went pink and he bowed effusively. “Excellent, my lady. Excellent. The footmen will bring up your trunks shortly.” He waved at a girl, standing in the corner with her hands folded; so beset had Hannah been with the horror of her new rooms, she hadn't even noticed her. “This is Senga. Your lady's maid.” Disquiet flickered over his features. “Unless you would like to choose someone else?”
The girl winced, but only slightly, and sent Hannah a hopeful glance.
Hannah had no need for a maid, but she couldn't bear to crush that fragile hope. “Senga.” She nodded. “It is so wonderful to meet you.”
The poor girl nearly collapsed with relief.
“Senga will fetch you a trayâ¦” Fergus paused, his face puddling. “Unless, of course, you doona want a tray?”
Hannah had the sudden inkling the man's previous harshness had probably stemmed from nerves. At least, she hoped this was the case. She tried not to sigh. “A tray would be verra nice.” Though how she could eat, staring at these walls, she didn't know.
The girl curtseyed several times and bowed her way from the room, as though Hannah were the Queen of Sheba. How very tiring. Granted, she would be the new baroness, but she wasn't used to such deference from her staff. And she didn't care for it.
“I think we would like to rest and get acclimated now, Fergus.” If nothing else, she needed a moment, or six, to get used to the disagreeable colors of her room. Doubtless, she wouldn't be spending much time here.
“Of course, my lady. Your sister's rooms are across the hall. His Lordship thought you might like to be close.”
Well, that, at least, was thoughtful.
“Thank you, Fergus.” Hannah tried not to herd him from the room, but a sudden exhaustion had descended upon her. She wanted nothing more than to wipe the insipid smile from her face and collapse.
But at the door, he stopped so abruptly she bumped into him.
“My lady. I almost forgot.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a letter, stamped with the seal of the Dunnet Wolf, and handed it to her. “From His Lordship.”
Hannah took the letter with numb fingers. She exchanged a glance with Lana, who shrugged.
Hannah's mind reeled. Not only had he not bestirred himself to greet herâsleeping through her arrivalâhe'd also sent a letter.
A part of her wanted to rip it open and read it immediately. Another part of her wanted to rip it to shreds and toss it into the fire. She nodded at Fergus and closed the door on him, though he seemed loath to leave. Then she dropped into a chair and glared at the offending parchment. “Can you believe this?” she said to Lana, who sat across from her and settled Nerid in her lap. The cat leaped down and started exploring the room. No doubt, looking for a good spot to contribute to the brown.
“It's a verra nice room,” Lana murmured. “Much larger than your rooms at home.”
“That's not what I mean, and you know it. The colorâ”
She couldn't even say it.
Lana nibbled on her lower lip as she surveyed the drapes. “It's quite brown.”
“But it allÂ â¦ matches.”
Repulsively and revoltingly, but aye, it did. It was like an endless sea of bilious brown.
“He redecorated just for you.”
Lana glanced at the letter and Hannah realized she was mangling it. She made a great show of flattening it on the table.
“Are you going to read it?”
“It was verra thoughtful of him to write you a letter, do you no' think?”
No. She didn't think. “I would much rather have a conversation with him.”
Hannah's belly roiled at his sheer arrogance. There might have been a trickle of excitement as well, but she resolved to ignore that and focus on her irritation. Sleeping in the middle of the day. When his
arrived. How like a man.
She set her teeth and ripped open the letter. It was short and to the point. She wasn't surprised.
Welcome to Dunnet. I sincerely hope you will be happy here. If there is anything you require, please
hesitate to speak to Fergus. He will happily see to your every need.
Anything she required?
She required a conversation. With
Just one, she hoped, before they became man and wife. Was that too much to ask?
“What does it say?” Lana asked, and Hannah handed her the parchment. She read it over and sighed. “That is sweet.”
It was probably irrational of her to be aggravated. Then again, maybe not.
He was to be her husband. Was it too much to ask that he speak to her in person?
Lana yawned hugely, though she tried to hide it.
“Darling, it's been a long day for both of us. Why do we no' find your chambers so you can settle in as well?”
After a thorough and unproductive search for Nerid, they made their way to the rooms across the hall. Hannah tried very hard not to be piqued that Lana's bedroom was decorated in a delightful crÃ¨me with an eyelet comforter and lacy curtains. Hannah would have liked, very much, to stay here, but Lana shooed her out, insisting she needed to rest as well.
However, she found, when she was back in her execrable chambers, she couldn't sleep. And it wasn't just the color that battered her vision whenever she opened her eyes.
She was a bundle of nerves, beset with worries.
Would they suit?
What would her role be here in his bustling barony?
And, most important,
had he offered for her?
To calm herself, she explored her rooms, which consisted of her bedchamber, a privy, and the parlor. There was another door to the far side of the parlor. Without a thought she pushed it open. And froze.
She should have suspected it.
A flash of annoyance curled through her at the realization that his chamber was done in an enchanting heather green, a hue she found quite pleasing, but her exasperation didn't last long. It was quickly supplanted by a sizzle of illicit excitement at the sight of
For there he was, sprawled out on his bed, a panoply of hard muscleânaked. She swallowed as she stared at him, taking in the glorious vision of his thick thighs, sprinkled as they were with dark hairs, his chest, which was broad and hard and spattered with a dark mat as well. One arm draped over his eyes, and even in his slumber the muscles of his arm bunched. Thank heaven the sheets covered his groin, or she might well have fainted.
And then she nearly did.
Because even as his snore rumbled through the room, so too did a deep-throated growl.
Slowly, and with menace, a creature arose from the bed, an enormous ferocious furry beast, a wolf surely. His gleaming eyes narrowed and the hackles on his neck rose. With teeth bared, he stepped toward her.
And then he sprang.
Alexander shot up in bed, awakened by a snarl, a squeal, and the slamming of a door. He hadn't thought he would sleep at all, but he must have. After settling the issue in Lythâwhich had taken far longer than he'd wantedâhe'd ridden straight home and worked through the night, finalizing details for the wedding and making arrangements for a company of his men to leave at once for Reay to provide the protection his contract with Hannah required.
After that, and catching up with the work that awaited him upon his return from Lyth, he should have fallen straight to sleep, but he hadn't. Instead he'd lain awake with BrÃ¹id by his side, thinking of her.
As a result, he hadn't slept well and now, when he awoke, he was groggy. So it took him a while to realize what had roused him from a dead sleep. Someone had entered his chambers. BrÃ¹id was poised by the door to the parlor, his hackles up, growling low in his throat.
Alexander frowned. BrÃ¹id rarely growled, unless he wanted foodÂ â¦ or there was some threat. He levered off the bed and padded to the door, pulling the dog back so he could open it and see what was on the other side.
He didn't expect the hound to rip free and tear into the parlor. He certainly didn't expect to see Hannah standing there in the middle of the room. His pulse lurched at the sight of her. A wash of excitement spiraled through him. She was here? Already? How long had he slept?
But there she stood, her hair like an ebony curtain curling around her delicate face, her hands clasped before her, her eyes wideÂ â¦ with fear. Her lips parted and another squeal wrenched forth as BrÃ¹id bounded across the room toward her, his teeth bared.
“BrÃ¹id, heel!” Alexander bellowed, but his usually obedient dog ignored him. His heart lodged in his throat as the hound charged the woman who would be Alexander's wife. Time slowed down. Panic traced a cold finger along his spine. His gut tightened into a hard knot.
Would he lose her before he'd had her?
And to the jaws of his beloved BrÃ¹id?
But BrÃ¹id did not attack her.
He knocked her down, though, and then barreled past her and through the door into her bedchamber.
Alexander's relief was brief. Because then rose the symphony from hell. Thuds and crashes. A hideous screeching yowl. Wolfish snarls and a low, rumbling growl that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
Hannah glared at him and bounded to her feet, running into the bedchamber. Alexander, perforce, followed.
He stopped stock-still at the sight of his dogâhis painstakingly trained and disciplined wolfhoundâdancing like a pup before the hearth, tail whirling like a windmill, as he barked and bayed at the ball of hissing fur perched on the mantel.
The urge to laugh bubbled up within Alexander. He wasn't a man who laughed with much regularity, but thisÂ â¦ this was funny.
Then he caught Hannah's eye and flinched.
All right. Not so very funny.
“Call him off,” she howled over the ruckus. “He's scaring Nerid.”
“BrÃ¹id. Heel.” Alexander's dog had been trained almost from birth. He had always responded to commands with a satisfying immediacy. However, in this instance he ignored his master utterly, in favor of the delights of treeing a cat. Or manteling a cat. Whatever one called it.