"Please come with me."

"Now what's wrong?" he demanded in a near bellow.

"Brides always prepare the wedding bed. It's a tradition in England."

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She could tell he didn't believe her lie. She walked away before he could stop her, paused once at the edge of the clearing to give him what she hoped was a come-hither smile, and continued on.

Connor didn't move. He stood there with his legs braced apart and his hands on his hips, staring after her, his attention on the gentle sway of her h*ps as she moved. Then he started counting to ten. When he was finished, he was either going to let the impossible woman leave or go after her and make hard, passionate love to her.

"I've never heard of this tradition."

Quinlan drawled out the remark. The soldier was sitting on the ground with his back against a tree trunk and his arms folded across his chest.

Connor turned his frustration on him. "If you say another word, I swear I'll kill you."

Quinlan ignored the warning. "Don't you think you should go to bed before it's time to get up?"

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Connor took a threatening step toward his friend. Quinlan immediately straightened up. "She's only wanting privacy, Connor. That's why she's moving your blankets."

"I realize that," he said. He hadn't realized it, of course, but he wasn't about to admit it to his friend.

He walked away without saying another word and caught up with Brenna near the lake. He wasn't at all amused that they'd come full circle and were now close to where they started.

"Were you planning to prepare our bed in England?"

Chapter 5

"This will do," she answered.

The isolated spot she'd chosen was a flat piece of nothing squeezed in between the pines. There was barely enough room for him to roll over. She seemed to like it, though, and for what he vowed was going to be the very last time, he let her have her way. He stood behind her as he removed his boots, all the while trying to control his temper.

She spread the blanket out on the ground, and though he was sure she would try to make an hour-long project out of the simple task, she surprised him by being quick about it.

When she was finished, she removed her slippers and then stood up, facing him. She moved closer, until her toes were touching his, and stared into his eyes, holding her breath while she waited for him to touch her.

He didn't move. Tension filled the air between them, her anxiety building as she stared into those dark, inscrutable eyes of his, looking for the first sign of displeasure. Lord, she couldn't stand the silence long.

"I had thought to keep my clothes on."

He slowly shook his head. "But then I thought to take them off," she whispered.

And still he waited. She told herself she had made the decision and now it was up to her to keep her word. Her hands shook as she untied the belt at her waist, and the woolen material he'd draped around her fell in a swoosh to the ground.

She thought about moving to the side before she took her gown off, because the moonlight was blocked by the tree branches there and shadows would hide her nudity from him, but then she decided to stop being such a coward.

Should she tell him she wasn't wearing anything underneath her nightgown? No, she decided, he would find out soon enough. Her heart was pounding frantically, but her anxiety had faded a little—because he wasn't attacking her, she supposed—and somewhere in the back of her muddled thoughts was the realization that Connor wouldn't deliberately hurt her. She couldn't understand why she felt that way, but she did, and oddly, her hands weren't shaking nearly as much.

She felt she was in charge of what was happening to her, and that made all the difference.

She regarded him gravely while she gathered her courage and then slowly removed her nightgown. She kept her gaze on Connor all the while, searching for a hint of displeasure or disgust because her body was so terribly imperfect. She was fully aware of her flaws. Her br**sts were too large, her h*ps too narrow, and her legs were too long for the rest of her body. He was bound to notice, she knew, and if he so much as frowned with displeasure, she thought she would close her eyes and die of shame.

He took his time looking at her. His gaze lingered on her parted lips, her full breasts, her narrow waist, the blond curls shielding her virginity, her long legs, all the while trying to remember how to draw a breath. Dear God, he hadn't expected such beauty. He was overwhelmed by her, for he had never imagined such a woman could exist, and if he weren't a practical man, he would have thought she wasn't English at all but a goddess sent down from heaven to reward him for the vengeance he had sought in his sainted father's name.

He was fast becoming desperate to take her into his arms and plant himself firmly inside her. He didn't give in to his body's demands yet, but stood where he was and let her take the lead once again. For some reason he didn't understand, she had gotten it into her head that she should be the one making the decisions tonight. He had come to this startling conclusion when he had hesitated instead of ordering her to remove her clothes and be damned quick about it. He had shaken his head at her to let her know he didn't care for her decision to keep her clothes on, but before he could explain exactly what he wanted her to do, she changed her mind.

And he got exactly what he wanted.

The blush covering her face reflected her embarrassment. She was trying to look defiant and not afraid, but she was worried. He could see it in her eyes, in the way she stood as straight and rigid as a spear, and in her hands clenching and unclenching at her sides. Oh, yes, she really was perfect.

She must have believed he would become the aggressor now, and when he didn't reach for her, she slowly began to relax.

Why didn't he take off his clothes? She worried about that for a full minute before deciding to offer her assistance.

"I had thought you would remove your own clothes, but then I considered you might want me to assist you. Sometimes wives in England help their husbands disrobe."

She was obviously making it all up as she went along. If it helped relieve her fear, he didn't mind.

"Do you want me to undress you, Connor?"

He considered answering her, then decided what had worked before would work again, and so he simply nodded agreement.

She took another shaky breath, no doubt bracing herself for what she thought she would find, before she finally gathered enough gumption to reach for his belt. Her toes, as weightless as a butterfly's wings, brushed over his, and the second the knot was undone and his plaid began to drop to the ground, she took a quick step back.

He wasn't wearing any underclothes. She noticed that right away, God help her for being foolish enough to look, and she deliberately turned her attention to his chin until her heart calmed down. She'd only taken a glimpse below his waist before she forced herself to look away. It was still more than enough to make her want to run all the way back to England.

"Connor, are you certain this will work?"

The bewilderment in her voice amused him. God, she was innocent. And young.

He gently pulled her into his arms and held her tight against him. His head dropped down to the top of her head. "Yes," he promised.

He was a little surprised he could speak at all. The feel of her soft br**sts pressed against his chest demanded his full attention, and honest to God, he was beginning to believe the unbearable wait had been worth the trouble.

He couldn't wait any longer though. Neither his body nor his mind would allow another minute to pass without fulfilling all of his urges.

Connor had fully expected to be surprised again, and that he was, because once he'd convinced her to quit hiding in the crook of his neck and tilt her head up toward him, she let him kiss her. She didn't know what she was doing, of course. Her lips were closed tight against his, but with his gentle coaxing, she began to relax. Then he told her what he wanted her to do. She didn't fight him, just gave him a look that suggested she thought he was out of his mind to want her to do such a thing, and after he'd repeated his demand, she finally conceded to him and opened her mouth.

And then he kissed her the way he'd imagined he would from the moment he'd first seen her today. His tongue quickly moved inside her sweet warmth to stroke and explore. It was much, much better than what he'd imagined it would be. God, how he liked kissing her this way.

She liked it too. She wound her arms around his neck and began to stroke him, timidly at first, then far more boldly, until she seemed as eager as he was to experience more of the erotic pleasure.

Finally, she began to whimper low in her throat and move restlessly against him.

The temptation proved to be his undoing. He wanted to take her that very moment, and it took all he had to control his own response. He'd scare the hell out of her if he thrust inside her now, hurt her far more than was necessary too, because she still wasn't ready for him. She would be, he promised himself, even if the agony of slowing down killed him.

He was being very deliberate now. He kept up his tender assault on her senses, determined to make it impossible for her to think about what was going to come. Only when she conceded to the demands building inside her would she be able to welcome his invasion without too much discomfort. He tried to overwhelm her, to flood her senses with his touch, his taste, his scent. His mouth assaulted hers again and again, until his own desperation to be inside her overrode all other considerations. His control slipped further away with each kiss they shared, each little moan she gave.

He was aroused to a fevered pitch. He didn't give her time to protest, but kept her fully occupied with his kisses while he lifted her into his arms and moved to their bed. He tried to be gentle with her, at least he thought he tried, even remembered to brace his weight with his arms so he wouldn't crush her as he came down on top of her. His body covered every inch of hers, and God, she smelled so damned good and felt so incredibly right in his arms. He buried his face in the crook of her neck, inhaled her wonderful scent, and let out a loud groan of sheer ecstasy.

She was overwhelmed by what was happening to her. She had expected it would all be over and done with by now and she would be in terrible pain. She hadn't expected to like it or crave all the glorious sensations coursing through her body. Yet she yearned for even more from him, and how was that possible? She didn't know if she was pleasing him—she hoped she was—and she wanted to ask him to tell her what he wanted her to do, so he would also be shaking from her caresses the way she shook from his.

Once his hard body came down on top of hers, thinking became too complicated. He was whispering hot, sensual words close to her ear, which only made the yearning deep inside her more demanding.

His hands were everywhere. She shouldn't let him touch her breasts, meant to tell him to stop, even as she arched up against him in silent demand for more and more and more.

She tried to stop him when his hand moved between her thighs. He wouldn't be stopped though. It was much too late for that. He needed to know if she was ready for him, God help him if she wasn't, and as soon as he felt the wet opening he most wanted to invade, the demands of his body took over.

He tried to make his invasion swift. He moved between her thighs and thrust deep with one powerful surge. She cried out in agony, and the sound echoed through the pines. Only when he was completely surrounded by her tightness did he force himself to stop and allow her time to get past the pain. He couldn't suppress his groan of male satisfaction, or was it a shout? He was too shaken by her to know exactly what he was doing now. He could only feel, and dear God, this had to be heaven, so perfect was each sensation. And new. For the first time since he'd begun to take women to his bed, he found he was consumed by passion.

She was consumed by pain. She struggled against him and demanded that he stop at once, crying all the while, but then he let out a shout and went completely still, and she wasn't certain if he was angry or as disappointed as she was.

Connor finally realized she was crying. He immediately stopped and tried to calm her. "It's going to be all right. The pain will leave."

"How do you know it will leave?"

"I know."

He sounded terribly certain. She decided to believe him, admitting that even now the throbbing wasn't quite as intense. She still didn't like it much, though, and hoped it would all be over and done with soon.

She was about to ask him to please hurry up, but then he kissed her again and she was suddenly more interested in kissing him back than talking.

He continued to stroke her and kiss her until he felt her relax her grip on him.

Then he was moving, though slowly at first, vowing he would end it if she asked him to, even if it killed him. Yet instead of fighting him or making impossible demands, she put her arms around his neck once again.

He wanted more than her acceptance, however, because he'd felt her passion before he'd hurt her, and he craved to feel it again. In between hot kisses, he whispered sensual promises and praise, most of which didn't make any sense at all, but she didn't seem to notice or mind. His patience was blessedly rewarded when she began to move against him.

Connor braced his weight with his arms and lifted up to look into her eyes. There were tears there, yet there was passion as well, wasn't there? God, he hoped so. He didn't want to keep on hurting her, vowed once again to end it quickly with one hard push to give her his seed if her pain persisted, even as he wondered how he would ever find enough discipline to leave her now.

"Should I stop?" His voice was rough with emotion.

He sounded angry. She looked at his face and saw that his jaw was clenched tight, and there were beads of perspiration on his forehead. Had she done something wrong? She could barely think about it, the throbbing inside was insistent now, yet surprisingly pleasant. She shifted beneath him, drew her knees up just a little to bring him deeper inside her, and felt a burst that was far better than simply pleasant. She couldn't stop herself from moving once again.

He let out a low groan. "Have I made you angry?" she whispered.

He shook his head before repeating his question. "Do you want me to end it?"

"No," she said.

He slowly withdrew, smiling because she instinctively tightened her legs around him, trying to keep him inside, and then he pushed forward again, all the while watching her expression for the first sign of discomfort.

She squeezed her eyes shut, let out a sweet moan, and ordered him to do just that once again.

It was all the encouragement he needed. He moved again and again, more forcefully with each thrust, and oh, how he loved the way she clung to him and made those erotic sounds in the back of her throat.

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