Duncan wrapped the cloak around her, lifted her into his arms, and carried her out of their room.
They didn't encounter anyone on their route to the lake. Duncan was right, too, for the moon wasn't bright tonight
Duncan took her to the far side of the lake. Madelyne tested the water with her toes, declared it was too cold.
He told her to suffer through it She stood next to Duncan, her cloak held around her in a firm grip while she watched him casually strip out of his clothes.
Duncan made a clean dive into the water. Madelyne sat down on the bank, then edged into the water. She would have taken her cloak with her had Duncan allowed it. Her husband surfaced next to her, jerked the cloak out of her hands, and tossed it onto the grass.
The water took a few minutes to get used to. It was such an erotic feeling to swim without a stitch of clothing. Madelyne felt quite wanton, told Duncan so, admitting shyly that it was a pleasant sensation.
Madelyne hurried through her bath. She washed her hair and rinsed it by dunking herself under the water. When she surfaced a third time, Duncan was standing in front of her.
He was only going to talk to her, but Madelyne was smiling up at him with such a bewitching look in her eyes. The water lapped against her breasts. The ni**les were hard, beckoning him. His hands covered them.
She leaned into him, tilted her head back for his kiss. It was a temptation he didn't want to resist. Duncan took her mouth hungrily. His tongue thrust into her mouth. Wet. Wild. So predictably undisciplined.
Duncan would have allowed only the one kiss, then carried her back to their chambers to make love to her, but Madelyne's stomach rubbed against him then and her hands boldly moved into the water to capture his arousal.
Duncan wrapped his arms around her, roughly pulling her up against him. The kiss deepened, became consuming.
She was as rough as he was. Her hands moved to his shoulders, stroking him wild. Duncan lifted her higher, until her br**sts were rubbing against his chest. Her legs moved restlessly against him. Her sweet whimper of longing drove him wild.
He whispered instructions to her, his voice gruff with need. When Madelyne wrapped her legs around his thighs, he entered her slowly, cautiously, thoroughly.
She pushed against him, demanded with her fingernails. "Duncan," she begged.
He kissed her temple. "I'm trying to be gentle with you, Madelyne," he whispered, sounding hoarse.
"Later, Duncan," Madelyne moaned. "Be gentle later."
Duncan gave in to his need. He was forceful, giving her as much pleasure as she gave him. When he felt Madelyne arch against him in fulfillment, he covered her mouth to catch her moans. His seed filled her and he clung to her as the tremor of bliss exploded.
Madelyne sagged against him, weak with satisfaction. Her breath warmed his neck. Duncan smiled with arrogant pleasure. "You are a wild woman, Madelyne."
She laughed, delighted with his compliment, until she remembered where they were. "Good Lord, Duncan. Do you think anyone saw us?"
She sounded so appalled. She buried her face into the crook of his neck. Duncan chuckled. "Love, no one saw us," he whispered.
"Of course, the light isn't sufficient."
"Thank God for that," Madelyne answered.
She was thoroughly relieved, until Duncan spoke again. "You did make enough noise to wake the dead though. You're a moaner, my love. The hotter you get, the louder your moans."
"Oh, God." Madelyne tried to sink under the water. Duncan wouldn't let her. He laughed a husky deep sensual sound, and then continued to tease. "I'm not complaining, sweetheart. As long as your fire is for me, I'll let you moan all you want."
Just when she was about to tell him how sinfully arrogant he sounded, Duncan deliberately fell backward. She had time only to hold her breath.
He kissed her again, under the water. She pinched him when she needed new air.
Madelyne didn't know how to play in the water. When Duncan splashed her, she took immediate offense. He had to tell her to splash him back. She thought it a silly game to try to drown each other, but she was laughing by the time she finished her comment, and trying to overturn him by nudging him with her foot.
She was the one who lost her footing. When Duncan pulled her up, she was sputtering, coughing, and trying to lecture him at the same time.
They stayed in the lake for almost an hour. Duncan taught her how to swim properly, though he'd begun his instructions by insulting her. "You look like you're about to drown when you swim."
She wasn't too offended, even kissed him to let him know her feelings weren't injured.
When Duncan finally carried her back to their bedroom, Madelyne was exhausted.
Duncan, however, was in the mood to talk. He was in bed, his hands folded behind his head, watching his wife brush her hair. Both were naked, and neither was shy about it.
"Madelyne, I've been invited to speak to my king," Duncan commented. He kept his voice controlled, trying to give Madelyne the impression he was bored with the request. "That is where I'm going tomorrow."
"Invited?" The brush was discarded when Madelyne turned to frown at Duncan.
"A summons then," Duncan admitted. "I would have told you sooner, but I didn't want you to worry."
"I'm in the middle of this, aren't I? Duncan, I won't be ignored or pushed aside. I've a right to know what is happening."
"I've neither ignored you nor pushed you aside," Duncan answered. "I was only trying to protect you."
"Will it be dangerous?" He wasn't given time to answer her. "Of course it will be dangerous. When do we leave?"
"We don't leave. You're staying here. It will be safer for you."
She looked ready to argue. Duncan shook his head and said, "If I have to worry about you, my concentration will be compromised. My mind is made up, Madelyne. You're staying here."
"And will you come back to me?"
He was surprised by her question. "Of course."
"I don't know how long this will take, Madelyne."
"Weeks, months, years?"
He saw the fear in her eyes, remembered the time she'd been ignored by her family. Duncan pulled Madelyne on top of him. He kissed her. "I'll always come back to you, Madelyne. You're my wife, for God's sake."
"Your wife," Madelyne whispered. "Whenever I become frightened, or begin to fret about the future, I remember that I'm bound to you." Duncan smiled. She didn't look frightened any longer. "If you get yourself killed, I'll find your grave and spit on it," she threatened.
"Then I'll take every care."
"You promise me?"
"I promise you."
Madelyne tenderly cupped the sides of her husband's face. "You take my heart with you, my loving captor."
"Nay, Madelyne. I am your captive in body and soul."
And then he fulfilled his vow by making love to her again.
Duncan was dressed before the full light of dawn reached the sky. He called for Anthony and then waited for him in the hall.
When his vassal entered the room, Duncan was just breaking the seal on the neglected missive from the monastery.
Anthony sat down across from Duncan at the table, waiting for him to finish reading. Gerty intruded with a tray filled with bread and cheese.
The vassal had eaten a fair portion of his meal before Duncan finished his letter. The news obviously didn't please his lord. Duncan threw the parchment across the table and then slammed his fist down on the tabletop.
"The news displeases you?" Anthony asked.
"It is as I suspected. There is no Father Laurance."
"But the man you killed…"
"Sent from Louddon," Duncan said. "I already knew that much, yet I still believed he was a priest."
"Well, at least you didn't kill a man of the cloth then." Anthony made the observation with a shrug. "He wasn't able to report back to Louddon either, Duncan. He hasn't left this fortress since his arrival. I'd have known of it"
"If I'd been paying attention, I'd have noticed his odd behavior sooner. My lack of attention nearly cost my wife her life."
"She doesn't blame you," Anthony commented. "It didn't get as ugly as it could have either, Duncan. He could have been hearing all our confessions." Anthony shuddered over that obscene thought.
"I didn't get married either," Duncan said, slamming his fist on the table again.
The parchment bounced and settled against the bottom of the jar of wildflowers.
"Good God, I hadn't thought of that."
"Madelyne hasn't either," Duncan answered. "She will though. She'll have a fit. If there was time, I'd find a priest and wed her before I leave."
"It would take weeks…"
Duncan nodded. "Have you told Madelyne where you're going?" Anthony asked.
"Aye, but I'm not going to tell her about our impostor. When I return, I'll bring a priest with me. I'll tell her we aren't married a minute or two before I marry her again. Hell, what a mess."
Anthony smiled. His lord was right. Madelyne would have a fit.
Duncan forced himself to put aside the matter of Laurance's deception. He went over his plans with his vassal, trying to cover every eventuality.
"You've been trained by the best. I have complete faith in your ability," Duncan said when he'd finished his instructions.
It was an attempt to lighten his mood, a self-serving remark as well, since it was Duncan who trained Anthony. The vassal grinned.
"You're leaving enough soldiers to conquer England," Anthony remarked.
"Have you seen Gerald yet?"
Anthony shook his head. "The men are gathering in front of the stables," he remarked. "He could be there, waiting."
Duncan stood and walked with his vassal to the stables. The baron addressed his soldiers, cautioning them all that they could well be riding into a trap. He turned to the men who would remain behind and spoke to them. "Louddon could well be waiting for me to leave to attack the fortress."
When he finished addressing his men, Duncan returned to the hall. Madelyne was just coming down the steps. She smiled at her husband. Duncan took her into his arms and kissed her.
"Remember your promise to take every care," Madelyne whispered when he released her.
"I promise," Duncan answered. He put his arm around her shoulders and walked outside. They had to pass the church on their way to the stables. Duncan paused to stare at the damage from the fire. "I'll have to rebuild the vestibule," he said.
The mention of the church reminded Madelyne of the letter. "Duncan, do you have time to show me the letter from Father Laurance's monastery? I am most curious, I confess."
"I've already read it."
"You can read! I'd suspected as much, but you've never boasted of your skill. Why, just when I think I know you quite well, you say or do something to surprise me."
"So I'm not as predictable as you imagined?" he asked, smiling.
She nodded. "In certain matters you're always predictable. Oh, I wish you weren't leaving. I wanted you to teach me defense. If I could protect myself as well as Ansel does, you'd probably let me come with you."
"I would not," Duncan answered. "I promise, though, to begin your instructions as soon as I return." He made the comment to placate Madelyne. There were a few tricks every woman should know about, he decided. Perhaps it wasn't such a ridiculous request after all. Madelyne wasn't very strong but her determination impressed him.
Duncan noticed that Baron Gerald still hadn't arrived Since he had a few more minutes with his wife, he turned to her and said, "I'll give you your first lesson now. Since you use your right hand, you must carry your dagger on the left side of your body." He removed her dagger and placed it in a loop of her belt on the tilt of her left hip.
"Because it is much easier to pull the weapon free. Sometimes, wife, every second counts."
"You carry your sword on the right side of your body, Duncan. I know you favor holding your sword with your left hand. The steps! Does this lesson have anything to do with the steps being built on the left side of the wall instead of the right?"
He nodded. "My father also favored his left over his right. When an enemy invades, he comes from below, not above. My father had added advantage. He could use his right hand to balance himself against the wall, and fight with his left hand."
"Your father was cunning," Madelyne announced. "Most men use their right hands, don't they? What a wonderful idea to go against tradition and build his home to his specifications."
"In truth, my father borrowed the idea from one of his uncles," Duncan said.
Duncan thought he'd successfully turned her attention away from the letter. He was mistaken, however, for Madelyne came right back to that topic. "What did the letter say, Duncan?"
"It was nothing significant," Duncan returned. "Laurance left the monastery when he was assigned to Louddon's fortress."
It was difficult lying to his wife. Yet his intent was good-hearted. He was trying to keep her from worrying while he was away.
"He was probably a good man until my brother got hold of him," Madelyne commented. "I'll see that his body is sent back to the monastery immediately, Duncan. They'll want to give him a proper burial."
"No." He realized he'd shouted. "I mean to say that arrangements have already been made."
Madelyne was puzzled by Duncan's abrupt manner. Baron Gerald walked over to greet them, turning her attention.
"Adela and I will be married when this task is finished," Gerald announced. "She has finally agreed."
Madelyne smiled. Duncan slapped Gerald on his shoulder. "Where is Adela?" he asked.
"In her room, crying. I've already said my farewell," Gerald added with a grin.
"You're certain you want to wed her, Gerald? My sister spends most of her days weeping."
"Duncan!" Madelyne protested.
Gerald laughed. "I'm hoping she'll use up all her tears before we're married."
Duncan suddenly turned and grabbed Madelyne. He kissed her before she knew what he was going to do. "I'll be home before you notice I've left," he told her.