She shaded her eyes with her hands. “It’s very castley.”
“Is that a good thing?” He tried to imagine how it looked to her. How the moss-covered, weathered stone was more ethereal than puke green, crumbling rock. How the stained glass windows were not missing diamond panes in every other one. How the once grand castle, one that was rumored to have belonged to the Bruce himself, did not look like utter shite.
And he failed. Miserably. If he were Bella, he’d run off, screaming and cursing him for the deception.
“Doesn’t every girl dream of her own fairy tale castle?” was all that she replied, before the butler and two footmen came out to greet them.
It didn’t sound like it was her dream, he thought grimly. She made it sound like a nightmare.
Liam lived in a castle. A castle.
She blinked and then blinked again, her gaze bouncing everywhere—from the butlers to the turrets to the… well, everything.
“Does the rest of your family live here?” she managed to ask as their bags were carried inside by two men, wearing fancy uniforms.
Liam took her by the arm, leading her away from the entrance. “No, they live in Edinburgh as well. Let’s take a walk about the garden, shall we?”
The estate was beautiful, something out of a fairy tale, with flowering trees and gardens, but there was something unfinished about it. And the grounds were wild, unlike what she’d seen in magazines or even Daisy’s husband’s estate. Then again, Hawkfell Hall was a tourist attraction, and Sebastian was a billionaire.
Liam was not.
“Is the castle open to the public?” she asked.
His grip tightened a little on her arm. “The grounds are, but Wintersea itself is not for public consumption,” he said tightly.
“Why not? You could make money that way instead of marrying me,” she pointed out.
No, she was cold all over. “Just pointing out the obvious.”
Liam exhaled, then guided her to a set of cleverly hidden grass stairs, that once they descended made the castle look like it was built on a platform. “It’s part of the bloody will.”
“Why didn’t you say so, instead of reverting to—to slightly snobby guy?” she asked as they passed by a crumbling fountain of a baby cupid holding a watering urn.
In the small pond surrounding it, lily pads bloomed and dragonflies zoomed around. They walked alongside mazes and groves of trees. They walked and walked, until she thought they never stop, and he would never answer her. Maybe she’d been too harsh with him.
He stopped walking suddenly, and she did the same.
Turning to face her, he said, “A man has his pride, lass.”
She reached up, cupping his scruffy jaw. “That I understand much better than the haughty you.”
His eyes closed. “The haughty me, as you call it, seems to only come out when you’re around. It’s not an excuse, mind you, but—” His eyes opened, and they held a genuinely apologetic light. “I’ll work on it. You won’t regret marrying me. I’ll give you respect, friendship, amazing sex, and more children, if you like.”
But not love, she thought sadly. What more could she expect of him, of either of them? There was no use in being sad over something like love. Hadn’t she been in love with two men before Liam?
Instead, she took the gift of his peace offering and said, “I’ll give you respect, friendship, amazing sex, and more children, if you like, too.”
“Too bad the priest isn’t here,” he murmured.
Liam grabbed her shoulders and spun her around. “Because we’ve just said our vows in front of the chapel.”
Bella gasped. “It’s beautiful.” It really was. The chapel was larger than she thought it would be, and made of stone. It was surrounded by purple heather and grass so green that the color look photoshopped.
There was a tiny house off to one side, which probably used to belong to the vicar and his family. Knowing what she did about Liam, there wouldn’t be another vicar living there anytime soon.
“It was built in the sixteenth century.”
“We can really get married inside of there?”
“Yes, I had Sebastian help me with the paperwork in order for us to circumvent a few requirements,” he said.
She frowned. “You don’t sound happy about that.”
“I don’t enjoy being put ahead of the queue solely based on influence and power,” he said.
“Then why did you do it?”
“I’m desperate, Bella. Practically, the entire village is dependent upon Wintersea for income. I’ve sold off everything I can, even mortgaged the townhome in Edinburgh. Honestly, I own nothing but the clothes on my back, because I have so many to pay. That’s why the castle is falling into disrepair.”
Sensing a need to change the subject, she stepped out of his embrace and then stooped to pick a sprig of purple flowers. “Since you’re providing the location, the ginormous castle and all, let me pay for the honeymoon.” She peered up at him, holding the heather to her nose. “We are having a honeymoon?”
He helped her to her feet, the beginnings of a familiar, wicked grin curving up the corners of his sexy lips. “I believe that was covered in the vow about amazing sex.”
She lifted up on her toes slightly, to press a quick kiss on his cheek. “Where would you like to go?”
His arms came around her then, and pulled her close. “Anywhere my duchess desires.”
When he talked like that, his Scottish accent all burry and low, she could believe that he wanted more from her than what he promised. If only he could always talk to her like this, like she meant something to him.
But maybe he didn’t know how to do that anymore. Maybe when his fiancée left him, she took his heart with her. Maybe—
His lips met her hers in the sweetest of kisses.
The wind blew lightly, carrying with it the fragrant smell of flowers and trees. The sun shone on them, so brightly that she could feel the heat through the layers of her clothes.
Her fingers curled into the light material of his shirt. He deepened their kiss, exploring and discovering her in ways she didn’t know were possible. He cupped the back of her head, as if to hold her in place.
Like she was going anywhere.
Not in this moment. Not when he kissed her like this. Not when heat traveled and lit up every inch of her body. Not when the hard planes of his body made her feel so safe. Wait, she didn’t feel safe. She felt reckless. Wild.