A good twenty minutes passed before he finally removed his hand from her mouth. His thumb slowly rubbed across her lower lip and she couldn't imagine why he'd done that, even as shivers of pleasure coursed through her body. He shook his head at her again; a signal, she guessed, that she was to remain silent. She nodded to let him know she understood.
She simply had to quit staring at him. Her stomach was fluttering, her heart as well, and she knew she'd be blushing in no time at all if she didn't control her thoughts. She thought she'd die if he had any inclination of his effect on her. Judith closed her eyes and rested against him. Both his arms were wrapped around her waist. It would be easy for her to pretend he wanted to hold her, easy to dream impossible dreams about the handsome laird too.
She told herself she wouldn't allow such nonsense. She was made of stronger stuff and could certainly control her emotions, and her thoughts.
The wait continued. When Iain was finally certain the Macphersons were well away from their shelter, he let go of his fierce hold on her. He gently nudged her face up, to look at him, with his thumb under her chin.
He'd meant to tell her the threat was over, but he forgot his intention the second her gaze met his. Desire such as he'd never experienced before gained his full attention. His discipline deserted him. He felt powerless against this attraction. He couldn't stop himself from tasting her. He slowly leaned down, giving her plenty of time to pull away from him if she wanted to, but Judith didn't move. His mouth gently brushed over hers. Once. Twice. And still she didn't pull away.
He wanted more. His hand clasped her jaw and his mouth settled possessively on top of hers. He captured her gasp, ignored it. He thought to end this attraction with one thorough kiss. He told himself his curiosity would then be appeased. He'd know the taste of her, and the feel of her soft lips too, and then it would be finished. He would be sated.
It didn't work out that way. Iain recognized that fact soon enough. He couldn't seem to get enough of her. Damn, she tasted good. And she was so soft, so warm and giving in his arms. He needed more. He forced her mouth open, and before she guessed his intent, his tongue swept inside to mate with hers.
She did try to pull away from him then, though only for the briefest of seconds. Then she wrapped her arms around his waist and clung to him. His tongue rubbed against hers until he was shaking with his need. She certainly wasn't acting shy now. Nay, she was actively kissing him back.
He growled low in his throat. She whimpered. Passion raged between them. His mouth slanted over hers again and again, and when he realized he wasn't going to be content until he was resting between her thighs, he forced himself to stop.
Iain was stunned, furious too, though only with himself. His lack of discipline was appalling to him. She was staring up at him with such a confused expression on her face. Her lips looked swollen… he wanted to kiss her again.
He shoved her head down on his shoulder, then jerked on the reins of his mount to get them moving back to the main path.
Judith was thankful for his inattention now. She was still shaking from the kisses he'd given her, astonished too by her own passionate response. It was the most wonderful and the most frightening experience she'd ever had.
She wanted more. She didn't think Iain did, though. He hadn't said a word to her, but the way he'd abruptly pulled away from her and the anger she'd glimpsed in his eyes were both sound indications he'd been displeased.
She suddenly felt very inadequate and horribly embarrassed. Then she felt like shouting at the brute for injuring her feelings and her pride. Her eyes filled with tears. She took a deep breath in an effort to regain her composure. After a few minutes her trembling subsided a little, and she was beginning to think she'd won this battle with her own confusing emotions, when Iain injured her feelings again. He stopped his mount next to Alex's brown stallion, and before Judith had an inkling of what he was planning to do, the rude man had dumped her into Alex's lap.
So be it. If he didn't want to have anything more to do with her, she would retaliate in kind. She refused to even glance his way. She carefully adjusted her skirts, keeping her gaze downcast all the while, and prayed to her Maker that Iain wouldn't see her blush. Her face felt like it was on fire.
Iain took over the lead. Gowrie nudged his mount into position behind his laird, then she and Alex joined the procession. Brodick was once again left to protect the rear.
"Are you cold, lass?"
Alex whispered that question close to her ear. The concern in his voice was most apparent.
"No," she answered.
"Then why are you trembling?"
"Because I'm cold."
She realized the contradiction in her answers and let out a little sigh. If Alex thought she wasn't making any sense, he was kind enough not to mention it. He didn't speak another word to her that long afternoon, and she didn't speak to him.
She couldn't seem to get comfortable in his arms, either. Her back brushed against his chest several times, but she couldn't relax enough to lean back against him.
By nightfall she was so exhausted she would barely keep her eyes open. They stopped at a beautiful stone cottage with a thatched roof, nestled in the side of the mountain. Thick ivy covered the south side of the structure and a stone path led all the way from the barn adjacent to the front door of the cottage.
A gray-haired man with a thick beard and wide shoulders stood in the entrance. He smiled in greeting and hurried outside.
Judith saw the woman hovering in the doorway. She had been standing behind her husband, but when he moved forward, she backed into the shadows.
"We'll be spending the night here," Alex said. He dismounted, then reached up to assist her. "You'll have a roof over your head and a good night's rest."
She nodded. Alex, she decided, was a truly compassionate man. He'd helped her to the ground, but he didn't let go of her. He knew she'd fall on her face if he did. He didn't mention her pitiful condition, and even allowed her to hold on to his arms until she could make her legs quit shaking. His hands held her by her waist and she knew he could feel her trembling.
"Get your hands off her, Alex."
Iain's hard voice came from behind Judith. Alex immediately let go. Her knees buckled. Iain caught her from behind just as she was falling forward. His left arm was tightly wrapped around her waist and he wasn't at all gentle when he pulled her to his side. Alex backed away from his laird's glare, then turned to walk toward the cottage.
Iain continued to stand there holding Judith for several more minutes. Her shoulders were pressed tightly against his chest. She kept her head bowed. She was so weary she wanted to close her eyes and let him carry her inside. That wouldn't have been proper, of course.
How could a man smell so wonderful after such a long day's ride? Iain's scent was a combination of the clean outdoors… and male. Heat radiated from him. She was drawn to his warmth, and when she realized that fact, she knew she should pull away.
He was as distant as the storm brewing in the south. Judith knew he was only holding her because she needed his assistance. He felt responsible for her and was simply doing his duty.
"Thank you for your help," she said. "You may let go of me now. I've recovered."
She tried to push his arm away. He had other intentions. He half turned her in his arms, then nudged her chin up.
He was smiling. She didn't know what to make of that. He'd been acting like a disgruntled bear just minutes before, though she admitted to herself that Alex had been his target.
"I'll let go of you when I want to," he explained in a soft whisper. "Not when you give me permission to, Judith."
His arrogance was outrageous. "And when do you suppose that will be?" she asked. "Or am I allowed to ask?"
He raised an eyebrow over the irritation in her voice. Then he shook his head at her. "You're angry with me," he said. "Tell me why."
She tried to push his hand away from her chin but gave up when he squeezed her jaw.
"I'm not letting go until you tell me why you're upset," he told her.
"You kissed me."
"You kissed me too."
"Yes, I did," she admitted. "I'm not sorry either. What think you of that?"
The challenge was there, in her voice and her eyes. A man could forget his every thought if he allowed himself to be captured by her beauty. That thought settled in his mind even as he answered her. "I'm not sorry either."
She gave him a disgruntled look. "Perhaps you weren't sorry at the time, but you're sorry now, aren't you?" He shrugged. She felt like kicking him. "You'd better not touch me again, Iain."
"Don't give me orders, lass."
His voice had taken on a hard edge. She ignored it. "When it comes to kissing me, I can give all the orders I want to. I don't belong to you," she added in a much softer tone of voice.
He was looking like he wanted to throttle her. She decided she'd been a little too high-handed with him. Iain seemed to have a prickly nature.
"I didn't mean to sound surly," she began. "And I know you must be used to getting your way, because you're a laird and all. Still, as an outsider, I really shouldn't have to obey any of your commands," she continued in a reasonable tone of voice. "In this instance, as a guest—"
She stopped trying to explain when he shook his head at her. "Judith, do you agree that while you're in my brother's home, you'll be under his protection?"
He nodded. He smiled too. He acted as though he'd just won an important argument, and she wasn't even certain what the topic had been.
He let go of her and walked away. She chased after him. When she reached his side, she grabbed hold of his hand. He immediately stopped.
"Yes?" he asked.
"Why are you smiling?"
"Because you just agreed with me."
She wasn't deliberately trying to bait him. He could see the confusion in her gaze. "Until you return to England, I'm responsible for you. You will follow all my commands," he added with a nod. "That's what you just agreed to do."
She shook her head. The man was daft. How in heaven's name had her announcement that he couldn't kiss her ever again led to this twisted conclusion?
"I agreed to no such thing," she said.
She hadn't let go of his hand. He doubted she realized she was still holding on to him. He could have pulled away. He didn't.
"You told me I'd be under Patrick's protection," she reminded him. "Therefore, he would be responsible for me, Iain, not you."
"Yes," he agreed. "But I'm laird and Patrick therefore answers to me. Now do you understand?"
She pulled her hand away. "I understand you think that both you and Patrick can give me orders," she replied. "That's what I understand."
He smiled. He nodded, too. She burst into laughter. He couldn't imagine what had caused that response.
He wasn't left guessing long.
"Does that mean that you and Patrick are both accountable for all my actions?"
He nodded. "My transgressions become yours?" He clasped his hands behind his back and frowned down at her. "Do you plan to cause mischief?"
"Oh, no, of course not," she answered in a rush. "I'm really very thankful to you for allowing me to come to your home, and I certainly don't wish to cause any problems."
"Your smile makes me wonder about your sincerity," he remarked.
"I'm smiling for a different reason altogether," she explained. "I've just realized what an illogical man you are," she added with a nod, when he looked so incredulous.
"I'm not in the least illogical," he snapped.
She didn't realize she'd insulted him. "Yes, you are," she countered. "Unless you can explain how my decision not to let you kiss me again led to this bizarre conversation."
"The issue of my kissing you isn't relevant enough for discussion," he replied. "It holds no importance."
He might as well have slapped her. The hurt from his casually spoken words stung just as much. She wasn't about to let him know he'd injured her feelings, though. She nodded, then turned and walked away from him.
He stood there watching her for a long minute.
Then he let out a weary sigh. Judith didn't understand, but she was already causing problems. His men couldn't keep their gazes off her. Damn, neither could he.
She was a beautiful woman, and any man would notice. Yes, that made sense. That was logical. Yet the raw possessiveness he felt toward her was another matter altogether. That wasn't at all logical.
He told her that ultimately he was responsible for her… until she returned to England. Hell, he'd almost choked on the words. The thought of taking her back didn't sit well at all. What in thunder was wrong with him?
How was he ever going to let her go?
She couldn't wait to be rid of him. Judith knew she wasn't thinking like a reasonable person now. The long, endless journey had worn her out so thoroughly, her mind had turned to mush. She was admittedly overreacting to Iain's harsh words. She couldn't seem to sort anything out because her feelings kept getting in her way. She was still feeling the sting of his rejection, she supposed.
"Judith, come and meet Cameron," Alex called out.
Everyone turned to look at her. She hurried over to stand in front of their host. She made a quick curtsy and forced a smile. It was a difficult undertaking, for Cameron was staring at her as though she'd just turned into a demon… or worse. The expression on his face didn't leave any doubt as to what he was thinking. He was apparently appalled by her very existence.
Oh Lord, she really didn't have the strength to endure this nonsense. She let out a little sigh, then said, "Good eve to you, sir."
Cameron roared that statement of fact with such force, the veins in his forehead stood out. Judith had spoken in perfect Gaelic, but she hadn't been able to conceal the English accent. Her clothes were another clue as to her heritage, of course. While she well understood the shameful distrust that existed between the Scots and the English, Cameron's hostility was so unreasonable and so filled with loathing, he frightened her. She instinctively took a step back in an attempt to protect herself from his wrath.
She bumped into Iain. She tried to move to his side, but he waylaid that intent when he put his hands on her shoulders. He tightened his hold and pulled her back until she was pressed against him,