He knew where to touch, where to stroke, when to push, when to retreat. And yet, when he finally reached his own release, he realized his gentle little bride had taken him far beyond the stars.
She'd taken him to heaven.
She slept like the dead. Morning sun was full upon the meadow when she stretched herself awake. Jamie let out a low groan as soon as she moved. She was horribly tender. Her eyes flew open. The memory of what had happened last night made her cheeks burn with embarrassment.
God help her, she was never going to be able to look him in the eye again. She had behaved like a complete wanton. She did tel him to stop, she reminded herself, but the man was bent on having his way.
She was going to stay under his plaid for the rest of the day, she decided, when she admitted she'd also insisted, rather vehemently, that he not stop.
Stil , he did seem to like what they were doing. Jamie pushed the blanket away from her face then. She saw Alec immediately. He was standing on the other side of the clearing, between their mounts. The horses, she noticed, had already been saddled in readiness for the day's ride.
Wildfire was acting like a lovesick female. She kept nudging Alec's hand for another pat of affection.
Jamie suddenly wanted a pat of affection, too. She thought she might have pleased him last night.
Unfortunately, she'd fal en asleep before he had a chance to tel her so.
She was going to have to bluster through her embarrassment. Since he wasn't paying her any attention, she stood up, unwrapped his plaid, and quickly put her chemise back on. She knew her attire was immodest, but she was determined not to show any shyness in front of him. He would take it as weakness, she guessed.
Alec didn't even glance her way. She gathered her clothes and walked to the pond with as much dignity as her sore thighs would all ow. She washed and dressed in a pale blue gown, then braided her hair. Her mood was vastly improved when she walked back to camp. It was a new day, after all , and certainly a new beginning.
Besides, she'd done her duty as his wife. She had let him bed her.
Did she think he was made of iron? Alec asked himself that question as soon as his wife walked away from him.
No other woman had ever enticed him this way. He'd never known such fierce desire before. Bed them and forget them, that had always been his attitude in the past. She was different, though. God help him, she was beginning to matter to him. She wasn't the forgetting kind, either. White-hot desire had claimed him the minute she stood up and faced him. Her hair was in wild, curly disarray. He remembered the silky feel of it when he'd held the strands up for the wind to dry. Jamie had slept through his ministrations. He hadn't been able to quit stroking her skin after he'd made love to her. She'd slept through that, too.
He hadn't slept at all . Her h*ps had cushioned his hardness. Every time she moved, he wanted to take her again. The only reason he held back was that she wouldn't be able to walk for a week if he did all the things he wanted to do to her. It was too soon for her. She needed time for the soreness to ease. He'd made the decision not to touch her again until they reached his home. And he was already regretting it.
He wasn't made of iron. His innocent little wife didn't understand that yet. She wouldn't have stood there so scantily clad if she'd had any idea of what was going on inside his mind. Perhaps she did know, he considered.
Could she be trying to get him to make love to her again without actually asking him outright? Alec debated that possibility a long minute, then decided she was simply too naive to realize how easily she could arouse him.
He would, of course, enlighten her as soon as they reached his home.
"Alec? Thank you for loaning me your plaid."
He turned at the sound of her voice and found her staring at his boots.
"It's yours to keep, Jamie."
"A wedding present?"
She wouldn't look at him. Though her head was bent, he could stil see how red her cheeks were. Her embarrassment was terribly obvious. And vastly amusing. Hel , the woman had been a wildcat in his arms. He had the marks to prove it. Now she acted as if the wrong word might send her into a swoon.
"You may cal it such," he announced with a shrug. He took her satchel and turned to secure it on Wildfire's back.
"I've eleven shil ings, Alec."
She waited for him to turn back to her. He didn't respond to her announcement. Jamie wasn't deterred.
"Do you have a priest in your Highlands?"
That question did get his notice. He half turned to look at her. She immediately lowered her gaze. She was getting a bit more courage back, for she now stared at his chest instead of his boots. "We do have a priest," he answered. "Why do you ask?"
"I want to use one of my shil ings to buy you an indulgence," Jamie announced. She tucked the plaid under her arm and folded her hands together.
"An indulgence," Jamie explained. "It's my wedding gift to you."
"I see," he replied, trying not to laugh. He wanted to ask her if she thought his soul was in need of aid, but the seriousness in her tone made him once again consider her tender feelings.
He was going to have to get over this ridiculous affliction, he told himself. Her feelings shouldn't matter to him at all .
"Does that please you?" she asked, hoping for a kind word in reply.
He shrugged his answer.
"I thought it would be an appropriate gift because you accidental y kil ed a man yesterday. The indulgence will halve your time in purgatory. That's what Father Charles says."
"It wasn't accidental, Jamie, and you kil ed one man yourself."
"Aye, you did."
"You needn't sound so cheerful about it," Jamie muttered. "And if I did kil the man, well , he needed kil ing, so I don't have to buy an indulgence for myself."
"So it's only my soul that concerns you?"
Jamie nodded. He didn't know whether to be insulted or amused. He had to shake his head when he thought about all the coins Father Murdock was going to be col ecting in future if his wife continued to buy him an indulgence every time he kil ed a man. The priest would end up richer than England's king by year's end.
Alec certainly wasn't the appreciative sort, Jamie decided. He stil hadn't offered her a word of gratitude.
"Do you have a blacksmith as well ?"
He nodded, then waited for her next remark. God only knew what was going on inside her mind now.
Odd, but he found himself eager to hear what she was thinking. Another affliction, he told himself. He'd have to work on that flaw as well .
"Then I'l use my remaining shil ings to buy you a second wedding gift," she said.
She saw she'd captured his full attention when she glanced up to see his reaction. "I've thought of just the gift for you. I know you'l be pleased."
"And what might that be?" he asked, finding her enthusiasm as captivating as her smile. He didn't have the heart to tel her no one used shil ings as payment for anything in the Highlands. He knew she'd find out soon enough.
She thought he looked quite stunned by her gift. She nodded to let him know she meant what she promised, then turned her gaze to the ground again.
He couldn't believe he'd heard her correctly. "A what?"
"A sword, Alec. It's a good gift, isn't it? Every warrior should carry one at his side. I noticed you were lacking in such equipment when the outcasts attacked us. I considered that highly unusual, for it did seem to me that all warriors would have need of such a handy weapon. Then I considered the fact that you're a Scotsman, after all , and mayhap your training didn't include… Alec, why are you looking at me like that?"
He couldn't answer her.
"Does my gift please you?" she asked.
She sounded worried now. Alec managed a brisk nod. It was the best he could do.
Jamie smiled with relief. "I knew you'd be pleased," she told him.
He nodded again, then had to turn away from her.
For the first time in his life, Alec Kincaid was speechless.
Jamie didn't seem to notice. "Daniel carries a sword. I noticed that right away. Perhaps, since the two of you are such good friends, he might take time to instruct you in the proper use of the weapon. I'm told it can be most effective in battle."
Alec's forehead dropped to the saddle. Jamie couldn't see his face because he was turned away from her, but his shoulders were shaking.
He was obviously overcome with gratitude.
Jamie was feeling proud of herself. She had just offered him a branch of friendship and he had accepted it. Their situation would certainly improve now.
In time he just might forget she was English and begin to like her.
She walked away from her husband, for she wished to spend a few minutes with Mary before they started out on their journey again. Now that she had figured out how to get along with her husband, she thought she'd share her expertise with her sister. She certainly wasn't going to mention last night, though.
No, Mary would have to find out all about that part of marriage from her own husband. Perhaps, Jamie considered, Mary had already found out.
Jamie felt as if she'd just discovered the secrets of the world. Kindness begat kindness. One didn't bite the hand that was patting one, now, did one?
"Jamie? Come here."
His command was a little too brisk for her liking, but she held her smile and walked back to Alec's side.
She stared at his chest, waiting to hear what he had to say.
Alec tilted her chin up. "Are you all right, wife? will you be able to ride today?"
She didn't understand what he was asking. "I'm fine, Alec, really."
"You're not too sore?" Alec persisted.
The immediate blush told him she now understood what he was asking. "You aren't supposed to mention that," she whispered.
He couldn't resist. "Mention what?"
Though it didn't seem possible to him, her blush intensified. "My—my being sore," she stammered out.
"Jamie, I know I hurt you last night."
He didn't sound overly contrite to her. God's truth, he sounded downright arrogant. "Yes, you did hurt me," she muttered. "And, yes, I am sore. Are there any other intimate questions you wish to put to me?"
He squeezed her jaw, forcing her to look up at him again. And then he lowered his head and brushed his mouth against hers. It was such a tender kiss that Jamie was all but undone. Her eyes fil ed with tears.
Now he'd give her the praise she so desperately needed to hear.
"If I think of any I'l let you know," he announced before he let go of her.
"Think of any what?"
A rock could hold fleas longer than she could hold on to a thought. "Any other intimate questions," he said.
She stood where she was while Alec swung up into his saddle. "Come now, Jamie. 'Tis time to ride."
"But what about Daniel and Mary? Shouldn't we wait for them?"
"They left over two hours ago," Alec answered.
"They left without us?" she asked, her voice incredulous.
"Why didn't you wake me?"
Alec held his grin. His wife looked thoroughly disgruntled. Wisps of curly hair had already separated from her braid. The strands floated around her face and down the nape of her slender neck.
She looked lovely.
"You needed your sleep," Alec told her, his voice suddenly gruff.
"They didn't even say good-bye," Jamie said. "It was a rudeness, don't you suppose, Alec?" She walked over to Wildfire's side, paused to give her horse a whispered word of praise and a good pat, then gained the saddle. She grimaced against the ache that motion caused. "Are we going to try to catch up with them?"
Alec shook his head. "They've left the north road by now."
Jamie couldn't hide her disappointment. "How long must we travel before we reach your home?"
"Three more days."
She looked disgruntled again. "Three if we set a brisk pace, wife."
"In the opposite direction from my sister?"
Before he could answer her, she whispered, "I'm never going to see my sister again, am I?"
"Don't look so upset, Jamie. Mary's home is just an hour's ride from us. You may see her as often as you like."
His explanation didn't make sense to her. "We go for three days in the opposite direction, you tel me, yet Mary will end up only an hour's ride away when we finally reach your home? I don't understand, Alec.
You do remember where you live, don't you?"
"There are clans friendly to Daniel and he must therefore pass through their lands, just as there are clans friendly to me, Jamie. I must also stop to give greeting as laird over the clan Kincaid."
"Why couldn't the four of us—"
"There are also clans who would give their col ective hide to see me dead."
She could certainly understand that, she decided. If Alec acted as impatient with the clans as he was now acting with her, he would certainly col ect a lot of enemies. "And Daniel is friend to some of your enemies?" she asked.
Alec nodded. "Then why do you cal Daniel your friend? Your enemies should also be his if he's loyal to you."
He gave up. He knew she stil didn't understand. "Do we have many enemies, Alec?"
"I'm your wife now, I would remind you," she answered. "For that reason, your enemies are now mine, aren't they?"
"Aye, they are," he announced.
"Why are you smiling? Do you like having so many enemies?"
"I'm smiling because I've just realized you have the makings of a true Scot," he answered. "This pleases me."
She gave him a magnificent smile. Alec immediately guessed she was up to mischief. He'd already noticed that when her eyes sparkled the way they were now, she was about to give him a clever retort.
He wasn't disappointed. "I'l never be a Scot, Alec. But you, sir, well you have the makings of a true English baron. This pleases me."
He didn't know why he laughed, for she'd just insulted him mightily, but he did laugh all the same. He shook his head over her comment and his reaction. "Remember this conversation, Jamie. One day soon, you'l see the error in all your opinions."
"Al my opinions, Alec?" She frowned at him, then added, "I think I'm beginning to understand why we have so many enemies."