When Rand returns home to find a squatter in his house, he tosses her out, only to discover she has two children, one feverish and the other with a broken arm. He lets them stay the night.
“Mister, ah, sir? May I have a word?”
He jumped up at the sound, dumping Cat into the chair, and squeezed his eyes shut. Damned woman. Can’t she leave me at peace even in my own parlor?
“My name is Wheatly,” he growled. “You might have found that out before you broke into my house. What do you want? Did I fail to provide silk sheets and a down coverlet?”
She stood with her back to the stairs in the flickering candlelight. Her face turned red, and she swallowed hard. “Of course not. I came down to thank you. The willow bark seemed to help. My daughter is sleeping peacefully.”
“That makes one person in this damned house. Is that all?” he growled.
She pushed away from the door. “If you’re finished, I’ll clear up your dishes.”
“Damn it, woman. I fend for myself here.” He scrutinized her from crown to toe, taking time to examine her deep blue eyes, midnight black hair, and dusky skin. “What are you? Gypsy? Is that where you learned how to diddle a man out of his belongings?”
She drew her back up straight and squared her shoulders. The gesture pulled her dress tight across obviously ample breasts.
There’s a practiced enticement. She’s in for a surprise if she thinks that trick will work on me.
Chin high, she met his eyes without flinching. “My grandmother is Ojibwa, my father was French, and my husband was a Scot. You can despise whichever one of those your English heart chooses, or all of them, but I am not a thief.”
She grabbed her skirt and took a step toward the door. “Do fend for yourself. We’ll leave as soon as we can.”
“I’ll decide when you’re a thief,” he snarled, bringing her to a halt. “It’s my house.”
She spun on him, eyes blazing, but he spoke before she could.
“What’s your name?”
“How do you come to be on the road out here in the back country with two sick children?”
“I, ah—I came seeking my grandmother, in the direction I remembered from some time ago, but the last of her people have moved on. I can follow her above the lakes, but—”
“But not until spring. What do you plan to do in the meantime?” He didn’t like the way her bleak eyes made him feel, didn’t like that she had an exotic beauty he couldn’t ignore. He knew better than to succumb to a pretty face, better than to give in to pity where it hadn’t been earned. At least the woman doesn’t seem to harbor any illusions about staying.
“I don’t know. Find work. I can cook. I can clean. I’ll find something.”
Not bloody likely and not my problem either.
“Where is your husband, Meggy Campeau? Couldn’t he keep you satisfied?”
“Dead.” She rushed her reply.
A widow? A brief flare of interest, quickly doused, raised his body temperature. There are plenty of widows in Upper Canada—too damned many.
She waved her hands as if to wave away the question. “Last month,” she said. She appeared as skittish as a deer, immobilized but ready to bolt.
There’s more to that story. I’d stake my land on it. She showed more fear when I threatened her with the authorities than when I pointed a gun at her.