He turned her around finally. Their open mouths met in a ravenous kiss. She wrapped her arms around his neck, rubbed her br**sts against his plaid. Alec tore his mouth away, then discarded his own clothing in quick time. He turned her until she was leaning against the tree, facing him, and lowered his head to the val ey between her breasts. His tongue drove her wild. His hands massaged her breasts, and then he finally moved to take one nipple into his mouth. The pressure was excruciatingly wonderful. She cried out in pleasure, clinging to his shoulders now for support. Alec gave her other breast the same blissful attention, then trailed hot kisses down her stomach.
He made her forget to breathe. He knelt down in front of her, cupped her smooth buttocks with his hands, and roughly pul ed her up against his open mouth.
She wasn't capable of thinking. His tongue stroked the passion in her, pressing, in, out, again and again, until she was whimpering for release from the sweet torture. She was begging him not to stop when he stood up to face her. Jamie tried to capture his mouth for a long, hot kiss, but he pul ed back. He suddenly grabbed hold of her hair, twisted it around his fist and jerked her forward. "Don't ever try to leave me again."
He didn't give her time to answer. His open mouth claimed hers. His tongue thrust inside. She melted against him. He lifted her high, spreading her thighs in one powerful motion. She wrapped her legs around him. "Alec," she demanded in a near shout when he hesitated.
"Promise me." His voice grated against her ear.
The agony in his voice drove through her sexual haze. "I promise," she whispered.
He groaned his approval, then thrust inside her with one forceful surge. He whispered love words against her ear as he withdrew and then drove back into her.
Jamie clung to him, chanting her own love words, and when she knew she was about to find her release, she cried out his name.
Their surrender was absolute, their passion appeased. He stayed inside her a long while. Even after his breathing had slowed and his heart had quit hammering he stil didn't move. He didn't want to lose the scent of their lovemaking, didn't want to quit holding her.
For the first time in his life, he was content. He under stood what that meant, yet instinctively rebel ed against admitting the full truth. It was too soon, he told himself. Far too soon. It would weaken him, make him vulnerable… He wasn't ready.
Jamie felt Alec tense against her. He eased her back down to the ground, then turned away from her to gather their clothes. She caught only a glimpse of his dark expression. "Alec?" she whispered. "I didn't please you just now?"
He immediately responded to the worry in her voice. "You pleased me very much, wife." His voice was rough with emotion.
Jamie didn't ask him any more questions until they were both dressed. "Why are you frowning so? If I truly made you happy—"
"I'm frowning because you told me you were feeling inferior. I never, ever want you to think such ridiculous thoughts in future, wife. Where in God's name you ever came up with such an ignorant idea—"
"You called me inferior," she reminded him, thoroughly puzzled now.
He had the audacity to look surprised. Jamie's eyes widened in reaction. "You called me insignificant, too. Don't you remember, Alec?"
He shrugged. He went to col ect their mounts, but he was smiling now instead of scowling. His gentle wife had sounded so incensed.
"You can't even keep track of your own opinions?"
"Not opinions," he called over his shoulder. "Insults, love."
"You admit insulting me then?" she shouted, chasing after him.
He let out a shout of laughter when her unladylike expletive fil ed the air.
She was more horrified by her shameful blasphemy than he was. She apologized profusely.
He laughed right in her face.
Jamie didn't know what to make of him now. She turned her back on her husband and walked over to Wildfire. Alec Kincaid was the most impossible man in the world, she decided. Didn't he realize how much she wanted to hear him say that he cared for her?
Jamie gained Wildfire's back and picked up the reins. She suddenly remembered Alec's hard demand that she never try to leave him again.
He did care. She whirled around to look at her husband, thinking to shout that very thought. His arrogant grin changed her mind. He didn't realize he cared, she guessed, and he'd probably just get angry with her if she dared instruct him in his true feelings.
Jamie let out a lusty laugh. He'd have to settle in first. Then he'd see the lightness in loving her.
She nudged Wildfire before he could question her further. Alec grabbed her reins, then shook his head.
She gave him a resigned look.
"Listen careful y, love. Up," he said, pointing behind him, "is Kincaid land. Down is England. Got that?"
She bit her lower lip so she wouldn't smile. "I've got it," she finally agreed when he continued to stare at her.
He let out a long sigh, then pul ed Wildfire along as he changed directions. "No, you haven't, love," he muttered.
Jamie did smile then. Lord, she felt good. She didn't even care if Alec lost his temper with her in future.
She certainly didn't mind his insults, guessing now it was his way of protecting his own feelings. No, she didn't mind his contrary ways at all .
The reason was simple to understand.
He'd just called her his love.
Alec was scowling when they returned to the stables. Jamie was smiling. Gavin stood next to the priest on the steps of the castle, watching the pair.
"She's giving him fits," Gavin remarked.
"I heard she threatened to put her dagger in one of the McPhersons," Father Murdock said.
"She did," Gavin answered. "She's courageous, bluffing the old laird and his men the way she did."
"Why do you think it was a bluff?"
"Well, of course, it was a bluff. She couldn't possibly know how to throw a dagger."
"You're very like your laird, Gavin, for you've taken on all his judgments. He's already drawn his own conclusions about Lady Jamie. I'd keep my mind a bit more open if I were you. If she says she could put her blade in someone, then I think I'd believe she was capable. She'd have to be protecting someone else, though. Aye, she's much more skil ed than you and Alec credit her. Mark my words, boy."
"Alec complains she's too gentle," Gavin countered.
"She's strong, too," Father Murdock answered. "She isn't going to settle in as peaceful y as Alec believes, either. The sparks are just beginning to fly."
Both Gavin and Father Murdock turned to watch Alec assist his wife to the ground. Alec held Jamie much longer than the task required, and from the way the two were staring at each other, neither the priest nor the soldier wished to interfere. The two men turned and strol ed away, both of them grinning like simpletons.
Alec knew he should get back to more important duties. Stil , he couldn't resist brushing his mouth across hers just one more time. He might have kissed her again if Donald hadn't intruded. Alec handed the soldier Wildfire's reins. Jamie bowed and started to turn away. "Where are you going now?" Alec asked, just to keep her close another minute or two.
"To change my torn gown," Jamie answered. "First I must go and fetch some candles, though."
Alec thought he might walk along with her, but Donald changed his mind. "Alec? If I might have a word with you?"
"What is it?" Alec asked. He pul ed his stal ion toward the interior of the stables.
"It's milady's mare," Donald began. "I hate to burden you with such a paltry problem, but I'm at a loss as to how to control the stubborn animal. She isn't eating. She's going to break a leg sure as certain trying to get out of her stal . She's already torn three slats apart."
"Then put her in another stal ," Alec suggested.
"I've already tried that," Donald answered.
Alec could hear Wildfire butting against the wooden slats. He led his stal ion over to the damaged stal .
Jamie's horse eased her tantrum as soon as Alec reached out to stroke her. "She's calm now," he remarked, smiling.
"'Tis because your black is near her," Donald answered. "When she can see him or smel his scent, she settles down. She's used to him. I was wondering, milord, if we might try putting the two of them together."
"He'd kil her."
"I don't think so," Donald rushed out. "And she'll take ill if she doesn't start eating."
Alec decided to test Donald's suggestion immediately. If the stal ion tried to harm Wildfire, he could intervene before real damage was caused.
As soon as the big black entered Wildfire's stal , he went to her feed box and began to eat, completely ignoring the mare. Wildfire blustered over the invasion of her territory, but the stal ion quickly established his superiority by letting out an ear-piercing snort that made Alec grin. The horse flared his nostrils, then lashed out with a solid kick to her backside. Wildfire was duly intimidated. There wasn't room enough for her to rear up. She gave it several good tries anyway. The stal ion let her have her way, and in the end, she quit her blustering and joined him at the feed box. She only tried to nudge the stal ion away from her food once.
"My stal ion is just as possessive as I am," Alec remarked.
"Milord?" Donald asked, obviously confused by that comment.
"Never mind," Alec said. He was smiling, for he was thinking of Jamie. Then he remembered Father Murdock's comment that Jamie wanted a bedroom of her own. "Like hel ," he muttered. The horse had more sense than her mistress, he decided.
Alec wasn't going to let the matter rest. He was going to have a quick talk with her. The only bed she was going to be sleeping in was his bed. He'd soften his lecture, of course, because he didn't want her to cry again. But he was going to stand firm in his decision. And that, as she liked to say, was that.
Jamie didn't have any idea of the worry she was causing her husband. She'd only just realized she'd taken the wrong direction. After having a pleasant conversation with the blacksmith, she decided to meet the occupants of the other cottages nestled together near the back wall .
"They all be at their nooning meal," the blacksmith announced.
"Could I have a look inside each hut, do you suppose, Henry?" she asked.
"Of course, mistress," the bald man agreed. "They'l be honored when I tel them you were interested enough."
Jamie took her time climbing the steep hil . She paused to pick some sweet-smel ing wildflowers growing near the wall , then continued on. She thought she heard a sound behind her and turned to greet whoever was approaching.
There wasn't anyone there, however, and she concluded the wind was playing tricks on her.
Jamie looked inside the cutter's cottage, walked on to the last hut, the tannery, and was just peeking inside when she was given a mighty shove from behind. She was so startled by the sudden attack, she fel forward to her knees. The door slammed shut on her soft gasp of disbelief.
There weren't any windows in the hut. It was as dark as night inside. She whispered an unladylike expletive as she began to feel around the earthen floor for the flowers she'd dropped.
Jamie assumed the wind had pushed the door forward and she just hadn't gotten out of the way in time.
She gave up trying to find the flowers in the dark, stood up, and brushed the dirt off her skirt.
Alec would certainly think she was as awkward as a new foal if he could see her now, she thought to herself.
She stil hadn't caught the danger. Jamie didn't begin to worry until she smel ed the smoke. She tried to get the door open. It wouldn't budge.
She did panic then. She pounded on the door with all her might, shouting for Alec. The little square hut was turning into an inferno. In less than a minute, the entire roof was in flames.
Her screams soon turned into weak coughs. A piece of timber fel next to her feet. Jamie moved away from the beam, amazed that such an easy feat could be so difficult. She stared in fascination at the long-stemmed pink rose she was holding until the heat began to curl the edges of the soft petals.
The flames were licking their way toward her. The hut became fil ed with smoke, and it was simply too difficult to stand.
Jamie col apsed to the ground, gasping for clean air. The earthen floor felt wonderful y cool against her face.
She refused to believe she was going to die. Alec would get there in time. He'd save her. He had promised to protect her.
Oh, God, please make him hurry. Don't let him be left alone again. He needs me. He stil needs to tel me he loves me, she thought.
And just where in bloody hel was he?
Jamie was suddenly furious. After he saved her, she was going to give him a good lecture on the merits of being prompt.
Lord, she was losing her mind. The burst of anger had drained the remainder of her strength. Jamie closed her eyes and began to pray.
Alec's anguished roar reached her through the haze of smoke. Jamie managed a weak smile. "Thank you," she whispered to her Maker.
Alec had just started up the hil when he heard the shouts. He'd seen the flames atop the tannery hut then.
He quit breathing and started running. By the time he caught up with Gavin, he was in a rage. He knew she was inside. He knew.
He and Gavin reached the hut at the same moment. They both saw the beam of wood propped against the door. Gavin kicked the wood out of the way just as Alec ripped the door off its hinges and threw it to the ground.
Terror gave him added strength. And when he saw Jamie, he was so consumed with fury, he nearly fel ed the wall s with his tormented bellow.
He had her in his arms and outside the hut before the wall s col apsed. Alec knelt on the ground, protecting her in his arms, afraid to breathe until he was certain she was breathing, too. Her racking coughs should have been evidence enough for him that she had survived, but his mind was stil too raw with fear to think with much logic.
It took him long minutes to regain some semblance of control. Gavin knelt next to him.
"Alec, let her have some air," he whispered, barely recognizing his own weak voice.
Jamie opened her eyes to find her husband's worried face above her. She tried to smile at him through her tears. His eyes were misty, too, she noticed when her thoughts stopped trying to skip away from her.
The smoke must have affected his vision, she decided.
She reached up to touch his forehead and only then realized she was stil clutching one of the wilted flowers. She let go of the flower and began to stroke his brow.