What a trusting nature she had. He knew she'd awakened, yet she didn't open her eyes. When he lifted her up against his bare chest, she put her arms around his neck, nuzzled up against him, and let out a soft sigh.

He carried her back to their camp, wrapped his plaid around both of them, and stretched out on the ground. Jamie was completely covered from the brisk mountain air, covered from head to toe by the blanket and her husband.

Her mouth was just a few inches away from his own.

"Alec?" she asked, her voice a sleepy whisper.

"Yes?"

"Are you angry with me?"

"No."

"You're certain?"

She wished she could see his face. His hold was like iron, though, and she could barely move at all .

"I'm certain."

"I'm so tired tonight. It was a hard day's ride, wasn't it?"

He hadn't thought so, but he decided to agree anyway. "Aye, it was."

"Alec? I'd like to ask you something." Jamie scooted upward, then let out a loud groan when his hands moved to her backside and he forced her against him. His thighs were harder than the ground.

He knew she didn't have any idea what her little motions were doing to him. Alec closed his eyes in reaction. She was too tired and obviously too sore to be attacked by her husband. He would have to wait, he told himself. It was the only decent thing to do.

It was going to be his most difficult chal enge.

"Alec, please move your hands. You're hurting me."

"Go to sleep, wife. You need your rest." His voice sounded ragged.

She arched against him. Alec gritted his teeth.

"My backside is sore."

He could hear the blush in her soft confession. Her gasp wasn't soft, though; it was loud and full of outrage when he began to rub the stiffness out of her muscles. He ignored both her struggles and her groans.

"Your education has been sorely neglected," Alec told her. " 'Tis the truth you're the most unskil ed woman I've ever known. What think you of that, wife?"

"I think you believe I'm about to cry, husband," Jamie answered. "I know my voice trembled when I told you I was sore. And you're a man who hates a weeping woman, aren't you? Oh, don't be denying it, husband. I saw the way you watched my sisters when they were carrying on so. You looked most ill at ease."

"Yes, it's true," Alec admitted.

"And so, to prevent my weeping all over you, you insult me to prick my temper. You've guessed I have a temper and you'd rather have me shouting at you than crying."

"You're learning my ways, Jamie."

"I told you I would," Jamie boasted. "But you've stil to learn mine."

"I have no need to—"

"Oh, yes, you do," she argued. "You confuse inexperienced with unskil ed, Alec. What if I told you I could shoot an arrow better than any of your warriors? Or that I could probably outride them—bareback, of course. Or that I could—"

"I'd say you were jesting with me. You can barely hold on to the saddle, wife."

"You've already made up your mind about me, then?"

He ignored that question and asked one of his own. "What is it you wanted to ask me? Something has you worried, doesn't it?"

"I'm not worrying."

"Tel me."

He wasn't going to let her change her mind. "I merely wondered if you were going to give me similar instructions when we reach your holding and your men."

"What instructions?" he interrupted. He didn't have any idea what she was talking about.

"I know you're ashamed of me, Alec, but I don't think I shal be able to keep silent all the time. I'm used to speaking quite freely, and I really don't—"

"You think I'm ashamed of you?"

He actually sounded surprised. Jamie turned in his arms. She pushed the blanket aside and looked into his face. Even in the moonlight, she could see his astonishment.

She wasn't believing it for a minute. "You needn't pretend ignorance with me, Alec Kincaid. I know the truth. A woman would have to be daft not to know why you wouldn't let me speak to your all ies. You think I'm ugly. And English."

"You are English," he reminded her.

"And pleased that I am, husband. Do you know how shal ow a man is to judge a woman solely by her appearance?"

His laughter stopped her lecture. "Your rudeness is worse than my appearance," she muttered.

"And you, wife, are the most opinionated woman I've ever encountered."

"'Tis nothing compared to your sins," Jamie answered. "You're as riddled as an old shield."

"You aren't ugly."

Alec could tel by the way she continued to frown up at him that she didn't believe him. "When did you come to this conclusion?"

"I've already explained," Jamie answered. " 'Twas when you wouldn't let me take my gaze off you, when you didn't introduce me to your friends, when you wouldn't let me speak a thought of my own. That's when I came to my conclusion. Make no mistake, Alec," she rushed on when he seemed about to laugh again, "I don't care if you think I'm pretty or not."

He captured her chin and held it steady. "If you'd stared at one man longer than another, by chance or want, he would have concluded you were fair for the taking. The Kerrys can't be trusted, at least not by my measure. They would have chal enged me for you. 'Tis simple enough to understand, even for you, English. Some would perhaps have thought your violet eyes were magical; others might have wanted to touch your hair to see if it felt as silky as it looks. all certainly would have wanted to touch you."

"They would?"

Her eyes had widened in amazement during his explanation. Alec realized she had absolutely no understanding of her own appeal.

"I think you exaggerate, Alec. Those men wouldn't have wanted to touch me."

She was pleading for a compliment. He decided to give it to her. "They would. I didn't want to chance a fight because I know how the sight of blood distresses you."

Jamie was stunned by his casual y spoken explanation. Had he just complimented her? Were her eyes magical to him?

"What has you frowning now?"

"I was wondering if you… that is…" She let out a sigh, nudged his hand away from her chin, and rested her face against his warm shoulder again.

"Then you don't think I'm ugly."

"I don't."

"I never thought you did," she admitted, a smile in her voice. " 'Tis good to know you don't find me unappealing."

"I didn't say that."

Jamie decided he was jesting with her again. "I never said you weren't ugly," she said. "Perhaps I think you are."

He laughed again, a rich, full sound that made her smile all the more. Was it possible she was actually beginning to get used to him?

Alec brushed her hair away from her forehead. "Your face was burned by the sun today. Your nose is as red as fire. I don't find you at all appealing."

"You don't?" She looked startled.

Alec let her see his exasperation. "I was jesting."

"I knew you were," she said, smiling again.

She yawned, reminding him of how exhausted she was.

"Go to sleep, Jamie."

The tender way he was stroking her back took the bark out of his command. When he started to rub the stiffness out of her shoulders, she closed her eyes and let out a loud, lusty sigh. The palm of her hand rested on his chest. She could feel his heart beating under her fingertips. Almost absentmindedly, she began to stroke a circle around the nipple hidden beneath his chest hair. She liked the feel of him. His wonderful scent reminded her of the outdoors. It was so clean, so earthy.

Alec suddenly grabbed hold of her hand and flattened it against his chest. She guessed he was ticklish.

He guessed she was trying to drive him out of his mind. "Stop that," he ordered, his voice as gritty as sand.

Jamie didn't remember fal ing asleep, but she remembered waking up, all right. She was having the most delicious dream. She was sleeping on a bed of wildflowers, completely unclothed. She was letting the sun warm her skin into a fever. The erotic heat made her forget to breathe. That familiar pressure was beginning to build up inside her, and that excruciating ache between her thighs was demanding to be appeased.

Her moan of desire woke her up. It hadn't been a dream at all . Her mind had been playing tricks on her.

Alec was the sun, fueling the fever in her blood. She wasn't surrounded by wildflowers, either; she was stretched out on Alec's soft plaid. She had lost her chemise, though. She wondered how that could have happened, then put the negligent worry aside. Alec kept insisting on her attention. He was nuzzling the side of her neck. He rested between her parted thighs.

He was making love to her. Her sleepy confusion suddenly vanished. She was wide awake now. She couldn't see him, the darkness was too heavy, but his ragged breathing, added to the sweet music of the insistent wind, pushed most of her resistance away. She didn't want it to hurt again, thought to tel him just that, but his mouth moved to her breast just as his hand slid into the soft curls between her thighs. She didn't care then if it hurt or not.

His fingers were magical. He knew just where to touch her to make her wild, wet. She tensed against him when his fingers pushed aside the soft, slick folds and moved up inside her. The blissful agony made her cry out for release.

She pul ed on his hair to get him to stop. Her mind was quickly changed when his thumb began to stroke the sensitive nub and his fingers thrust back inside her.

Her nails sank into his shoulders again. He grunted in reaction. Jamie was desperate to touch him, to give him the kind of pleasure he was giving her. She tried to move away, but Alec wouldn't let her.

They kissed, a hot, open-mouthed, ravenous kiss. He gave her his tongue. She sucked on it.

"You're so wet," he told her.

"I can't help it," she whispered on a half-groan.

His hands spread her thighs wide, and he slowly began to penetrate her. "I don't want you to help it."

"You don't?" she asked, trying to pul him inside her. He was making her daft, easing so slowly inside.

She knew she was going to die, but she wanted him fil ing her, burning her, first.

"It means you're hot for me," he murmured. "Don't move like that. Let me…"

"This isn't the time for jests, Alec!"

He would have laughed if he'd had the strength. "I'm trying to be gentle," he told her. "But you're so tight, I…"

She arched against him. Alec forgot all about being gentle then. He pul ed her legs high about his waist, twisted her hair around his hands to keep her from moving away from him, and drove inside her with one powerful surge.

He was so out of control he didn't know if he was hurting her or not. He couldn't stop. His mouth trapped any protests she might have tried to make, and when he knew he couldn't hold back any longer, when he felt his seed about to pour into her, he reached down between their bodies and stroked her into joining him.

Her legs were surprisingly strong. She squeezed him between her thighs, inside, forcing his immediate release.

He col apsed on top of her. It took him long minutes before he could regain enough strength to look at her. His first thought, when he could catch hold of one, was that he'd misused her. "Jamie? Did I hurt you? Was I too rough with you?" he whispered.

She didn't answer. Alec leaned up on his elbows to look down on her, his worry obvious in his gaze.

She was sound asleep. Alec didn't know what to make of that. He realized his fingers were tangled in her hair, and slowly, with patience he found surprising, he separated the curls. He took his time smoothing her hair away from her cheeks.

He knew he'd satisfied her. Lady Kincaid was in deep slumber, aye, but she'd fal en asleep with a smile on her face.

The next day proved to be the most difficult for Jamie. It was such beautiful, untamed land they journeyed over, with lochs the wind nudged ripples into, and open moorland expanses covered with grass the color of bright emeralds. There were stark ridges, too. Some of the hil y terrain was thick with green foliage called wild leek, which gave off a most peculiar stench when trodden upon. The grandeur of the Highlands made Jamie think she was slowly climbing up to heaven.

By noon the scenery had lost its appeal. There was a noticeable bite in the air that gained in intensity with each passing hour. Jamie hugged her winter cloak. She was so sleepy she almost fel off her mount. Alec was suddenly by her side. He lifted her onto his stal ion. Jamie didn't resist, even when he jerked her cloak away and tossed it to the ground. He wrapped his heavy plaid around her and held her against him.

She let out a loud yawn, then asked, "Why did you throw my cape away, Alec?"

"You'l wear my colors to keep warm, Jamie."

He couldn't resist brushing his mouth against the top of her head. He was beginning to think his wife was the most amazing creature. She could fall asleep within the blink of an eye.

He liked the feel of her against him, her womanly scent as well , and in the back of his mind was the realization that she trusted him completely. He liked that most of all .

He hadn't mentioned last night's passionate lovemaking to her. Her blush in the morning light had told him she didn't want him to bring that topic up.

Her shyness amused him.

His wife wasn't very strong, though. She didn't know her own body's limitations, either. Alec had recognized her exhaustion immediately. For that reason, he'd set a much slower pace.

She was sleeping soundly; he had to nudge her awake several times before getting any kind of response.

"Jamie, wake up. We're home," he repeated for the third time. "We're home?" she asked, sounding confused. Alec patiently dodged her elbows while she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "Do you always have such trouble waking after a nap?" he asked.

"I don't know," Jamie answered. "I've never taken a nap before."

She missed his frown when she turned to look around. "The only thing I'm seeing are trees, Alec. Did you wake me just to jest with me?"

In answer, Alec tilted her chin and pointed. "There, wife. Above the next ridge. You can see the smoke from my hearth."

She did see the stream of smoke curling up into the clouds, and a glimpse of his tower when he nudged his mount farther up the steep slope.




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