Before Alec could answer her chal enge, she slapped his hand away and moved away from him. "I'm going to have a bath. That horrible man touched me," she told him. "And I'm going to scrub until I feel clean again. Do you have any other insults you'd like to throw my way before I leave?"
Alec shook his head. The low-hanging branches on the tree he was leaning against actually swayed with his movement. Jamie realized that his size didn't intimidate her any longer. She didn't understand why her reaction to him had changed, but the fear was gone.
He hadn't kil ed his first wife. That sudden thought popped into her mind all at once and was immediately followed by another startling one.
She trusted him. Completely.
"None at the moment."
His wife had trouble holding on to her thoughts, Alec decided. "I don't have any other insults to give you," he explained dryly.
She nodded, then turned to walk away from him. "Jamie, I would warn you," he called out. "The water's cold."
"I don't need any warnings," she called over her shoulder in a tone as sassy as her walk. "We English are made of tougher stuff than you Scots think."
It wasn't until Jamie had gathered clean clothes, soap, and her brush and was standing on the shore of the lake that she completely let her guard down.
"Simply his chattel?" she muttered to herself as she stripped out of her black chemise and bliaut. "He wants me to feel as insignificant as his dog."
She continued to mutter to herself, thankful she was all alone. Daniel had taken Mary to the other side of the camp. Jamie hoped Mary was behaving herself. She didn't think she had the patience to intervene in her sister's behalf if Daniel crushed her tender feelings.
"It's a blessing my feelings aren't so tender," she told herself. "The sun will have to fal to the ground before I wear his colors. He'l have to woo me as any decent man would before he touches me."
A sudden frown crossed her face. well , hel , the man didn't even like her.
Now what was the matter with her? Damn if her eyes didn't fil up with tears. That didn't make a spit of sense to her. She didn't want Alec to touch her yet, but she wanted him to want to touch her.
It was too confusing to understand. Jamie was so occupied trying to forget all the hurtful things Alec had said to her that she forgot to test the water.
She grabbed her soap and jumped into the center of the pond she'd already judged to be approximately shoulder deep.
Alec heard the splash of water. A scant second later, his gentle little bride's bel ow of outrage fol owed.
He let out a sigh, then got to his feet. He suspected she'd need his assistance in just a few more minutes.
The frigidness all but knocked the wind out of her. Jamie felt as if she'd just jumped into a vat of wet snow. She knew she'd shouted a very unladylike word, worried that Alec might have heard her, then decided it was too late to take the word back and if he felt like adding "bawdy" to "insignificant," she certainly didn't care.
She was shivering uncontrol ably by the time she'd finished washing her hair with the rose-scented soap.
She hurried through the rest of her bath, tossed the lump of soap on the grassy slope, and tried to climb out.
The cramp caught her off guard. She'd nearly gained the shore when the arch in her right foot twisted into an excruciating knot. The pain doubled her over. She grabbed hold of her foot while underwater, then shot up for a gulp of air.
He was there before she could scream his name a second time. Jamie had just gone under the water again when she felt his strong arms around her waist.
She couldn't let go of her foot long enough to help him. Alec didn't need her assistance, though, a fact that didn't settle in her mind until he had her out of the water and on his lap. She was stil doubled over and shaking like a wet dog while she fought the knot in her foot.
Jamie didn't realize she was whimpering. Alec pushed her hands away from her foot, then slowly forced the knot out of her arch with the palm of his hand.
He was being incredibly gentle with her. Jamie buried her head against the side of his neck so he wouldn't see how close she was to crying. She didn't think she could stand for him to see her weakness now.
She didn't want him to stop holding her, either. He smel ed so good, so masculine. His skin wanned her shivers away, too.
"It's better now?"
His voice was whisper-soft against her ear. Jamie nodded, yet stil didn't pul away from him.
His other hand was resting on her silky thigh. She had magnificent long legs. Alec could see how flawless her skin was, could feel her soft br**sts through the thin material of her chemise. Her ni**les were hard.
His loins followed suit. He told himself not to think about it, but his body refused to obey the order from his mind. God, she was soft all over. Alec was full y aroused now. His physical reaction had happened so quickly that his discipline all but deserted him.
"It's better now," Jamie whispered. Her voice betrayed her shyness. "I must thank you again. I would have drowned if you hadn't saved me."
"I have the feeling it's going to happen again and again."
The teasing lilt in his thick Scottish burr made her smile. "My drowning?" she asked, knowing full well that wasn't what he meant at all .
"Nay," Alec countered. "My saving you."
Jamie edged away just enough so she could see his expression. She had to push a lock of wet hair off her face to get a proper look. "Perhaps I'l save you once or twice," she announced, mimicking his burr.
She could see he was pleased with her effort. Jamie brazenly cuddled up against his warm chest again.
"Alec, I must borrow some of your heat. It's bloody cold tonight, isn't it?"
"It's unusual y mild by my measure," he contradicted. He paused to grin over the soft sigh she gave him, then added, "Do you always bathe with your clothes on?"
His voice felt like a caress against the top of her head. "No, but someone might have come along," she explained. "I was being modest."
Alec thought the wet fabric was just as provocative as her bare skin. He gritted his teeth against the urge to show her just how provocative he thought she was, then said, "You're turning blue. You'd better get out of your wet clothes."
He had to ease her out of his arms after making that suggestion. Jamie didn't seem inclined to let go of him until he suggested he see the task done for her.
She moved with lightning speed then. Jamie turned her back on Alec, rushed over to the stack of clothes she'd placed on the ground, and quickly wrapped a thin blanket around herself. "I'd like a few minutes privacy, if you please."
He must have anticipated her request, for when she turned around, he'd already left. The leaves of the arched branches stil swayed from his silent retreat back to their camp.
She stripped out of her wet garment, patted her skin dry as best she could, then put on a fresh chemise.
She couldn't get the silk ribbon tied, though. Her fingers had become too numb to grasp the sliver-thin pink threads together. The white chemise dipped low, exposing a fair amount of her generous bosom.
She didn't care if she looked wanton. Gooseflesh covered her skin. Every time she moved, locks of her wet hair rained water down her back, like daggers of ice scraping her skin raw.
Her teeth were chattering by the time she finished brushing her hair into some semblance of order. She tossed the brush aside, then wrapped the damp blanket around her again. Tucking the material under her arms, she clasped the edges together over her chest and rushed back to camp.
She was in too much of a hurry to bother putting her shoes on. all she could think about was the roaring fire Alec had surely started by now, and she kept tel ing herself she'd be as warm as a freshly baked biscuit in just a few minutes.
The last rays of sunlight slanted through the branches. Jamie stumbled to an abrupt stop when she reached the clearing. There was no fire waiting to warm her.
Alec wasn't waiting either.
He was sound asleep. Jamie would have screamed at him if she'd had the strength. She feared her best effort would have been a pitiful wail, though, so she didn't say anything.
He looked damned comfortable. And warm. He was wrapped in his plaid. His back rested against the same tree trunk he'd sought out earlier. His eyes were closed, his breathing deep and even.
She didn't know what she was supposed to do. Tears of frustration trailed down her cheeks. She glanced around, looking for a spot that would protect her against the rising wind, then decided it really didn't matter where she slept. The linen cloth she'd wrapped around herself was too wet now to offer any protection.
What did it matter where she slept? She'd freeze to death before morning light.
Jamie took her time walking over to him. She timidly nudged his leg with her toes.
He'd been patiently waiting for her to come to him. He slowly opened his eyes and looked at her.
He decided he wouldn't make her ask. She was shaking almost violently. There were tears in her eyes and he knew she was close to losing her control.
Without showing a hint of expression, Alec held out the edges of his plaid and opened his arms to her.
Jamie didn't hesitate. She dropped her blanket and fel into his arms. She landed with an unladylike thud against his chest, heard him grunt in reaction, and shivered her apology against the crook of his neck.
Alec wrapped his plaid around her. Her knees were wedged between his thighs. With one hand he held her tightly against him, and with the other he forced her legs down until she was stretched out on top of him.
Her pelvis was flat against the junction of his thighs. Alec draped one leg over both of hers, trying to absorb the chil with his heat.
She smel ed as if she'd just bathed in wildflowers. Her skin was as smooth as the petals of a rose.
It only took a few minutes for Jamie to get warm again. She let out a long sigh of contentment. His wonderful heat was making her light-headed.
He really wasn't such a bad sort, after all . He was a Scot, aye, and a giant as well , but he was her giant she supposed, and she knew he wouldn't let anything happen to her. He would always keep her safe.
She smiled against his chest. She just might let him kiss her tomorrow. She had to sigh then, for that thought was such an unladylike one, and she'd only known her husband for one short day. Aye, it was shameful thinking on her part.
Stil , Jamie decided she had better revise her opinion of Alec Kincaid. If she really put her mind to it, she was sure she'd be able to find a few more redeeming qualities.
She was just drifting off to sleep when Alec spoke to her.
"Yes, Alec?" she whispered against his ear.
"You're wearing my plaid."
The man was a pig.
Alec Kincaid had no redeeming qualities. His sense of humor was simply beyond her understanding.
After making that outrageous remark about wearing his ugly plaid, he had the audacity to laugh. His chest rumbled so with his amusement that Jamie felt as though she were in the center of an earthquake.
He knew she thought he was jesting with her. She wouldn't have glared up at him if she'd known what he was really contemplating. Her innocence and his promise kept her mind free of any fear, though. Alec wanted her, aye, but he didn't want her afraid. He wanted her will ing. And hot.
Jamie stacked her hands on his chest, rested her chin on top, then stared into his eyes. "Your sense of humor is as warped as a saddle left out in the rain too long."
She waited for his reply. Alec didn't respond to her barb. He just continued to stare at her mouth. Jamie soon became self-conscious. She instinctively wet her lips. Alec's expression hardened in reaction. Jamie didn't know what to make of that.
"I won't let you bait me so easily once I know how your mind works," she told him.
"That day will never come," he predicted.
"Why are you staring at me like that?"
"Like you want to kiss me again," she said. "Am I good at kissing, then?"
"No," he answered.
The tenderness in his voice took the sting out of his insult.
"Well, why not, do you suppose?"
A slow grin, heartbreakingly sensual, transformed his face. Jamie was warmed by it. This one could certainly be a charmer if he ever put his mind to it, she decided. Fortunately, the man was too dul to realize his own special magic.
Jamie drummed her fingertips on his chest while she waited for his answer. When he continued to keep silent, she came to the conclusion that he didn't like kissing her at all . That realization hurt. "I'm not any good at it, am I?"
"Good at what?" he asked, his voice deceptively mild.
"At kissing," she snapped. "Wil you please pay attention to what I'm saying?"
"No, baby, you aren't any good at it," he answered. "Yet."
"Don't cal me baby," Jamie whispered. "It isn't proper," she added. "Besides, you don't say it the same way Papa did."
Alec laughed. "Hel , I hope not."
Jamie smiled in spite of her irritation. Alec's voice was so appealing. That burr of his could thril the breath right out of her.
"You didn't answer my question," she blurted out as he started to massage the backs of her thighs. His thumbs had slid up under the hem of her chemise. Jamie pretended not to notice. It felt so very wonderful.
"I did answer you."
"I don't remember."
"I said no."
"No? You weren't jesting with me?"
"Alec, if I'm not any good at kissing, it's your fault, not mine. Maybe you aren't any good, either. What think you of that possibility?"
"I think you've lost your mind." Alec smiled over the outrage that statement caused.
"I refuse to feel inferior about this," Jamie said. "You're the only man I've ever kissed, and the responsibility therefore belongs to you."
"Didn't the man you were pledged to ever kiss you? I know he came to see you on several occasions."
"You know about Andrew?"
Alec shrugged. He began to stroke her smooth buttocks. He was trying desperately not to think about how good she was going to taste. He was going to have to go slowly. He knew it would be more honorable to wait until they'd reached the Highlands before bedding her. The ride there was going to be difficult for her under the best of circumstances. And if he made love to her now, she'd be too tender to keep up the grueling pace.