Connor didn't have any idea how long he lingered in the forest holding his wife. The sound of thunder rumbling in the distance forced him back to more practical matters, and he picked up her misplaced shoe and started back to camp.
He was in a much better mood by the time he reached the others. His men had built a tent large enough to accommodate three grown men and had covered it with thick animal skins loyal allies had given them on their way to collect Brenna. The tent had been strategically placed at the far end of the clearing, with the entrance facing the forest so that his wife would be assured of privacy when she awakened.
In one corner of the tent were the possessions Brenna had left by the creek. Connor added her shoes and stockings to the pile.
She was sleeping so soundly, she didn't stir at all while he saw to the task of removing her clothes. Too late, he realized he should have left her alone. As soon as he untied the ribbon holding the top of her undergarment together, the material parted all the way down to her waist, and a fair amount of her full br**sts spilled out. It was impossible for him not to react physically. From the moment he'd awakened early that morning, he'd wanted her again; now the need consumed him. He fought his private battle for a long while, but in the middle of the night, while the storm raged around them, she moaned in her sleep, rolled over, and threw herself on top of him. He knew, then, the war wasn't finished. She couldn't even be cautious in her sleep.
His hand went to her thighs, and as he was parting them with the thought of entering her then and there, he realized what he was doing and forced himself to stop.
He jarred her awake trying to get her off of him before he hurt her. She sat up next to his side and, obviously disoriented by the pounding of the rain upon the skins, whispered his name.
"It's all right, Brenna. Go back to sleep." He sounded angry. He was sorry about that, but damn it all, he'd only just realized he had the discipline of a pig. She wasn't helping him regain his control, of course.
One side of her chemise had just dropped down to her elbow, and God help him, it took all his strength not to tear the thing off her. Every time lightning streaked across the sky, light poured in through the opening, outlining her beautiful body.
She fell asleep sitting up. Had he not been observing her, he wouldn't have believed anyone could fall asleep so quickly.
"Lie down," he ordered with a gentle nudge.
He should have been more specific, he realized a scant second after she threw herself down on top of him again, hitting his chest hard enough to make him think she'd knocked herself senseless.
"Get off of me."
His gruff voice awakened her. "No," she whispered.
"No, thank you," she corrected. "I'm cold. Shouldn't you do something about it?"
God save him, she was even telling him what to do when she was half asleep.
"What would you have me do?"
"Put your arms around me."
He felt her shivering and immediately did as she had instructed him to do.
"Did I wake you, Connor?"
"Are you cold?"
She began to stroke his chest, hoping her gentle touch would calm him. Perhaps then he would tell her why he was acting so prickly.
"What are you doing?"
She had to be jesting with him. Soothing? She was slowly driving him out of his mind, and he was fairly certain she was doing it on purpose.
"Stop provoking me."
"What's wrong with you? You're acting like a bear."
He didn't try to address the ludicrous comparison she'd just made, concentrating instead on making her realize what she was doing to him. "I want to be inside you again. Now do you understand why you should get the hell off me?"
She didn't move. "Do I have a say in the matter?"
"Do you mean to say that if I told you no, you would honor my wishes?"
Hadn't he just said he would? "If you tell me no, I won't touch you."
She started drumming her fingertips on his chest. He immediately put his hand on top of hers to get her to stop. "You'd best learn to be cautious, Brenna."
She didn't pay any attention to his instruction. "In England, wives can't deny their husbands. My mother told me so."
"Some men think the way I do."
She was amazed. She suddenly felt as though he'd given her the wondrous gift of power over her own body, and she immediately wanted more. "Regarding other matters then, do I…"
"You cannot deny a command given to you by your laird."
She'd already done exactly that on several occasions now and had suffered no ill effects from denying her laird's orders, but she was intelligent enough not to remind him. She couldn't stop herself from straightening out his rather twisted reasoning though.
"I didn't marry a laird. I married a man."
"It is the same."
No, it wasn't the same at all, she thought to herself. Oh, she knew what was expected of her when they were with other people, but when they were alone, he was simply her husband.
She didn't believe it would be a good idea to correct his backhanded reasoning now and would wait instead until he was in a better mood.
"If I were to tell you yes, I would like you to touch me again, would it end the same way? Would you turn away from me without saying a word?"
"Of course," he replied.
"Never mind then."
He was stunned by her denial and couldn't understand why his praise had angered her.
She moved away from him, closed her eyes, and said a prayer for patience.
He rolled over on top of her, careful to brace his weight with his arms as he stared down into her eyes. "I told you I wasn't disappointed."
"You were also angry though, weren't you?"
Aye, he had been angry, though not with his wife. His fury had been self-directed, and upon reflection, he realized it was purposeful as well, for he had it as a shield to guard himself against his own vulnerability.
She had dared to touch his heart, and honest to God, he still didn't know how he'd let that happen. Damn it, he didn't even like her.
Connor was quick to recognize his lie and let out a low growl of frustration. He decided then that since what had already happened couldn't be undone, as long as he stayed in control in the future, he would be content.
"Are you ever going to answer me?"
He leaned down and began to nibble on her earlobe, feeling arrogantly pleased when he noticed she shivered in reaction. "What did you ask?"
She couldn't believe he would treat her concerns so lightly. She repeated her question and added a nudge to get him to pay attention.
"I wasn't angry with you."
He could see she didn't believe him. His wife obviously needed more praise for her performance, he supposed. He wasn't sure what to say that would make her happy. He had been satisfied. And well-served, he admitted. She surely knew he never would have left her until both of them had reached fulfillment. He wasn't at all used to explaining anything to anyone, however, and perhaps that was why he wasn't any good at it, he reasoned. He needed to say something now, though, and so he decided to sum up his reactions with one word that would certainly convince her she had proven satisfactory.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I was finished."
Because of their close proximity, he'd naturally been considerate and spoken in a low voice. His wife wasn't as considerate. She shouted her displeasure into his ear. "You are the most pigheaded, insensitive, barbaric…"
He clamped his hand down over her mouth before she could finish giving him her opinion. She could have come up with another hundred remarks too, if he'd kept silent and let her think of some, but he interrupted her concentration by asking her the most appalling question, and she had to think about giving him an answer sure to destroy his pride for a full month.
"Do you want me to make love to you again?" He lifted his hand away from her mouth.
"When hell freezes over." She didn't actually shout, but her voice was still loud enough for his men to hear.
"You will not shout at me ever again. Is that understood?"
"It is," she answered.
"My hearing is never going to be the same."
"I'm sorry. What you said took me by surprise and I… Finished, Connor? Is that how you thought to reassure me?"
"It was a compliment. I was obviously satisfied with you or I wouldn't have been finished. I'm a man of few words, Brenna."
He turned his attention to the rewarding pleasure of kissing her.
"I don't usually feel so unsure of myself," she whispered. "But it was my first time."
He kissed his way down the side of her neck.
"Why are you doing that?"
"I like the way you taste."
She shifted her position to give him better access to her shoulder. "How do I taste?"
He heard her sigh in the darkness. It would have been easy for him to take her by surprise, but he would never do such a dishonorable thing. Brenna was going to have to give him permission, and if she didn't give it soon, he would have to leave her while he had enough discipline.
"Do you know what I think?" she whispered.
"No, but you're going to tell me, aren't you?"
"I don't want you to—never mind. I mean to say that I…" She couldn't go on, for Connor had just reached the valley between her breasts, distracting her entirely.
"You're soft everywhere. You make me burn to have you."
She thought his words were wonderfully romantic. For a man of few words, he was doing exceptionally well at giving her exactly what she longed to hear.
"Is there anything you don't like about me?"
"Aye, there is," he whispered. "You talk too much."
"You turn my head with your flowery words, husband. Make love to me now."
"I'll hurt you."
He didn't seem concerned about her discomfort though, for he'd already pushed her chemise down to her hips. He paused to kiss each of her knees before finishing his task of ridding her of her undergarment.
His hands were everywhere. He stroked her legs, her thighs, her hips, and her breasts. His gentle touch was maddening and made her restless for more. She wanted to caress him with the same care he was showing her and was about to demand he let go of her when he snatched the very thought right out of her mind by leaning down and kissing her breasts. His tongue brushed over one nipple, and she thought she would die from the exquisite torment, and then he began to suckle. She squeezed her eyes shut and made a sound very like a whimper.
Her stomach was just as sensitive to his touch, and then he moved lower. She couldn't imagine what he thought he was going to do, until he was there, at the junction of her thighs. She kept her legs locked together to keep him from going further. He forced them apart and continued to do what he wanted to do, and she was soon too caught up in the rush of ecstasy his mouth and his tongue evoked to be properly appalled.
He made love to her in ways she'd never, ever imagined possible. She couldn't make herself stop arching up against him. She raised her knees and cried out when she felt herself begin to tighten around him.
He couldn't wait any longer to be inside her. He knelt between her thighs then, lifted her hips, and entered her with one powerful thrust. He tried to remember to be gentle with her, but damn, his control had deserted him again and it was impossible to hold anything back. He wanted it to last all night. She wouldn't let him slow down though. She drove him on with her sweet cries and her passionate kisses. He didn't know if he was hurting her or pleasuring her. Her cl**ax forced his own, and once he'd given her his seed, he didn't have enough strength left to keep from collapsing on top of her.
She was in much the same condition. Her breathing was uneven, her heart was pounding a frantic beat, and she was trembling all over. It took her long minutes to make herself stop sighing and start thinking again. Then she wished she hadn't bothered. Reason meant worrying, and dear God, how could she ever look at him again after what she'd begged him to keep doing to her?
She had acted like an animal in heat, hadn't she? She was suddenly desperate for reassurance before her embarrassment turned into shame. She wouldn't beg or demand he convince her that what they'd done had been all right, or let him know she was at all embarrassed now. He might say things just to appease her then, and not mean any of it. She'd catch him by surprise, she decided, so that he wouldn't guard his reaction.
"Connor?" God help her, even her voice was trembling. "Are you dead then?"
He smiled against her neck. "No."
"Did you hurt me?"
She couldn't believe she'd asked him such an absurd question. She'd meant to tell him he hadn't hurt her, hadn't she?
It was apparent to him that she hadn't quite recovered from their lovemaking just yet. He was arrogantly satisfied, of course, because he was fully responsible for her condition.
His heat was making her drowsy. She didn't want to fall asleep before she'd gotten rid of her embarrassment and meant only to close her eyes so she could concentrate.
"Do you know what just happened?"
She smiled in anticipation, for surely he was now going to give her the reassurance she needed. She should have known better.
"Hell just froze over."
Brenna was in a fit mood the following morning. The rain had ended, the sun was bright, and no one, not even Connor, could put a wrinkle in her happiness.
It kept getting better too. Although the men smiled while they watched her eat her morning meal, they didn't comment on her appetite, and after she returned from the creek dressed in the MacAlister plaid, Quinlan complimented her on the perfect pleats she'd made in the woolen material. He seemed to think she'd only just acquired the art.
She felt it was her duty to correct him. "My father made Rachel learn how to fashion a plaid because she was supposed to marry Laird MacNare, but Mother thought it would be a good idea for all of her daughters to master the technique. My parents did like to get as much as they could for their coins."
"Your sister was promised to MacNare?"