He looked surprised enough to satisfy her. "I seem to remember your threat to hit me for just the opposite reason, Madelyne."
She didn't have the faintest idea what he was talking about. Nor did she particularly care, for her mind was filled with far more important matters. Madelyne pulled away from Edmond, muttering to herself that she hoped he'd choke on his dinner, and then he walked out of the room.
Gilard tried to go after Madelyne but Edmond grabbed him. "She's your brother's wife now, Gilard. Honor that bond." Edmond kept his voice low so Duncan wouldn't overhear. The eldest brother had turned his back on them and was staring at the fire again.
"I would have made her happy, Edmond. Madelyne has had so much pain in her life. She deserves to be content."
"Are you blind, brother? Haven't you seen the way Madelyne looks at Duncan and the way he stares at her? They care for each other."
"You're mistaken," Gilard answered. "Madelyne hates Duncan."
"Madelyne doesn't hate anyone. She isn't capable of it." Edmond smiled at his brother. "You just don't want to admit the truth. Why do you think I've been so angry with Madelyne? Hell, I could see the attraction from the beginning. Why, Duncan never left her side when she was so ill."
"That was only because he felt responsible for her," Gilard argued.
The youngest brother was trying desperately to hold on to his anger, yet Edmond's argument was staring to sound reasonable.
"Duncan married Madelyne because he wanted to. You know, Gilard, it's quite remarkable that our brother married because of love. In these times, that is a rarity. He'll not gain any lands, only the king's displeasure."
"He doesn't love her," Gilard muttered.
"Aye, he does," Edmond contradicted his brother. "He just doesn't know it yet."
Duncan's mind wasn't on his brothers. He ignored them as he reviewed his plans for tomorrow. The messenger had hinted they'd attack with first light if Madelyne wasn't given to them. Duncan knew it was a bluff. He was almost disappointed. Aye, he was aching for another battle with anyone pledged to Louddon. However, the paltry assembly freezing their backsides outside his walls wouldn't be foolish enough to challenge their leader's petition. They knew they were outnumbered, outskilled. Louddon had probably sent them so that he could stand before his king and show he'd tried to regain his sister back without involving his leader.
Satisfied with his conclusions, Duncan put the matter aside and turned his thoughts to his new life. How long would it take her to accept him as husband? It didn't make the least difference to him how long it took, he told himself, but the sooner she came to terms with her new life, the better for her own peace of mind.
He felt honor bound to keep her safe. She'd given him her courage and her trust. He couldn't turn his back on her. Aye, it was a sense of duty that propelled him into this hasty decision. Sending her back to Louddon would be like sending a child into a cage to fight a lion.
"Hell," he muttered to himself. He'd known from the beginning, when he first touched her, that he'd never let her go. "She is making me daft," he said, uncaring who overheard.
She did please him. He hadn't realized just how rigid his life had been, until Madelyne began to interfere. She could get reactions from him with just an innocent look. When he wasn't thinking about strangling her, he was obsessed with kissing her. It didn't matter that Louddon was her brother. Madelyne didn't have his black soul; she was gifted with a pure heart and a capacity for love that rocked all of Duncan's cynical beliefs.
Duncan smiled. He wondered what state he'd find Madelyne in when he went upstairs. Would she be terrified or would she give him one of her practiced serene expressions again? Would his new wife be a kitten or a tigress?
He left the hall and went in search of Anthony. After listening to his vassal's congratulations on his marriage, he gave Anthony additional instructions for the night's watch. The nightly ritual of swimming in his lake came next. Duncan took his time, giving Madelyne a bit longer to prepare herself for him. It had been over an hour since Madelyne had stormed out of the hall.
Duncan decided that was time enough. He took the steps two at a time. It wasn't going to be easy to convince Madelyne that he meant to bed her. He wouldn't use force, however, no matter how she tried his patience. It would take time, but she would willingly give herself to him.
His vow to keep his temper under control was strained somewhat when he reached his room and found it empty. Duncan sighed in exasperation and immediately went up to the tower.
Did she actually think she could hide from him? He found that thought amusing and smiled. His smile faded, however, when he tried to open the door and realized it was barred against him.
Madelyne was still a little worried. She'd returned to her room in a nearly hysterical state and then had been forced to wait until her tub was filled with water. Maude had already begun the nightly task. Madelyne tried to be appreciative, but the servant and the two men carrying the buckets of steaming water did take the longest time, until
Madelyne was sick with fear that Duncan would find her before she could lock him out.
The slat of wood was right where she'd hidden it, tucked underneath the bed. Once she slid the heavy panel through the metal loops, she let out a loud sigh of relief.
The muscles in Madelyne's shoulders throbbed. She was tense and out of sorts, and no matter how she tried, she couldn't seem to reason anything through. Had Duncan married her just to infuriate Louddon? What about Lady Eleanor?
Madelyne took a long time soaking. Her hair had been washed the night before so she didn't have that chore to do. She tied the curls on top of her head, using a strip of ribbon to anchor them in place. Yet most of the strands had fallen back to her shoulders before her bath was finished.
God's truth, she didn't feel the least bit calmer after her bath. Her mind was consumed with worry. She wanted to scream in anger, yet weep with humiliation too. The only reason she didn't do either was that she couldn't make up her mind.
She heard Duncan coming up the steps just as she was getting out of the tub. Her hands shook when she reached for her robe, but it was only because it was so cold in her room, she told herself.
The footsteps stopped. Duncan was right outside the door. Madelyne reacted with a fresh spurt of fear, shamed she was acting so cowardly when she ran over to the far corner of the room and stood there trembling like an infant. She frantically knotted the belt of her robe even as she reasoned Duncan couldn't see through the wood, for God's sake, and there wasn't any need to work herself up into such a fit.
"Madelyne, get away from the door."
His voice had sounded so mild. That surprised her. Madelyne frowned, waiting for him to start threatening. And why didn't he want her standing by the door?
She had her answer soon enough. The sound was so explosive, she jumped back, bumping her head against the stone wall. Madelyne let out a yelp when the slat of wood snapped like a twig, and would have made the sign of the cross if she'd been able to get her hands undone from each other.
The door shredded, and what puny strips remained, Duncan easily ripped apart.
He fully intended to drag Madelyne down to his room, yet when he saw how she cowered in the corner, his heart softened. Duncan also had the real concern she'd jump out the window before he could get to her. She looked frightened enough to try it.
He didn't want her frightened. Duncan deliberately sighed, a long-drawn-out affair it was, and then casually leaned against the doorway. He smiled at Madelyne, waiting for her to regain her control.
He'd use reason and soft words to make her come to him. "You could have knocked, Duncan." The change in her happened so swiftly. She wasn't cowering in the corner now but standing there frowning at him with a look that told him she wouldn't be throwing herself out any windows. She might, however, be thinking of trying to push him out.
He tried not to laugh, recognizing her pride was important to both of them. Damn, he didn't like her cowering away from him. "And would you have opened the door for me, wife?" he asked, his tone soft, coaxing.
"Don't call me your wife, Duncan. I was forced to say those vows. Now look what you've done to my door. I'll be sleeping with a draft flying around my head, thanks to your ill consideration."
"Ah, then you would have opened the door for me?" Duncan asked, grinning. He was thoroughly enjoying her outrage. Edmond was right, Madelyne was a bossy bit of goods. Her door, indeed.
She was a lovely sight to be sure. Her hair fell below her shoulders. The fire from the hearth cast a deep red glow to her curls. Her hands were back on her hips, her back as straight as a lance, and the opening of her robe gaped almost to her waist, giving him an ample view of the cleft between her full breasts.
He wondered how long it would be before Madelyne realized her vulnerable position. The oversized robe was slowly working its way loose. Duncan had already realized she wasn't wearing anything underneath the covering. Her knees peeked out at him. The grin slowly faded from Duncan's face. His eves darkened as well. His concentration was strained, and all he could think about was touching her.
Whatever was the matter with him? Madelyne wondered. His expression had turned as black as his tunic, and heavens, she did wish he didn't look so handsome.
"Of course I wouldn't have opened the door, Duncan, but you should have knocked all the same." She blurted out the ridiculous statement, feeling like a fool. If only he'd quit looking at her as if he wanted to…
"Have you never told a lie?" Duncan asked when he saw fear return to her eyes.
His question caught her off guard, as was his intention. Duncan slowly straightened and walked into the room.
"I've always told the truth, no matter how painful," Madelyne answered. "And you know that well enough by now." She gave him a disgruntled look and began to walk toward him so that he'd hear her next rebuke clearly. Madelyne was determined to give Duncan a piece of her mind, and she certainly would have done just that if she hadn't forgotten the robe was too long and the wooden tub was directly in her path. She tripped over her hem, stubbed her toe on the base of the tub. She would have pitched forward into the water if Duncan hadn't grabbed her in time.
He took hold of Madelyne's waist when she bent to rub the sting from her toe. "Every time I'm near you, I get injured."
She was muttering to herself, but Duncan heard every word. He took immediate exception. "I've never harmed you," he insisted.
"Well, you threatened to," Madelyne said. She stood up then, realized his arm was around her waist. "Let go of me," she demanded.
"Do I carry you like a sack of wheat to my room or will you walk beside me like a new wife should?" he asked.
He slowly forced her to turn around and face him.
She was staring at his chest. Duncan gently pushed her chin up. "Why don't you leave me alone?" Madelyne asked, finally meeting his gaze.
"I have tried, Madelyne."
She thought his voice sounded like a caress, as soft as any summer's breeze.
His thumb was slowly stroking the curve of her chin. How could such an insignificant little touch have such a devastating effect on her? "You try to bewitch me," Madelyne whispered, yet she didn't pull away when his thumb moved to stroke her sensitive lower lip.
"'Tis you who bewitches me," Duncan admitted. His voice had gone hoarse. Madelyne's heart started pounding. She could barely catch her breath. Her tongue touched the tip of his thumb. It was all she'd allow herself, this one small pleasure that sent a shock down her legs. She bewitched him? The thought was as pleasing as his kisses. She did want him to kiss her. Just one kiss, she told herself, and then she'd demand his dismissal.
Duncan seemed content to stand there all night. Madelyne quickly grew impatient. She pushed his hands away and then rose up on tiptoe to place a single chaste kiss on the cleft of his chin.
When Duncan didn't react, she grew a bit bolder and put her hands on his shoulders. He was looking down at her and that made the task easier, yet she hesitated when she felt him stiffen against her. "I would kiss you good night," she explained, barely recognizing her own voice. "I do like to kiss you, Duncan, but that is all I will allow."
He didn't move. Madelyne couldn't even feel him breathing. She didn't know if her admission angered him or pleased him, until her lips touched his. Then she knew he liked kissing almost as much as she did.
Madelyne sighed, content.
Duncan growled, impatient.
He wouldn't give her his tongue until she demanded it, using her own to push him into responding. Then he took control, thrusting his tongue deep into her mouth.
Madelyne didn't want to stop. When she realized that, she pulled away from him.
Duncan's hands rested on her hips. He let her pull back, waiting with great curiosity to see what she'd do next. She was unpredictable.
Madelyne couldn't quite look up at him. A true blush covered her cheeks. She was obviously embarrassed.
Duncan suddenly lifted Madelyne up into his arms, smiling over the way she grabbed the edge of her robe where it parted at the knees. He almost mentioned that her modesty was ill placed, since he'd taken care of her when she was so sick. But Madelyne was rigid in his arms and he decided not to bring up that subject.
When they were halfway down the steps, Madelyne realized how unprepared she was to spend the night with Duncan. "I've left my sleeping gown upstairs," she stammered. " 'Tis one thing to sleep in my day gown but this is so bulky and—"
"You won't need anything," Duncan interrupted.
"I will," Madelyne muttered.
Duncan didn't answer her. Madelyne knew she'd lost the argument when the door to his bedroom slammed shut. They were, unfortunately, inside his room.
Duncan placed Madelyne on his bed and went back to the door. He pushed the wooden slat through the loops. And then he turned, slowly folded his arms across his chest, and smiled at her.
The attractive dent was back in the side of his cheek. Madelyne would have called it a dimple, yet that was an incorrect description for a man of his size and might. Warriors didn't have dimples.
Her mind was rambling. It was his fault, of course. Why, he just stood there, staring at her. She felt like a little mouse cornered by a hungry wolf.
"Are you deliberately trying to frighten me?" Madelyne asked, sounding terrified.
Duncan shook his head. He caught her fear, realized then that his forced smile hadn't aided his cause at all. "I don't want you frightened."