"I notice you frown every time you look at me."
She let out a sigh. "I didn't understand that you didn't break my heart. I also thought we argued, but you have explained we didn't."
He nodded. "Why are you so restless in your saddle?"
He was going to make her admit her embarrassment. "There is a little tenderness," she whispered. "I've been shifting my weight to ease the discomfort."
He lifted her from Gilly onto his lap and put his arms around her. His chin dropped down on the top of her head next. "Is it better now?"
"Yes, thank you."
"I'm not going to be able to touch you tonight, am I?"
He actually sounded a little disappointed. She had trouble believing him, of course. Then she thought he might be jesting with her and looked up to see if he was smiling. His expression didn't give anything away, however, and so she asked, "You want to touch me again?"
"Of course. Why does that surprise you? I told you you didn't disappoint me, and I want children as soon as possible."
She leaned away from him. "But after we, directly after… You told me you weren't disappointed, but I know you weren't very happy either."
"Why would you think such a thing?"
"You rolled away and ignored me. You needn't pretend now just to make me feel better. I'm bound to improve."
"Ah, lass, you'll kill me if you do."
She turned scarlet. "Then you were happy… after?"
He let out a long sigh. He couldn't understand why she needed to hear him admit it.
"Why didn't you tell me how you felt?"
"Why would I?"
He was ignorant of women's feelings, she reminded herself so she wouldn't get angry. "You could have given me a compliment or two."
He gave her a surprised look, and she immediately recognized it. It was the same look he had given her when she'd told him she wanted to be comforted.
"I cannot guess what you want. You have to tell me, Brenna."
She shook her head at him. "I no longer have any need for compliments, so you can stop looking appalled. It only just occurred to me that I didn't compliment you either. I certainly wasn't disappointed."
She ignored his arrogant remark. "I believe we should start over." She nodded to emphasize her conclusion before repeating it. "Yes, that's what we must do. As of this minute, we're starting all over."
What was she talking about? Start what over? If she hadn't looked so pleased with herself, and so damned happy, he probably would have demanded she explain herself.
Brenna suddenly realized how considerate it was of him to gain privacy for their intimate talk about her condition. "I'm grateful you waited until we were alone to discuss my discomfort, and I feel better because you were concerned."
"That isn't why we stopped."
She looked so disappointed, he decided to soften the truth. "It was only one of the reasons we stopped.
I also wanted to talk to you about your horse."
"Gilly's worn out, isn't she?"
"Yes," he agreed. "We're going to have to leave her behind. She won't make it up the last climb," he continued on, in spite of the fact that she was vehemently shaking her head at him. His wife still didn't understand it was not proper to disagree with her husband. He hoped she'd figure that out soon.
"She's ready to collapse even now."
She knew he was right about Gilly's condition, yet she wanted him to realize what he asked of her was impossible. "My brother gave me Gilly years ago. I'm very fond of her. Surely you can understand I can't leave her behind. Couldn't we stay here until she regains some of her strength?"
"Please be reasonable."
"I am being reasonable. The horse can't possibly regain what she never had. She wasn't bred for endurance."
"But if we lingered just a little while…"
"It's too dangerous to stay here. Would you put the lives of my men above those of your animal?"
Her shoulders slumped in defeat. There didn't seem to be any point in continuing to try to sway him, especially since he'd given her such a valid reason.
"I know you're right," she whispered. "I would feel terrible if something happened to your soldiers. Gilly might well injure herself if I continue to press her. I was just being selfish, I realize that now. Where should we leave her?"
"Right here is as good a place as any."
She dared to shake her head at him again. Connor was again taken aback by her defiance. In time she must learn to have faith in his judgment.
She had certainly changed since their initial meeting. 'Twas a fact she'd done a complete turnabout. She could barely speak a coherent word to him when she'd first met him, no doubt because of her fear. Now, however, she didn't seem intimidated at all. Admittedly, he wasn't sorry about the change, for he probably wouldn't have liked being married to a woman who trembled every time he looked at her. He had expected Brenna to be like the other women he'd known, and he realized now his assumption had been wrong. She wasn't anything like the others; she was wonderfully, and exasperatingly, unique, too damned beautiful for her own good and his peace of mind, and while he found her boldness refreshing, he really didn't believe it was necessary for her to tell him about every little detail in her life.
Arguing with him regarding her horse was just one example; unfortunately there were already countless others.
"Gilly couldn't possibly survive on her own. Do pay attention, Connor. I want you to understand. You look a bit stunned," she added with a nod. "Have I said something to upset you?"
He counted to ten before he answered her, hoping to calm his rising temper. His voice still had a noticeable sting in it when he asked, "Did you just tell me to pay attention?"
She lifted her shoulders in a dainty shrug. "I might have," she admitted. "And that upset you? Is that why your jaw's clenched tight? I'll apologize if you'd like me to."
"Listen carefully," he ordered in a suspiciously soft voice. "You do not tell your husband to pay attention."
He waited for her to nod before continuing. "I am not upset with you, but honest to God, you do try my patience."
Because she wanted him to change his mind about Gilly, she didn't think it would be a good idea to contradict him now. It almost killed her to keep silent. He was such a stubborn man, determined to have things done his way and none other. He was also her husband, however, and so she would try to get along with him. If he wanted to believe he wasn't upset, she'd let him, even though it was most apparent to her that he was. The muscle in the side of his face was twitching, for heaven's sake, and if that wasn't a telling sign that he was bothered, she didn't know what was.
Getting along with this impossible man was going to be the death of her, she decided. Pride would be his downfall, unless he learned to be less arrogant.
"Thank you for explaining," she said. She didn't sound very sincere, but she didn't choke on her words either, and that had to count for something, didn't it?
"I just thought you might wish to know that Gilly is used to being pampered, and therefore won't know how to forage for food."
He was now thoroughly exasperated with her. They were talking about an animal and not a child, weren't they? His wife didn't seem to understand the difference.
He was just about to take a much firmer stand when she waylaid him by touching the side of his face. He felt as though he were being stroked by the wings of an angel. She looked like an angel too, damn it all, with those enchanting blue eyes and that innocent expression on her face. While he knew the caress had been calculated to make him forget his own thoughts, that very thing happened.
He took hold of her hand so he could concentrate. His wife was being ridiculous, of course, but he knew it would be a mistake to tell her so. She'd only increase her efforts to sway him.
Diplomacy was called for. Unfortunately, he didn't have any. "She'll be just fine," he snapped.
"She won't be fine. She'll be dead."
"You will stop arguing with me, Brenna," he said, allowing his anger to show.
She wasn't the least bit intimidated. "I'm not arguing. I'm just trying to make you understand how important Gilly is to me. She's like a member of my family. I even named her after my brother."
"He must have loved that," he said dryly.
She ignored his sarcasm. "No, Gillian didn't like it much at all, but he eventually got used to it. Can't you think of someone kind and loving to take care of her?"
"Do you think I would admit to knowing anyone kind and loving?"
She was determined not to lose her temper, no matter how much he provoked her. Gilly's welfare was at issue, after all, and she was responsible for her.
"I know of someone who might take her," Brenna offered.
"No, we aren't taking her back to England. Quinlan's family doesn't live too far from here, but I've already replaced everything they lost. You aren't going to let this go, are you?"
"If you tell me I must, I will try. Will you at least think about your decision a little longer before you make it final?"
Connor finally conceded. "I'm not an unreasonable man, and so I have decided to think about it."
Less than a minute later, he admitted Quinlan's father would be willing to have Gilly.
She was so pleased he'd decided to cooperate, she put her arms around his neck and kissed him. She only meant to give him a quick kiss to show her gratitude, but what she meant to do and what she ended up doing were vastly different. It was all Connor's fault anyway, because he'd shown her how wonderful a kiss could be. She thought she was only following his lead, and before she could pull away or draw a proper breath, his mouth was moving over hers in a long, deep kiss that made her tremble for more in no time at all. He became more demanding and she became even more uninhibited, until her tongue was every bit as wild as his in her quest to satisfy him. The taste and texture of him mingled with his scent, and God help her, it wasn't long before she felt her control slipping away.
She forgot all about the outside world. They could have been surrounded by an army of heathens and she wouldn't have noticed, or cared. Nothing mattered but the warlord in her arms.
Fortunately, Connor didn't lose his sanity. He abruptly pulled back, then grabbed hold of her hands and forced her to stop tugging on his hair and let go of him.
He knew she didn't have any idea how shaken the kiss had left him. He told himself not to look at her mouth again until he was in complete control, but damn if he didn't look anyway. Exactly what he knew would happen did happen, of course, because he ravaged her mouth a second time to keep her from tempting him to do far more intimate things to her, and when at last he found enough strength to end it, he was furious with himself.
"You make me forget where we are, wife."
Believing he must have enjoyed the tender moments as much as she had, she smiled with pleasure.
He lost his temper then and there. "What in God's name did you think you were doing?"
The radical change in him took her breath away. "I was…" Lord save her, what had she been doing?
He wouldn't wait long enough for her to regain her wits. "Yes?" he demanded.
"I was showing my appreciation."
"If this is how you show your gratitude, I wonder how you were able to remain innocent until your wedding night."
She was stunned. How dare he ruin such a perfect kiss by making such a vile remark about her character?
Her temper rose to the occasion. "It's miraculous really. My father was constantly dragging me away from the men I attacked. They were all completely helpless, of course, and like you, they never kissed me back."
Her comment was laughable, given the fact that she'd been so timid and terrified on their wedding night.
Although he still thought she should learn to be more demure around him, he had to admit he continued to be impressed by her boldness in standing up to him. Didn't she understand she wasn't supposed to give him her opinion unless he asked for it? She should give him her undying loyalty and faith in everything he said or did… shouldn't she?
Hell, he didn't know what she was supposed to do. He'd never been married before and was basing his beliefs on observation and past experience with women he'd taken to his bed. They'd been thankful, damn it, and certainly had never shown any boldness. And he'd become bored in no time at all.
Brenna was a refreshing change from what he was used to, no doubt about it, but he didn't have the faintest idea how to get her to do what he thought she should do.
Connor wasn't certain why he tried to provoke her again, but he thought perhaps it was because he wanted to hear another of her outrageous remarks.
"Dare you try to placate me by giving me such an ignorant rebuttal?"
"Nay, Connor. I was simply trying to give you what you wanted. It was apparent to me that you were deliberately trying to make me angry. I let you succeed. You may thank me later."
His smile gave him away of course. "You really don't understand why I became irritated, do you?"
She wasn't at all happy about his amusement. "No, I don't, but I have a feeling you're going to tell me."
"It isn't proper for you to kiss me unless I have given you permission."
She could feel her spine stiffening in annoyance. "Then I won't be kissing you much in future."
"Ah, wife, you will."
The conversation abruptly ended when he shoved her face against his chest.
"Will you stop doing that?" she demanded. "It's rude." He didn't acknowledge her demand and in fact didn't speak to her again until late that evening when they finally stopped for the night.
He waited for Brenna to notice Gilly wasn't tethered near the other horses. The woman would probably pitch a fit then and possibly weep, God help him, which he was fully prepared to stop before she started.
She didn't say a cross word to him, but after he saw the look on her face, he began to wish she were shouting at him. The sadness in her eyes was far more bothersome.
He suffered her disappointment in him throughout supper because he was determined not to explain his actions to her, but an hour later, he changed his mind. He told himself he was making this one exception because she was so fond of the mare. Hell, she'd elevated the creature to a family member.