She ended their conversation by nudging Wildfire into a full gal op, deliberately taking the lead away from him.
She ignored him when he called out to her, determined to make him stay behind her today. Let him choke on the dust from the lead horse.
Alec was suddenly at her side. He took hold of Wildfire's reins. He never said a word to her, just turned her mount around and tossed the reins back to her.
"Well?" she asked.
"You were going the wrong way," Alec told her, his exasperation obvious. "Unless of course you were thinking of going back to England."
"Then your sense of direction is yet another—"
"A simple mistake, Alec," Jamie argued. "I have a fine sense of direction."
"Have you been many places to test this theory?"
"No. And while you're scowling at me, I have another question to put to you. Were you pleased with me last night?"
He looked as if he wanted to laugh. Jamie thought she'd kil him if he did.
"Well? Was I any good at it? And don't you dare ask me to explain my question. You know very well what I'm talking about."
She would die if he told her she wasn't any good. Her hands were squeezing the reins tightly, making indentations in her palms, so horribly nervous had she suddenly become, and she was furious with herself for asking. "You'l get better."
He knew exactly what to say to her to get her temper riled. She thought there might be fire in her eyes when she looked up at him.
Alec was smiling at her. The tenderness in his eyes told her he knew how important her question was to her. "I'l get better?" she strangled out.
"We'l practice, Jamie, once we get home, every single night, until you get it right."
That promise given, he nudged his stal ion forward. Jamie didn't know what to make of his outrageous remark. She thought he'd just insulted her, but the way he was looking at her when he said they were going to practice did make her think he was looking forward to it.
No matter how she looked at it, she always came up with the same conclusion: Alec Kincaid had about as much compassion as a goat.
Stil , she guessed she should give him his due. He had acted with true kindness when he all owed her to sleep well past dawn. She'd needed the additional rest, and though she blamed Alec for draining all the strength out of her the night before, she stil admitted he'd shown a little mercy.
Perhaps he wasn't completely hopeless, after all . Jamie changed her mind about her husband by late afternoon. They'd ridden through the woods most of the morning, pausing only once to refresh themselves by a rippling river. Alec barely spoke a civil word to her. He seemed preoccupied with his own thoughts. Jamie tried, several times in fact, to engage him in conversation, but Alec ignored her questions with a rudeness she found disconcerting. He stood on the grassy bank, his hands clasped behind his back. Jamie guessed he was impatient to continue their journey.
"Are you waiting for the horses to have their rest or for me?" she called out when she couldn't stand the silence a moment longer.
"The horses are ready," he answered. He hadn't even bothered to look at her when he spoke. She briefly considered pushing him into the river to get his full attention, then decided against it. If he didn't drown, he would surely be spitting mad, and she had enough to worry about with her own aches and pains.
Listening to him rant and rave would only make her day all the more sour.
Jamie settled herself on Wildfire's back before cal ing out to Alec again. "I'm ready now. Thank you for stopping."
His voice was so fil ed with surprise she was taken aback. "I must always ask?"
Well , hel , he could have mentioned that odd little rule hours sooner. "And you'l always honor my requests, Alec?"
He swung up into his saddle before answering her. "If it's possible."
Their horses were so close together that Alec's leg brushed against hers.
"Then why didn't you stop when I asked you to last night?" she blurted out.
He grabbed hold of the back of her neck and pul ed her toward him. Jamie clung to the saddle, trying to keep her balance.
He waited for her to look up at him, then easily captured her gaze. "You didn't want me to." He grinned at her.
"That is the most arrogant—"
He kissed her just to silence her. He meant only to remind her just who was the laird and who was the chattel, but her lips went all soft under his, reminding him just how good she really was. He swept the inside of her mouth with his tongue before pul ing away from her. She looked total y bemused. Her hand rested on his cheek, her touch as light as a butterfly. He doubted she even realized she was stil caressing him.
"I said I'd honor your requests whenever possible, Jamie. It wasn't possible for me to stop last night."
The woman was going to make him daft if she continued to ask him to repeat his every word. Alec let her see his exasperation. "You may take the lead this time," he announced, thinking to snap her back to the present.
Jamie nodded. She guided Wildfire around Alec's mount and was just ducking under a fat branch barring her way when Alec appeared at her side.
The minute he took hold of her reins, she realized her error.
He didn't mention her pitiful sense of direction, and neither did she.
They stopped at sunset in the center of a wide meadow.
Alec reached out to pul on Wildfire's reins. When their mounts were side by side, he stil didn't let go of the reins.
His face was impassive now and he stared straight ahead. "Is there danger, Alec?"
She hadn't been able to keep her worry out of her voice.
Alec shook his head. Would he be sitting in the middle of such an open expanse if there was danger? Her question seemed absurd until he remembered she had no knowledge of the ways of fighting men.
Jamie thought she'd stretch her legs a bit but when she started to dismount, Alec stayed her action by placing his hand on her thigh. His grip wasn't at all gentle.
She caught his silent message quickly enough, but his behavior didn't make any sense to her. She folded her hands on the cantle of her saddle, patiently waiting for Alec to explain what he was doing.
A faint whistle sounded from the forest a fair distance away from them. The trees suddenly seemed to come alive when men wearing brown and yel ow plaid began to walk toward them.
Jamie didn't realize she was clutching Alec's leg until his hand covered hers. "They're all ies, Jamie."
She immediately let go of him, straightened her back, and refolded her hands in her lap. "I guessed as much," she whispered.
It was a lie, made blacker stil when she added, "Even from this distance I can see them smiling."
"An eagle couldn't see their faces from this distance," he answered dryly.
"We English have perfect eyesight."
Alec finally turned to look at her. "Are you jesting with me, wife?"
"You decide, husband."
"Aye, you are," Alec answered. "I've already learned all about the English sense of humor."
"And what have you learned?"
"You don't have any."
"That isn't true," Jamie argued. "Why, I have the most wonderful sense of humor." After making that emphatic statement, she turned her face away from him.
"When they reach us, keep your gaze directed on me. Do not look at anyone else. Do you understand?"
"You don't want me to look at any of them?"
"Don't question my motives, wife."
His voice had become as brisk as the rising wind. "Should I speak to them?"
"They'l think me rude."
"They'l think you subservient."
"You will be."
Jamie felt her face heat up. She frowned at Alec, but it was wasted effort for he was staring straight ahead again, ignoring her. "Perhaps, Alec, I should get off my horse and kneel at your feet. Then your all ies will surely see how very subservient your wife is."
She didn't care that her voice shook with anger. "Wel , milord?"
"The suggestion has merit," he answered.
He didn't sound as if he was jesting with her. Jamie was too astonished by his outrageous comment to think of a clever comeback.
She wasn't about to let her displeasure show in front of strangers, though, no matter how upset she was with her husband. Oh, she'd play the obedient wife, all right, until she and Alec were alone again. Then she was going to blister his ears.
When the all ies finally reached them, Jamie kept her gaze directed on her husband's hard profile. It took all her concentration to keep her expression devoid of any true emotion. Serenity was simply too much to ask for.
Alec never even looked her way. The conversation was in Gaelic. Jamie understood most of the words, even though the dialect was a little different from the Lowland Gaelic that Beak had taught her.
Alec didn't know she was fluent in his language, and his ignorance gave her a perverse satisfaction. She decided then and there she was never going to enlighten him.
She listened to him refuse the all ies' offer of drink, food, and shelter as well . His hard, unyielding manner was that of a mighty warlord now, and when they'd finished with their offers and he'd finished with his refusals, they reported to him the latest happenings among the clans.
Jamie knew they were staring at her. She tried to keep her expression tranquil. In true desperation she offered her Maker a month of daily masses and one litany if he'd only help her through this humiliating ordeal.
Alec was ashamed of her. That sudden realization made her want to weep. Her self-pity lasted only a minute or two. Then she became furious. How dare he be ashamed of her? She knew she wasn't as pretty as most, but she wasn't horribly disfigured, either. Once her papa had even called her beautiful. Of course, it was his duty to give her such praise; she was his baby after all , and his opinion was certainly colored. Stil , she'd never noticed people turning their faces away from her so they wouldn't lose their supper.
When Alec reached over and took hold of Wildfire's reins, Jamie was pul ed back to the conversation.
She heard one of his all ies ask who she was.
There hadn't been a tinge of pride in his voice. God's truth, he could have been referring to his dog. No, she qualified; his dog probably meant more to him.
He hadn't gagged over the words either, Jamie decided, trying to find something redeeming in his attitude.
Alec was about to nudge his mount forward through the throng of warriors when another all y called out.
"By what name is she cal ed, Kincaid?"
He took a long time answering. Alec slowly scanned his audience. The look on his face chil ed Jamie. His expression could have been carved in stone.
And then he answered at last. His voice, as cold as sleet, lashed out like a battle cry.
She was beginning to think he wasn't human. Alec never seemed to get hungry or thirsty or tired. The only time he stopped to rest was when Jamie asked him to, and God only knew how she hated asking him for anything.
An Englishman certainly would have seen to his wife's comforts. Alec had difficulty remembering he had a wife. Jamie felt as wanted as a thorn in his side.
She was exhausted, guessed she probably looked as worn out as an old hag, too, then told herself it didn't matter what she looked like. Alec had made his position perfectly dear when he refused to introduce her to his all ies. She didn't appeal to him at all .
Well , he wasn't any prize, either, she decided. His hair was almost as long as hers, for God's sake, and if that wasn't a primitive inclination, she didn't know what was.
Her feelings about her husband might not have been so black if his attitude had been a little more pleasant. The mountain air had obviously affected his mind, for the higher they climbed, the more distant and cold his manner became.
He had more flaws than Satan. The man couldn't even count. He'd specifical y told her it would take them three days to reach his holding, yet here they were, camped for their fifth night, and stil not another Kincaid plaid in sight.
Was his sense of direction as poor as his ability to count? Jamie decided she was too tired to worry about that possibility. As soon as Alec turned his attention to the horses, Jamie walked to the lake to gain a few moments' privacy. She stripped down to her chemise, washed as best she could in the frigid water Alec called a loch, then stretched out on the grassy slope. She was bone-weary. She thought to just close her eyes for a few minutes before getting dressed again. In truth, the bitterness in the air didn't even bother her.
A thick mist rol ed into the glen. Alec gave Jamie as much time as he thought she needed to see to her bath, but when the haze covered his bare feet, he called out to her, commanding that she come to him.
His summons went unanswered. Alec's heart started pounding. He wasn't worried that his enemies had caught her unaware. No, they were on Kincaid land now, in a protected area none but his own would dare to breach. Stil , she hadn't answered him. Alec broke through the lush green foliage and came to an abrupt stop. His breath caught in his throat at the sight he came upon.
She looked like a beautiful goddess. She was sound asleep. The fog floated around her, giving her a mystical appearance. The streamers of sunlight only added to that fantasy, for her skin was a true golden color. She was sleeping on her side. The white chemise she wore rode high on her hip, revealing her long legs.
He stood there a long while, drinking his fil . Desire swel ed up inside him until it became almost painful.
She was simply magnificent to him. He remembered what it felt like to have those legs wrapped around him, remembered the feel of her when he thrust inside.
His wife. A fierce surge of possessiveness shook him. He knew he wouldn't last another night without making love to her again. His promise to wait until they'd reached his holding wasn't going to last. This time, however, he was determined to go slowly. He would be a tender, undemanding lover.
And he'd be gentle… even if it kil ed him.
Alec stood there watching her sleep until the sun was completely gone. She started to rol down the slope then. He rushed over to her and caught her in his arms just in the nick of time.