a trembling awareness of him in every pore of her body. But she would not do this. She did not want a man in her life. Neither Roddington, nor Glenloch, nor anyone else who would use her and control her with little thought for her own well-being.
Hugh scrubbed one hand across his face. He had not intended for things to progress so far. He’d only planned to soften her to the point of admitting her true business at Castle Glenloch. And if she was innocent of interfering with his smuggling operation, there would be no harm in making a lady’s maid receptive to his advances.But he’d lost control. And ended up walking out of her chamber sporting the most painful cockstand he could recall.
He dealt with it alone in a spectacularly unsatisfactory manner, then turned his attention to what he’d intended to do much earlier, when he’d first encountered the distracting, and oh so tempting, Bridget MacLaren. He returned to the secret door in the drawing room, determined to remove Bridget MacLaren from his thoughts, to eradicate her sweet taste from his lips and the weight of her breasts from his hands.
He muttered a low curse and worked the latch, then entered the passage leading to the stairs. Proceeding quickly down the steps, he arrived at the stone landing and checked the metal grate through which the brandy tubs were passed. ’Twas no doubt the way Bridget had entered. It was tight in the window frame, but the simple metal grille was not much of a barrier to the elements. She had not lied about the weather. It was hideous. Clearly, she had needed to find shelter somewhere, but it made no sense for her to be out walking alone, dressed as she was. She was entirely too intriguing.
Holding his lamp high, Hugh looked down at the stone floor. Wet tracks had pooled near the grate, but the footsteps proceeded directly to the stairs. It looked as though she had not attempted to find his secret cache.
Which meant naught. Perhaps she did not realize this was the place where the brandy was stored.
Castle Glenloch was the perfect place from which to run a smuggling operation. Riddled with secret doors and ancient passages, the towers looked as though theymight collapse under a good wind, deterring any customs officer from investigating. And rumors of the Glenloch Ghost kept away the curious.
Hugh turned to the far wall and ran his hands along the uneven stones, searching for the catch that would release the hidden door. He rarely had any need to open this door, so it took some time to find it. But finally, his fingers located the small latch, hidden in a hollowed-out stone just above his head. It was a lever recessed into the stone wall, attached to a strong spring. When he pulled it up, the catch released and the door fell ajar. He pulled it all the way out, then entered the room. Tubs and ankers of brandy were stacked high against the walls with just a narrow aisle between them to walk through.
It was quite cold inside. Hugh cupped his hands at his mouth and blew into them as he counted each container, then left the secret room. Satisfied that he had the information he needed to start his investigation, he had nothing more to do down there. The next step would be to talk to MacGowan.
Hugh climbed the steps and exited the cold buttery, returning to the warmth of the drawing room. He tended the fire and poured himself a glass of his fine brandy, keeping his back to the prominent portrait of his father. Paintings of Jasper Christie were scattered throughout the castle, and Hugh generally avoided the rooms in which the old earl’s dissipated visage looked down upon him from on high. Just as he’d done in life.
“Here’s to you, old sod,” Hugh said, raising his glass and tilting it irreverently in the direction of the portraitbehind him. “No doubt you’re enjoying this. Your incompetent son has failed once again, and allowed himself to be cheated, dolt that he is.”
Hugh took a seat in the chair nearest the fire and