“How long do you think it will be before Robert has things fixed up enough for you to be able to join him?” Simon asked her innocently as they finished their meal and sat back against the soft cushions of the couch.
“I’m not sure how long it will take,” she answered, tilting her head in thought. “I’m hopeful that he will have one of the tenant homes repaired soon so that I can return to Clairemont’s Keep within a month. I don’t want to be apart from him during the holidays.”
“Of course, you wouldn’t!” Simon agreed, leveling his eyes on her slim figure as he folded his arms across his chest. “It’s always best to be with your loved ones, especially at such times as Christmas and Hogmanay.”
“I hope that he will send for me before St. Andrew’s Day,” she sighed and then sat forward towards him. “I’m sorry that you won’t be able to be home with your loved ones this year, Stephen,” she said, glancing down at the table between them and then back up into his aquiline features questioningly, “Perhaps ‘tis none of my affair, and you don’t have to answer if you don’t wish to but . . . well . . . do you have a special someone waiting for you?”
“I must admit that I have never been fortunate enough to find someone to love, and as for my family, well, there was just Simon,” he said and then had to pause when Leigha flinched at his name. Shrugging off the discomfort her reaction caused him, he went on, “So there is really no one waiting for me in England. There’s my estate of course and some friends, but no one to make the holidays special for me.”
Lowering his eyes and peering at Leigha through his thick lashes, he let his sadness affect and take hold of her. Using any tactics to get to her heart was fair in his mind.
“I am so sorry, Stephen, it must make you very lonely,” she said compassionately, having fallen for his trick. Squinting and drawing her fair brows together in thought for a moment, she then brightened and, smiling at him, said, “You will be with us at Clairemont’s Keep through the holidays at least! I promise that we will try to make the festivities extra special for you!”
“You are a very sweet and good woman, Leigha,” he spoke softly, surprised at how her words warmed him. Reaching over to take her hand in his gentle hold, his eyes captured hers as he said, “It is so kind of you to open your home and your heart to me.”
“I haven’t a home there yet until Robert has something suitably repaired,” her voice came softly as she blushed from the pressure of his touch. “But I’m sure that he will have something ready at least by Christmas, and you are welcome to spend the holidays with us.”
“Thank you, Leigha,” he said and then got up, drawing her from the couch to stand facing him, his hand still clinging warmly to hers, his voice pitched low and throbbing close to her ear. “I’m glad to have found such good friends.”
Leigha’s heart beat wildly within her breast, her breathing coming rapidly as she half expected him to kiss her. He inclined his face closer to hers and sent her mind scrambling in sudden panic as his warm breath mingled with her own.
“Shall we return to our game?” he whispered and gave her a broad wink. Drawing away from her, he turned and laughed softly. “I believe you thought you were about to checkmate me!”
Leigha relaxed and shook her head at the silly fantasy she had and followed him, unaware of how well he was casting a spell of titillation and intrigue about her. His every thought and action had purpose to which end could only mean disaster for her. The man was bent on vengeance. His desire to see her writhe before him, maddening him, yet he maintained patient control, building his foundation until the time would be ripe to expose his plot and reveal his real identity to her. He had to gain her complete trust and friendship first by pretending to be a gentle fop. Now with Robert gone and his exaggerated injury to keep him close by Leigha, he had the perfect opportunity to do so. Simon smiled to himself, secure in his thoughts of success as he walked with her to the gaming table to continue their game. His mind was like a steel trap, his plan knitting her closer in his web as they played. Though he allowed her to win a few of the games that afternoon, he would not let her win the master game that had brought him to Dagonmoor as soon as he had recovered enough from his head injury to follow her.
“What luck it was to find Gordon in Glasgow,” he thought to himself as he watched Leigha studying the board, planning her next move. “It was simple to befriend that great ox and get him to invite me to come here with him. What easy prey these people are.” He smiled to himself at the thought of how trusting everyone at Dagonmoor was. It had been easy to fool them all. “Soon, little one, soon you will be mine!” he thought, relishing the sight of her creamy bosom as it swelled against her bodice when she bent forward to move her rook, his thighs aching with the need to possess her. His cold heart warmed towards her against his will as the hours passed, and he rediscovered that she possessed more than just physical beauty.