"Gillian?"

"Yes, Brodick?"

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"I want a word in private with you. Now."

She wasn't given time to think about it. Clasping her hand, he marched out of the hall dragging her along with him.

As soon as the doors closed behind them, a resounding cheer went up. Bridgid was thoroughly perplexed. What in heaven's name was there to cheer about?

Father Laggan had also watched the couple leave. Shaking his head he cried out, "Didn't the lass hear a word I said? Good Lord Almighty."

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Ramsey suggested a toast then. Bridgid thought he was crazy. Hadn't he been listening to the conversation? "Laird, I believe you should wait until Laird Brodick and Gillian come back before you give a toast. As to that, why would you toast them? Didn't you hear what Father Laggan said? Tomorrow he's going to… Why are you smiling?"

"Ah, Bridgid, I forgot how innocent and naive you are," Ramsey said.

"I'm not so naive."

"Are you waiting for Gillian to come back?" When she nodded, he laughed. "But you're not naive?"

"No, I'm not," she insisted.

"Then you understand."

"Understand what?"

He laughed again. "They aren't coming back."

The priest continued to shake his head. "Good Lord Almighty. He's got her now."

Chapter Twenty-Four

He swept her off her feet and carried her into the night. She put her arms around his neck and patiently waited for him to tell her where he was taking her. In truth, she had already come to terms with the inevitable. She loved this man with all her heart, and at the moment that was all that mattered.

She traced a line down the side of his face with her fingertip to get his attention. "Brodick?"

"You will not argue with me," he commanded. "You're sleeping with me tonight and every night for the rest of our lives. Understand me?"

She didn't protest or scream, which surprised him.

A moment passed in silence and then she said, "I have just one question for you."

He warily glanced down at her. "What is it?"

"What am I going to tell our children?"

He came to an abrupt stop. "What?"

"You heard me. What am I going to tell our children? I refuse to tell them I married their father while I was riding a horse, but then you'll probably expect me to give birth on a horse too, won't you?"

His eyes were filled with tenderness when he replied to her outrageous question. "I think we should concentrate on making my son before we worry about what we're going to tell him."

She kissed the side of his neck. "Then I'm in trouble."

"Why? "he asked.

"I can't concentrate when I'm around you, but I'll do my best."

He laughed. "That's all a man could want."

"You aren't always going to get your way."

"Sure I am."

"Marriage is about compromise."

"No, it isn't."

She bit his earlobe. "Nothing's changed, you know. I'm still going back to England to finish what I've started."

"Everything's changed, sweetheart…"

Following Ramsey's directions, Brodick veered off the main path and continued down the hill. A gray stone cottage sat at the bottom isolated from the other homes and surrounded by thick, towering pines. He flung the door open and carried his bride inside. Then he kicked the door shut, leaned back against it, and let out a sigh of male satisfaction.

The cottage was warm and cozy and smelled faintly of freshly cut wood. A fire crackled in the hearth and gave an amber glow to the room. The mantel was covered with candles, and after putting Gillian down, Brodick went to light them. She stood by the door and watched, suddenly feeling shy and nervous, her attention fully centered on the plaid-covered bed adjacent to the hearth. The cottage had seemed quite roomy until Brodick began to move around. He took up a good deal of the space, and the bed seemed to take up the rest.

Gillian saw her satchel on the floor next to the little table in the corner of the room. She thought she should probably get her sleeping gown out, but then how could she possibly change her clothes with Brodick just a few feet away and no privacy screen to separate them?

She couldn't do it. The walls seemed to be closing in on her. She backed up until she was pressed against the door. Then she reached behind her for the door latch. Calm down, she told herself, as she began to take rapid breaths. She was suddenly having difficulty drawing in enough air, and she couldn't understand why. The faster she inhaled, the less air she got.

Brodick took one look at her and knew she was in a panic. He blamed himself, for he had allowed her time to think, and that was his mistake. He went to her, tilted her head up so she could look at him, and then gently pried her hand away from the door. Her panting escalated until she sounded like a trumpeter.

"Having a little trouble, are you, sweetheart?"

The amusement in his tone irritated her. "I cannot breathe," she gasped. "You could show a little sympathy."

He laughed right in her face. Astounded by his callous attitude, she stopped panicking. "Does my fear amuse you, Brodick?"

"Yes, but you love me anyway, don't you?"

His hands moved to her waist, and he pulled her forward as his mouth settled possessively on top of hers. She was tense against him, almost rigid, but he wasn't in any hurry, and after lazily exploring her mouth for long minutes without rushing or making any other demands, he felt her relax in his arms.

He wanted to woo her with sweet, loving words so that she would know how much she meant to him, but he didn't know what to say because he was unschooled in the gentle ways of seduction. He was a warrior, a savage and a heathen, just as Father Laggan had said, and for the first time in his life, he wished that he knew the poetic jargon that came so easily to Ramsey.

He was making a sacrifice for her. Going slowly was a first for him, but important and necessary because she was a virgin and he knew she had to be scared of the unknown.

He was driving her crazy with his gentle caresses and his sweet kisses. Tearing her mouth away from his, she demanded that he stop teasing her. She pulled on his hair and sought his mouth again and was richly rewarded for her impatience. With a low growl mingled with laughter, he gave her what she wanted. He kissed her hungrily and deeply, his tongue stroking and coaxing, and she began to tingle everywhere. Her heart pounded, her stomach fluttered, and she was suddenly gripping his shoulders so that she wouldn't fall down.

Lord, did he know how to kiss. She moved restlessly against him, giving him all the encouragement he needed, and he continued to devour her as he quickly undressed her. So consumed was she by the passion he elicited, she didn't realize what he was doing until he was pulling her undergarment down over her arms.

She tried to push his hands away and tell him to wait until she was under the covers, but he kept kissing her and tugging on her clothes, and before she could draw a breath and demand that he wait, it was too late and she was stripped bare. How he had managed to get her shoes and stockings off without her knowing was beyond her.

He'd removed his own clothes too. She realized that when he roughly wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against his chest. He groaned from the touch of her soft br**sts against him; she sighed from the heat of his body against hers.

His hands were suddenly all over her. He stroked her shoulders, the curve of her spine, her silky thighs.

Their kisses became wild, ravenous, and when they drew apart, they were both panting for more. Gripping her shoulders, he whispered, "You set me on fire."

She didn't know if that was good or bad, and she didn't care. She wrapped her arms around his middle and kissed him with all the longing and passion he had ignited inside her.

Brodick was shaken to the core, for he had never had a woman react the way his sweet bride did. He buried his face in her neck, inhaled her womanly scent, and believed that this was as close to heaven as he was ever going to get.

"Damn," he whispered again. "We've got to slow down."

"Why?" she demanded.

It took all he had to concentrate enough to answer her. "Because I want this to be perfect for you."

She stroked his back, nearly overwhelmed by the strength in him. She could feel his muscles rippling under his skin, and, Lord, the heat of his body pressed intimately against hers was making her so incredibly hot she wanted to close her eyes and let the feelings rioting through her body take control.

"It already is perfect," she whispered. "Take me to bed now."

Her beautiful green eyes were misted with passion. Arrogantly pleased that he could rattle her as much as she rattled him, he lifted her into his arms and carried her to bed.

Her hands shook when she cupped his face and sought his mouth again for another deep kiss. He didn't stop kissing her as he tore the covers back and fell into bed with her cushioned in his arms, then gently rolled her onto her back and covered her with his body. The feel of her soft skin was almost more than he could bear, and he actually shook with his desire. She was pinned beneath him, but he braced his arms on either side of her so that his weight wouldn't crush her. Her glorious hair spilled across the plaid, and when he lifted his head and looked at her, he saw that she was smiling.

"I've got you right where I want you, Brodick," she whispered.

"Nay, my sweet, I've got you where I want you." And then he began to nuzzle the side of her neck, as he once again tried to think of the poetic words she deserved to hear. "You please me, Gillian."

She tilted her head to give him better access to her neck, shivering when he kissed the sensitive spot just below her ear.

"Tell me what you like," he ordered gruffly.

With a sigh of longing, she answered, "You. I like you."

He continued his tender assault on her senses, stroking and kissing her until she nearly was consumed. Her toes rubbed against his legs restlessly, and she began to caress his back, loving the feel of his hard body under her fingertips. How could anyone this strong be so amazingly gentle?

His touch became more demanding and far more intimate, jarring her out of her sweet lassitude. His hands stroked her thighs, then moved between to caress the heat of her. She nearly came off the bed. She tried to move his hand away, but he silenced her protest with another deep kiss. And still he continued his erotic love play until she was shaking with her need.

She gripped his shoulders, kissing him almost frantically now, desperately wanting to please him as much as he was pleasing her, but she didn't know what she was supposed to do, and she couldn't seem to think long enough to ask.

He was driving her out of her mind, and she could feel her control slowly slipping away. Frightened by the intensity of the raw emotions erupting inside her, she cried out, "Brodick, are we supposed to be doing this?"

He slowly moved down her body, his mouth hot against her skin as he placed wet kisses along her collarbone.

"Hush, love, it's all right. We can do whatever we want to do," he said in a ragged voice. He tried to control his pace, but it was the most difficult thing he'd ever had to do. His heart was pounding furiously, and he was hard and hot. He was throbbing with his need to be inside her.

Loving her was going to be the death of him, but damn, he'd die happy.

"I want to please you," he whispered. "Tell me," he demanded as one hand slid down between the fragrant valley of her breasts. "Does this make you happy?"

A scant second after asking the question, his mouth covered her breast. She reacted as though she'd just been struck by hot, white lightning. She sucked in her breath, groaned low in her throat, and dug her fingernails into his shoulders.

She squeezed her eyes shut and breathlessly answered him. "Oh, yes, that makes me happy."

He nipped the skin above her navel, causing the muscles to flex. Her indrawn breath told him she liked that too, and so he did it again.

"Then this is going to make you delirious," he said, using the promise she had often used on him. He slowly moved lower, caressing and kissing her intimately until she was writhing in his arms.

Never in her wildest fantasies had she ever imagined making love to be like this. She never could have believed she'd completely lose her control either, but she did just that. He wouldn't let her hold back, and as he made love to her with his mouth, she arched up against him, screamed his name, and scored his shoulders with her nails.

Her response fueled his own. He couldn't wait any longer to make her his. His hands shook, and he wasn't at all gentle as he pushed her legs apart and positioned himself between her thighs. Covering her mouth with his, his hands gripping her hips, he tried to enter her slowly, thinking that it would be less painful for her, but then she moved ever so slightly, and that was all it took. He was lost. Thrusting deep, he penetrated her completely and captured her soft cry with another hungry kiss. His tongue delved into her sweet mouth to coax a response and make her forget the pain he had caused.

He stayed completely still, his discipline in threads now, and burying his face in the crook of her neck, he took deep, ragged breaths to try to make himself slow down. She needed time to adjust to his invasion, but damn, it was killing him not to move. She was so hot and wet and tight and perfect. He knew he'd hurt her, and he hoped to God that the pain would soon be forgotten. Damn, she felt good.

The pain had taken her breath away, but it receded almost immediately. The feel of him inside of her thrilled and frightened her. He made her throb with desire for more, but Brodick wasn't moving, and he seemed to be having trouble breathing. She began to worry that she hadn't pleased him at all.

"Brodick?" she whispered his name, letting him hear the fear in her voice.

"It's all right, love. Just don't move… just let me… ah, hell, you moved…"

She had shifted slightly, then gasped, shocked by the incredible sensation the movement caused. A burst of raw pleasure coursed through her body so intensely she cried out. She tried to lie perfectly still, but she couldn't control the fire burning inside her now. She moved again and the pleasure intensified.

He groaned in reaction. He was planted solidly inside her, yet still he tried to temper the ravenous demands of his body. Then she moved again, and the battle to take it slow and easy was lost. His discipline vanished. He slowly withdrew, then sank deep inside her again.

She thought that was the most amazingly wonderful thing he had ever done. She became wild, for the erotic feelings controlled her movements now. Instinctively she drew her legs up to take him deeper inside. The more aggressive he became, the more uninhibited she became until she was mindless to anything but finding a release to the burning sensations. Sobbing his name over and over again, she clung to him when the first tremors ignited, squeezing him tightly inside her.

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