He still believed he was the one in control. He knew exactly what would happen to her; she would concede everything to him soon, her body, her mind, and her heart. Her orgasm would consume her, and as she was in the midst of her cl**ax, he would give her his seed.

He would be well served, of course. And satisfied. Just as he had always been.


He continued his pace until she was writhing in his arms. Her h*ps were forcefully arching up to quicken his pace, and then he became even more demanding.

She let him know how much she liked what he was doing by scoring his back with her nails and crying out with pleasure. "Oh, God."

"Nay, lass. Connor."

She didn't understand what he was saying to her because the hot sensations overwhelming her senses were so excruciatingly wonderful; she wanted to tell him so, but her voice got lost in her cries for more.

Her need fed his own. She suddenly became the aggressor, not he, stroking and caressing, touching him in ways he'd never been touched before.

She drew him down for a long, wet, open-mouth kiss, wild now, uncontrolled with her demand, forcing him with her uninhibited response to give her everything, and he was powerless to stop what was happening to him. Her passion ignited his own, and even that part of his mind he had always held back, he willingly gave to her.

His world came apart. He thrust deep, hard, over and over again, his movements uncontrolled now, for he was overwhelmed by her, and with one last surge forward, he poured his seed into her, shouting her name, over and over again, in acceptance and surrender. In that instant when their hearts seemed to beat as one, and their souls felt as though they were entwined, she found her own fulfillment.

She clung to her husband as though her life depended upon it, terrified by what was happening to her, and then she heard him call her name, felt him tighten, and she suddenly stopped fighting her own surrender. Tremor after tremor of ecstasy poured over her, yet all the while Connor was there with her, holding her tight, telling her it was all right by simply chanting her name.

Her cl**ax seemed to last forever, yet it was over all too soon. Weeping softly against his shoulder because it had been so incredibly beautiful, she felt exhausted, replete, and very proud of herself.

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It took her several minutes to stop shaking and draw a proper breath. Connor, she noticed, was still taking deep, shuddering breaths. The entire experience had been far more demanding for him than for her, she thought, before realizing she was still taking gasping breaths too.

He continued to hold her until she began to relax in his arms and her legs dropped down to his sides; then he tried to leave her by rolling over on his side. She wouldn't let go of him. He thought about moving her arms away so he could get up, because he knew he needed time alone to figure out what had just happened to him, but then he felt her tears on his skin and decided to wait another minute or two.

He'd hurt her, yes, of course he had. She'd been a virgin, and it was inevitable that she would have difficulty accepting him, but once she had adjusted, had he continued to hurt her? Hell, he'd been rough with her all right; he should have been able to control himself, and if she hadn't been so hot and tight, he probably would have. What had she expected? She'd given herself wholeheartedly to him.

She'd been perfect. Connor suddenly realized what he was doing and had to shake his head over his own thoughts. What was wrong with him? Now he was trying to blame her for taking away his discipline and trying to claim his heart, God help him, when he had willingly given both to her.

He really needed time to recover. She wasn't going to let go of him, though, and so he decided he would have to wait until tomorrow to figure it all out. Perhaps by then he would have reclaimed some of his control. He'd given her that too. No wonder he felt so vulnerable now, and if that wasn't disgusting, he didn't know what was. His strength was gone, and he was suddenly too exhausted to think about anything important. He inhaled her wonderful feminine scent, found it mingled with his own, and if he didn't force himself to go to sleep soon, he knew he was going to get hard again and hurt her all over.

She didn't want to sleep just yet. She wanted a tender word from him so she would know he'd been pleased with her. She needed his assurance now, and only when his breathing became deep and even did she realize she wasn't going to get it.

She moved away from him, sat up, and nudged him. He didn't even open his eyes.

She didn't want to give up. The pride she'd felt just minutes ago was quickly fading, and damn it all, she wanted to keep on feeling wonderful about what had happened, not sorry. Didn't he understand she needed praise and comfort to give her the reassurance she ached for?

No, of course he didn't know. The insensitive bear didn't even know what comfort was.

She decided to give him one last chance to redeem himself and poked him hard in his shoulder. She'd already made up her mind that as soon as he opened his eyes, she would bluntly ask him if he had been as pleased with her as she'd been with him. He'd tell her yes, of course, and she'd finally be content.

Connor still didn't open his eyes, but he did move. He rolled over, away from her.

She saw the damage she'd done to him and thought her heart might stop beating then and there. Bright red marks streaked his broad shoulders and back. She hadn't drawn blood with her nails, but the marks were vivid enough to make her think it would take a long while for them to fade away.

How could she have done such a thing? She'd acted like a wild animal, and not at all like the well-bred lady she'd been raised to be. No wonder Connor was ignoring her. He had to be disappointed in her. In truth, she couldn't blame him.

She didn't know how she was ever going to face him again. She was going to have to, of course, unless she died of embarrassment before morning.

First things first, she told herself. She would go back to the water, wash his scent away, and get dressed.

She felt better because she had something to do. She tried not to make any noise, though she was pretty certain she could step all over him and he would continue to sleep. The second she moved, she grimaced in pain. She paused to glare at Connor, because he was responsible for her discomfort, then reached for the plaid he'd given her. She saw the spots of blood on the wool right away. She didn't panic, and in fact wasn't even surprised, because her mother had told her there would be blood, and pain, but the dear woman had exaggerated about it all being over and done with as quick as a blink. Brenna had to admit that some of her discomfort was her own fault. Her mother had also instructed her to stay perfectly still throughout the ordeal, promising that if she did, it wouldn't be so terrible after all, and Brenna hadn't stayed still, now had she? When would she start listening to her elders?

Still, it hadn't been that horrible. She admitted the truth on her way back to the water. She continued to fret while she washed every spot of skin he'd touched, which meant taking another full bath, because he'd touched her everywhere, and then she got dressed. She was thankful she'd left her clothes on the bank, especially her undergarments. Yawning now from sheer fatigue, she folded his plaid into a square with the intention of giving it back to him in the morning, then put on a clean, ivory, ankle-length chainse and covered it up with her dark, midnight blue bliaut.

"I'm pathetic," she muttered in disgust.

She removed a wooden necklace from inside her right shoe, where she'd carefully hidden it, and held it gently in her hand, treating it with as much care as she would a king's crown of jewels. The round wooden medallion was a gift from her father, and though it wasn't valuable by a thief's measure, which was exactly why her father had had it made out of wood, it was more precious and valuable to her than anything else she owned because of what the disk represented. Her father had had the wooden medallions made for all of his children, even his sons, and each one of the disks had a different design etched into the wood. Brenna's was the outline of the sun. All of her sisters and brothers recognized each other's designs, her father had insisted they memorize them, and when he had given Brenna her medallion, he gave her the same instructions he'd given the others. If she was ever in trouble, she need only send the medallion to one of her brothers or sisters and he or she would immediately come to her assistance. Their loyalty was to one another, he'd explained, first and always, and her father wanted to make certain that after he and her mother had passed on, their children would look out for one another.

Brenna admitted, though only to herself, that she had a tendency to become preoccupied and misplace her possessions, and for that reason she always put the medallion in her shoe at night. She wouldn't dare be careless with her father's dear gift.

Holding the link to her family made her ache to be with them again. Suddenly it all became too much to bear, and she began to sob with heartache and loneliness. Although she tried, she couldn't make herself stop. She sat down on the slope, giving in to what she considered the inevitable after the hellish day she'd had, and stared at her treasure until her tears were spent. The precious lifeline to her family was secured by a leather necklace. She made certain it was knotted securely before slipping it around her neck and tucking it under her clothing. It rested between her breasts, directly over her heart, exactly where it belonged.

Much to her surprise, weeping had proved to be a healing balm, and though she found it quite peculiar, she actually felt better by the time she was finished. She was also able to look at her situation with more practicality and less emotion. The wooden disk represented her past, but Connor was part of her future now, wasn't he?

She should probably learn to be loyal to him, shouldn't she? Love wasn't all that important, was it? Her mother certainly hadn't thought so. Why, she hadn't truly loved their father for years and years.

Eventually, her heart did soften to his hard ways, and the two of them certainly got along well enough.

Connor had already proven he would treat her kindly. The way he'd touched her, with such care and tenderness, was evidence enough. His hands fit the rest of him, she thought. They were big, callused, hard, strong, yet he'd been so very gentle when he'd caressed her.

The memory made her sigh. It was promptly followed by a loud yawn. She didn't want to avoid Connor any longer. She needed sleep and his warmth now. The tender words of assurance would have to wait until the obtuse man finally realized what a valuable asset she was. She was going to have to prove herself to him, of course, but she was up to the challenge, and God willing, she would be a good wife and mother.

She stood up when she heard Connor. He barely made any noise at all, but it was still quite enough for her to recognize where the sound was coming from. She hurriedly wiped her face dry of any remaining tears, straightened her appearance as best she could without her brush and mirror, and then started toward him.

He stopped when he reached the break in the trees. He didn't dare get any closer to her just yet, because the urge to take her into his arms and make love to her again needed to be controlled first, then discarded, before he took another step. He couldn't force himself to stop thinking about it, though. He'd tell her it had been damned inconsiderate of her to stay away from his bed for such a long while, of course, probably just a scant second before his mouth devoured hers so she couldn't start arguing with him again. He loved the way she'd tasted, the way she'd felt.

God, but she was pretty. He couldn't seem to get past the revelation. It wasn't simply her appearance he found himself drawn to like a besotted boy. No, it was far more than that. She was such a sensual woman. The graceful way she moved, the warmth in her welcoming smile, the delicate look of her, all appealed to him, but what captivated him most was the air of dignity and strength in her bearing. She made him believe she fully understood the power she would wield as his wife.

And if he ever weakened, would she wield that power over him? The thought made him frown.

The longer she stared at him, the faster her heart beat, so overwhelmed was she by the sheer beauty before her. Connor was almost completely shrouded in the thick mist gathered in the trees. She was suddenly reminded of the giants of ancient times her father had told her bedtime stories about, and surely Connor was every bit as magnificent as his ancestors were, perhaps even more so. There wasn't a fold of fat anywhere. She understood why he radiated such strength and power now. The splay of muscles in his upper arms and thighs was evidence enough. Muscles rolled under skin that glistened when he put his hand out to her.

She immediately walked forward and placed her hand in his. "I thought you were sleeping," she whispered.

"I cannot rest until you do."

"Why is that, Connor?"

He liked the way she said his name in such a familiar, intimate way. God, he was weary tonight. He had to be exhausted to be thinking about such foolishness now.

"I'm responsible for you, that's why. What were you doing? You were gone a long time."

He knew exactly what she'd been doing, of course, the proof of her weeping still lingered in her eyes, and the only reason he'd asked the question was to see if she would admit her weakness to him.

"I was crying like a baby. Why does that amuse you?"

"I smiled because you told me the truth."

"I always try to tell the truth. Lies become too complicated. Do you always walk around without any clothes on?"

She sounded worried about the possibility. "Only when I'm chasing after inconsiderate wives," he answered.

He didn't mean to sound surly. She didn't seem to notice, however. Her mind was somewhere else. He wasn't left guessing what she was thinking about.

"Why did you marry me?"

"I'll explain tomorrow."

He started to turn, intending to drag her back to the bed, but she stopped him by tugging on his hand.

"You promised me you would explain directly after our marriage was blessed. You don't believe I'll like hearing the truth, do you? Could that be the reason you're putting it off?"

"Come back to bed. Then I'll explain."

"You'll only fall asleep before…" She stopped trying to explain when he lifted her up into his arms. His skin was so wonderfully warm, she wanted to press herself against him. She didn't give in to the temptation though, but put her arms around his neck and stared directly into his eyes.

"Why were you weeping?"

"I was thinking about my family."

"I'm your family now."

The gruffness in his voice actually comforted her, and she knew she had to be exhausted to have such a strange reaction. She hadn't wanted to tell him her worry, but heaven help her, the way he stared at her made her want to blurt out every little concern she had.

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