her. She was wide-Âeyed, her lips parted, inviting a kissâÂor a marriage proposal. He felt his stomach knot. She was waiting for him to speak, and all he had to do was say the words. She would agree. Sheâd been told she must.
He looked away instead.
âYouâd best be going back indoors, where itâs warmâÂthere will be more snow before long,â he said.
Her brow crumpled. âMy boots will be ruined! Theyâre handmade!â
âFine as they are, theyâre hardly fit for the snow or the stable,â he said as he caught her arm, guided her away from a pile of manure she was about to back into, and let go. He felt nothing when he touched herâÂno desire, no longing, and certainly not love. âPerhaps Annie could find you some sturdier footwear, and you could save those boots for England. You need a warmer cloak too.â
She ran a gloved hand over the fine blue wool of her stylish garment, lavishly embroidered around hem and hood with twining pink roses. It was more a costume than protection from any kind of weather worse than a light English mist. âDonât you like this cloak? Mama says the color matches my eyes exactly. Do you agree?â She leaned toward him, her eyes wide, her face inches from his own, and licked her lips.
Iain stared into the blue pools, and she stared back at him. She was waiting for him to kiss her. He didnât want to. He should want to. His aunt Marjorie was rightâÂPenelope would make the perfect countess. She was born to the role, and he was not. Perhaps if he did kiss her, heâd feel differently. He swallowed and began to lean in, but the door opened and a blast of cold air swept snow into the warmth of the stable. Penelope spun, and Iain stepped back.
âI hope I didnât interrupt anything,â Annie said, glancing at Penelope, who retreated to lean against the wall, her arms folded over her thin cloak, her blue eyes full of ice. Iain felt relieved by the interruption. He looked at Annie expectantly.
âI just came to tell you that the lass will do well enough, Iain. She needs rest, of course, but thereâs nothing broken. Sheâll stay here with us for a few days to mend. Will you come and carry her upstairs?â
Iain immediately dropped the brush and wiped his hands.
âWhat lass? Carry her where?â Penelope demanded.
âOch, did you not think to mention our guest, Iain?â Annie scolded him. âThe laird found a lass lost in the snow. Forced to take shelter in a humble cott for the night, they were, all alone.â
Penelopeâs face reddened dangerously, and her jaw dropped. Her eyes swung on Iain, hit him like an arrow.
âAnnie,â Iain warned.
Annie merely grinned and held out his handkerchief. âHereâs your handkerchief back.â He stuffed it into his pocket as she turned back to Penelope. âHer poor leg was all cut and bashed. Iain bandaged her up with his own linen, just hereâÂâ She indicated a place higher on her thigh than the wound had been, and he watched Penelope turn a deep shade of plum.
His cousin tossed her head. âIt was some silly child, no doubt. Is that not what a âlassâ is in Scotland?â
Annie cackled. âOch, sheâs no child. Sheâs a woman grown, and a beauty. Sheâll not be walking for a day or two, so Iain will need to carry her. Not that it will be any hardship. Sheâs as light as a snowflake by the looks of her. Is she, Iain?â
He didnât answer. Penelopeâs blue eyes boiled. Iain had no doubt she was warmer now. âCan she not walk on her own? What room is she in?â his cousin demanded.
âThe only one suitable for an earlâs sisterâÂthe green chamber,â Annie said.
Iainâs heart lurched. That was his room. Alanna would fill his bed .Â .Â . he forced himself to concentrate.
âAn earlâs sister?â he