Madelyne suddenly found herself flat on her back with her husband looming over her. The muscle in the side of his jaw flexed, a true indication of his anger. He looked ready to do battle.

She wasn't the least intimidated. Madelyne gently stroked his shoulders, then let the palms of her hands slowly slide down his arms. His body was stiff, rigid. She could feel the strength of steel under her fingertips. Madelyne never took her gaze away from his as she caressed him. And though she could feel the power in him, she could also see the vulnerability in his eyes. It was a look she'd never seen before but recognized all the same. Duncan looked good and worried.


When she gifted him with a tender smile, Duncan immediately stopped frowning. He saw the sparkle in her eyes and responded to it. His body relaxed against her.

"You dare to tease me?"

"I'm not teasing you," Madelyne told him. "You've just given me the most wonderful gift, Duncan. I am overwhelmed."

He waited to hear more. "You're the only man to ever tell me you love me." Madelyne whispered. A wrinkle crossed her brow and she added, "How could I not love you in return?"

She looked as if she'd only just realized that fact. Duncan's sigh of exasperation all but parted her hair. "Then I suppose I'm damn fortunate Gilard didn't tell you he loved you first."

"He did," Madelyne announced, smiling over the startle that admission caused. "But I didn't count that pledge of love as being the first, you see, because it wasn't really true. Your brother had a small infatuation."

Madelyne suddenly stretched up and kissed Duncan. She put her hands around his waist and squeezed him. "Oh, Duncan, I've loved you for the longest time. What a fool I've been not to have realized it sooner. Though I must confess, tonight, when we were sitting by the fire with your family and your guest, I did realize it then. You've given me value, Duncan. In my heart I know I matter to you."

Duncan shook his head. "You've always had value, Madelyne. Always."

Madelyne's eyes filled with tears. "It is a miracle, your love for me. You captured me to fulfill your plan of revenge against my brother. Didn't you?"

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"Aye," Duncan admitted.

"That is why you married me," Madelyne said. She was suddenly frowning up at her husband. "Did you love me then?"

"I thought it was lust," Duncan answered. "I wanted to bed you," he added with a grin.

"Revenge and lust," Madelyne returned. "Sorry reasons at best, Duncan."

"You've forgotten compassion," Duncan informed her.

"Compassion? You mean you felt sorry for me, is that the way of it?" Madelyne asked, growing irritated. "Good Lord, you love me out of pity?"

"My love, you've just relisted all the reasons I gave myself."

She took exception to his laughter. "If your love is based upon lust, pity, and revenge then—"

"Madelyne," Duncan interrupted, trying to soothe her, "what did I say to you before we left your brother's fortress. Do you remember?"

"You told me it was an eye for an eye," Madelyne returned.

"You asked me if you belonged to Louddon. Do you remember my answer to that question?"

"Aye, though I didn't understand it," Madelyne said. "You said I belonged to you."

"I spoke the truth," Duncan told her. He kissed her just to rid her of her suspicious look.

"I still don't understand," Madelyne told him when he let her speak again.

"Neither did I," Duncan said. "I thought I'd keep you, but I didn't consider marriage until later. In truth, Madelyne, it was your act of kindness that sealed your fate."

"It was?" Madelyne's eyes brimmed with tears again. The look on Duncan's face was so loving, so tender.

"It was inevitable from the moment you warmed my feet, though it took a while before I'd acknowledge the truth."

"You called me simpleminded," Madelyne told him, smiling over the memory.

The sparkle was back in her eyes. She wasn't angry any longer. Duncan pretended outrage over her remark just to gain her reaction. "I've never called you simpleminded. It was someone else and I will challenge him immediately."

Madelyne burst into laughter. "It was you, Baron. I've already forgiven you though. Besides, I've called you many unkind names."

"You have? I've never heard any of them," Duncan said. "When did you call me these names?"

"When your back was turned, of course."

She looked so innocent. Duncan's smile widened. "Your obsession for telling the truth will get you into trouble one day." He kissed her again before continuing. "But I'll be by your side to protect you."

"Just as I will always protect you," Madelyne told him. "It is my duty as your wife."

She laughed over his incredulous expression. "You don't worry me," she boasted. "I'll not be afraid of you anymore now that I have your love."

He thought she sounded smug. "I know."

Madelyne laughed because of his forlorn tone of voice.

"I would hear you tell me you love me once again," Duncan demanded.

"Such an arrogant command you give me," Madelyne whispered. "I love you with all my heart, Duncan." She kissed him on his chin. "I would give my life for you, husband." She rubbed his lower lip with the tip of her tongue. "I will love you forever."

Duncan growled his pleasure and proceeded to make slow, sweet love to her.


"Yes, love?"

"When did you realize you loved me?"

"Go to sleep, Madelyne. It's nearly dawn."

She didn't want to sleep. Madelyne never wanted this glorious night to end. She deliberately wiggled her backside against his stomach. Her toes curled against his legs. "Please, tell me exactly when it was."

Duncan sighed. He knew she wouldn't quiet until he answered her. "Today."

"Ha!" Madelyne announced.

"Ha what?" Duncan asked.

"Now you are beginning to make sense," Madelyne explained.

"You're not making any sense," Duncan returned.

"You're the one who has been acting so unpredictable all day. To tell you the truth, you had me a bit worried. When today?"

"When what?"

"When exactly did you realize you loved me?" Madelyne wasn't going to give up.

"When I thought my horse was going to kill you."

"Silenus? You thought Silenus would harm me?"

He heard the astonishment in her voice. He smiled against the top of her head. She still didn't have any idea of the terror she'd given him.


He liked the way she whispered his name when she wanted something from him. It was tender, coaxing, and terribly sexy. "You've ruined my stallion. I was telling you that downstairs when you fell asleep in my lap."

"I haven't ruined him," Madelyne protested. "I've only shown him kindness. Surely being affectionate can't be harmful."

"Affection might be the death of me if you don't let me rest," he answered with a yawn. "You've turned into an insatiable wench," he added with a mock sigh. "You've taken my strength."

"Thank you."

"You can have Silenus for your own."

"Silenus? Mine?" She sounded as eager as a child.

"The animal is loyal to you now. You've demoted my great beast from stallion to lamb. I'll never live it down."

"Live what down?"

Duncan ignored her question. He made her turn around to face him. Then he gave her a good long stare. "Now listen to me well, wife. You're not to ride him until I've given you proper instruction. Do you understand me?"

"What makes you think I haven't had proper instruction?" Madelyne asked. She hadn't, of course, yet thought she'd hidden that flaw from him. But her husband was more astute than she'd realized.

"Just promise me," Duncan demanded.

"I promise." She began to nibble on her lower lip, when a sudden thought began to nag her. "You won't change your mind in the morning, will you?"

"Of course not. Silenus is yours now."

"I wasn't speaking of Silenus."

"What then?"

She looked worried. Duncan frowned until she whispered her fear to him. "You won't change your mind about loving me, will you?"


He kissed her to give her proof of his pledge, then closed his eyes and rolled onto his back, fully intending to go to sleep. He was exhausted.

"You didn't remember to swim in your lake tonight. That was very unpredictable of you."

When he didn't comment, Madelyne prodded him. "Why didn't you?"

"Because it was too damn cold."

It was a sensible answer, yet strange coming from Duncan. Madelyne smiled to herself. Oh, how she loved him. "Duncan? Did you like making love to me by the fire? You know, when you kissed me… there?"

She sounded shy, curious as well. "Aye, Madelyne. You taste as sweet as honey."

The memory of her taste was making him aroused yet again. His lust for his wife astonished him.

Madelyne rolled to her side and looked at Duncan. His eyes were closed but he was smiling and looking very satisfied.

Her hand slowly stroked a path from his chin to his stomach. "Will I like the taste of you?" she asked him in a husky whisper.

Before Duncan could answer her, Madelyne leaned down and kissed his navel, smiling when she saw how his stomach muscles contracted. Her hand slowly moved lower, stroking a line for her mouth and her tongue to follow.

Duncan stopped breathing when her hand captured him. "You're so hard, Duncan, so hot," she told him. "Give me your fire."

Duncan forgot all about sleeping. He let his wife weave her magic spell over him. He thought he was surely the richest man in all the world, and all because his wife loved him.

And then he couldn't think at all.

Chapter Eighteen

"I proclaim that might is right. Justice the interest of the stronger."

plato, the republic, i

The harsh days of winter boasted unholy temperatures, led by a howling wind that gripped the countryside in its frozen, frostbitten jaws. Winter promised to hold the world in glacial splendor for eternity it seemed, until that gentle maiden, spring, came forth with a promise of her own. She carried the gift of rebirth, wrapped in the warm glow of the sun. Wooed by the promise, the wind lost its shivering edge and magically turned into soft breezes.

The trees were the first to show fulfillment of the promise. Branches were no longer brittle, but malleable with graceful motion when the breeze coaxed them. Fragile buds and green leaves fattened each limb. Forgotten seeds, blown into the earth by autumn's warning blusters, now bloomed into a riot of color and fragrance, heady enough to entice vain, flittering honey bees.

It was a magical time for Madelyne. And there was such joy in loving Duncan. She thought it was a miracle that Duncan loved her. The first few weeks after his declaration, she had actually been uneasy, worried that he'd grow bored with her. She went to great lengths to please him. Yet the inevitable first fight occurred anyway. A simple misunderstanding that could easily have been resolved, blown out of proportion because of Duncan's black mood and her exhaustion.

In truth, Madelyne couldn't even remember what started the argument. She recalled only that Duncan had yelled at her. She had immediately retreated behind her safe mask of composure, but it didn't take her husband long to goad the perfected tranquility right out of her. She had burst into tears, told him he obviously didn't love her anymore, and then ran to the tower.

Duncan followed her. He still bellowed, but the topic had changed to her habit of jumping to incorrect conclusions. When she realized he was furious that she thought he'd stopped loving her, she hadn't minded the fierce frown or the shouts. After all, he was yelling that he loved her.

She'd learned an important lesson that night. It was quite all right to yell back. The rules had all shifted on her since meeting the Wextons. The freedom she was now allowed unlocked all the doors to her emotions. She didn't have to be restrained. When she felt like laughing, she laughed. And when she felt like yelling, she went right ahead, though she did try to maintain a ladylike, dignified manner.

Madelyne also realized she was taking on some of her husband's characteristics.

There was safety in predictability and she was beginning to dislike change as much as he did. When Gilard and Edmond both left to give their forty days to their overlord, Madelyne let everyone within shouting distance know of her displeasure.

Duncan pointed out the inconsistency of her reasoning, even reminded her she'd once argued in favor of giving his brothers more responsibility. Madelyne, however, didn't want to listen to reason. She had turned into a mother hen and wanted all the Wextons to stay right where she could keep an eye on them.

Duncan understood his wife far better than she understood him. His brothers and Adela had all become members of her family. She had been alone for so manv years, the pleasure of having so many caring people surrounding her was too comforting to let go without protest.

She was a peacemaker too. Madelyne constantly interfered if she thought one was being picked on. She was each one's protector and yet was amazed when anyone sought to protect her.

In truth, she still didn't understand her value. Duncan knew she thought it was a miracle that he loved her. He wasn't a man given to proclaiming his feelings, but he quickly realized she needed to hear his vow of love often. There was an underlying sense of fear and insecurity, understandable because of her background, and he accepted that it would take time for her to gain confidence in her abilities.

The days spent with his new wife would have been idyllic if Adela hadn't been so determined to drive them all daft. Duncan tried to maintain a sympathetic manner toward his sister, but her behavior was enough to make him secretly want to throttle her.

He made the mistake of telling Madelyne how he felt about Adela's conduct and his urge to put a gag in her mouth. Madelyne was appalled. She immediately defended Adela. His wife suggested Duncan learn to be more compassionate, and why in God's name she thought he'd want to do that was beyond his comprehension.

Madelyne called him unsympathetic, yet the opposite was really the truth of the matter. Duncan was extremely sympathetic toward Baron Gerald. His friend had the patience of Job and the endurance of forged steel.

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