Argyll, two weeks later
If you are willing, Ewan had said. Jennifer had decided that she most certainly was, and it had been the right decision. With every mile that passed on the long journey from Edinburgh, northwest across Scotland to Oban, her spirits rose. She knew she was still the same woman, knew that she would always be the sum total of her experience, that she could not undo what she had done, any more than she could undo what Sandy had inflicted on her. But she could put it behind her.
She imagined herself as a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, unfurling fresh, brightly coloured wings. She was ready to embrace this thrilling adventure, to enjoy whatever experiences it offered, and it was that feeling, more than anything, which made her giddy. She no longer wanted to hide, to remain invisible. This was her life now, she alone was in charge, and she was going to enjoy it.
‘Aren’t you worried that you will be recognised,’ she asked, turning to Kirstin, now dressed as her maid.
‘I’ve never been north or west of Glasgow. I know Ewan from his days at Edinburgh University, when my father was one of his tutors, but I’ve never met any of his family.’
‘You’re going to get a very different perspective of him, spending time below stairs with the other servants.’
Kirstin smiled. ‘Like you, I’m looking forward to playing the part. It will be fun. Like playing house as a wee girl.’
‘You certainly look the part, in that severe black dress.’ Jennifer smoothed the soft blue wool of her own new travelling gown. ‘I felt uncomfortable allowing Ewan to pay for my wardrobe but…’
‘…but you have nothing appropriate to wear, and he is as rich as Croesus,’ Kirstin interjected tartly. ‘He is also the most eligible bachelor in this part of the Highlands, a sophisticated man of the world who has inherited one of the oldest and most prestigious titles in Scotland. He could have his pick of the ladies of the London ton, never mind the daughters of the gentry up here. Imagine what they’d say if you turned up wearing one of those horrible dustsheets you’ve been hiding under for the last five years. And don’t tell me that you haven’t been hiding.’ Kirstin, who rarely allowed her feelings to show, blinked rapidly. ‘I cannot imagine your suffering, though I do know you’ve confided only a tiny sliver of it. I am glad that man is dead. You deserve a lot more than a few gowns. Enjoy this time, make the most of it. Who knows what the future may bring.’
Blinking back a rare sting of tears, Jennifer took her friend’s hand. ‘Thank you, you are the best and most loyal friend I could wish for. I promise you, I intend to make the absolute most of my time here at Glenkin Castle.’
The horses had slowed as they turned into the formal sweep of the driveway. Jennifer leaned out of the carriage window, eager for her first glimpse of her new temporary home, squealing with delight as it came into view. The castle was a sprawling jumble of tall buildings with steeply pitched roofs and a variety of narrow windows, the stonework painted brilliant white. There was a round tower on one corner and a huge portico which led into what must have been the original house in the centre. A long, single-storey building sat at right angles on the far side. Ewan’s ancestors obviously had a penchant for adding bits and pieces to their home on a whim, and the result was charmingly chaotic.
The horses came to a halt. The steps of the carriage were folded down and the door thrown open. Jennifer’s stomach clenched with nerves as she stepped onto the cobblestones. A groom appeared to take the carriage to the stables, and it was only as he led the horses and hired grooms away, pointing Kirstin in her role as lady’s maid in the direction of the housekeeper’s office, that she saw Ewan striding towards her, appearing unexpectedly from the side of the house.
The first thing she noticed was that he was wearing a kilt. The plaid swung out as he strode purposefully towards her, giving her a tantalising glimpse of tanned, muscled thighs. Boots and knitted stockings clad his lower legs. He sported a rough wool shirt that was open at the neck, and a leather waistcoat with silver buttons. A gentle breeze ruffled his hair, the auburn locks seeming to flicker like flames in the sunlight. His eyes were much bluer than she remembered. But his smile—now, that had the very same effect on her as before. Dear heavens, but the man was a handsome devil. Her breath caught at the sight of him in his natural habitat.
‘You came,’ he said. ‘I was worried you’d change your mind.’
‘I’m very glad I did not. You are the very embodiment of a proud Highland chieftain. Who’d have thought that a skirt on a man could be so flattering.’
Ewan took her hands in his. ‘Are you admiring my manly calf?’
‘Even if I was, I would not admit to anything so improper.’
‘I am very much of the opinion that improper thoughts between a man and a woman intending to be husband and wife are to be encouraged.’ He pulled her closer, wrapping his arm around her waist. ‘In fact I should inform you that I’m having very improper thoughts myself right now.’
‘Ewan! It is not even noon.’
‘You think such thoughts should be confined to the hours of darkness?’
Certainly any actions associated with them always had been, in Jennifer’s experience, as if they were something to be ashamed of. But there was not a trace of shame in Ewan’s eyes, only a wicked gleam, a sinful curl to his mouth that sent her pulses racing and made her blood tingle with anticipation. ‘I think that we should not be standing here in full view of everyone having a debate about the best time to be having inappropriate thoughts.’
‘You’re quite right, I have been most remiss. Apart from anything else they might form the impression that we are not delighted to see each other. And I don’t know about you, but I am extremely glad to see you.’
Jennifer’s mouth went dry. He smelt of sunshine and expensive soap. There was a sprinkling of dark auburn hair at his throat. ‘How glad?’
‘We are meant to be besotted, remember? For the sake of authenticity I think we should demonstrate to all and sundry precisely how besotted we are, don’t you?’ Ewan said, and kissed her.
It began like the gentle kiss they had shared before, but as her lips parted and her mouth shaped itself to his, this kiss changed, deepened. Jennifer felt the sharp intake of Ewan’s breath as he pulled her tighter to him, and she pressed herself unashamedly against the hard muscles of his body, wrapping her arms around his neck. Her own breath came quick and shallow as his tongue touched hers, making her belly clench in response, making her feel dizzy with anticipation. Still the kiss went on, and she lost herself in her response, relishing the effect her touch was having on him, the way his hands tightened on her, the distinct ridge of his arousal evident, even through the thick plaid. It was intoxicating, their kiss. And heady. And delightful.
When they finally parted, staring at each other, eyes dark with reflected passion, Jennifer was taken aback by her actions. Kissing in broad daylight, heedless of anyone watching—it was outrageous. And tremendously enjoyable. She smiled at Ewan.
The smile he returned looked satisfyingly dazed. ‘Welcome to Glenkin Castle. I reckon we’d best go in and introduce you as my affianced bride, before I forget that I’m not actually a savage Highlander, despite my attire, and carry you off to my mountain lair to have my wicked way with you.’
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