Then she would tell him about Raen.

She ended up doing something altogether different. The second her husband stepped inside the bedroom, she ran to him, clasped the sides of his face, and kissed him with all the love and passion she possessed.

Overwhelmed by her unbridled show of affection, he wrapped her in his arms and held her tight against him. He was amazed to find he was married to such a gentle, loving woman, and when she put her arms around his neck and shyly whispered of her need to make love, he realized his own need more than equaled hers. While he had been away, an eternity it seemed to him, he had missed everything about her, intensifying his need until it had become an aching loneliness during the dark hours of the night.

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"If I promise not to leave again for a long while, will you let me close the door?"

Reluctant to move away from him for even a moment, she kissed the side of his neck before finally pulling away. "Lock it against intruders," she said.

Suddenly feeling uncertain and nervous, she backed away, stopping in the center of the room to wait for him. She gazed in approval and admiration at her husband. His shoulders and chest were heavily muscled, yet she remembered how tender his touch had been each time he had reached for her.

Feeling her own pulse leap in anticipation of what was to come, she drew a shaky breath and then looked up at his face again. And found him smiling at her.

"Have you forgotten what I look like?" he asked, his left eyebrow raised only just barely. To his delight, her face flooded with color.

"It would seem so," she replied. "Your hair's dripping wet, which means you went to the lake without me again. I'll get you a cloth."

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She couldn't seem to make herself move. Connor leaned against the door and patiently waited for her to get past her embarrassment. He fervently hoped she took a long time, because he was thoroughly enjoying himself watching her. Her hands were clasped behind her back, giving him an enticing glimpse of her bare chest and tiny waist. His appreciation quickly turned to desire, and within a minute or two, he was beginning to throb with his need to slide the palms of his scarred hands over her smooth, flawless skin.

Somewhat surprised by her own loss of composure, she looked up into his smoldering gray eyes, drew another shaky breath, and tried to remember what she was supposed to do.

"A cloth," she whispered, smiling anew because she hadn't completely lost her senses after all.

"You were going to get one for me."

Her laughter followed her across the chamber to the chest. No longer at a loss for words, she gave him apologies, explanations, and orders while she gracefully knelt down on the floor and carefully moved the burning candle so she could open the chest.

In the mood to do whatever she wanted him to do, he went to the side of the bed, as she had instructed, and sat down to wait for her. He knew exactly what was going to happen the second she stood close enough. He would wrap his arms around her, put her on the bed, and make passionate love to her.

She had other ideas. Standing between his thighs, she tried to dry his hair with the cloth, but found it impossible to pay attention to what she was doing once again, as he had untied the belt to her robe and was now slowly sliding his hands down her chest. He cupped her br**sts with his hands, his thumbs gently brushing across her nipples, and then he leaned into her and began to drive her out of her mind with his mouth and his tongue.

He had to tell her to breathe. While he wanted to lavish her with erotic pleasure before he entered her, his own discipline vanished when she removed her robe and pushed against his shoulders to get him to drop back onto the bed.

Neither of them could bear to wait any longer to join together as one, and as he moved between her thighs and slowly entered her, he stared into her eyes to watch the pleasure overcome her and was nearly undone by the erotic sensations her reaction evoked in him.

She drew him down and kissed him, and when the pressure inside intensified and she knew she was about to shatter apart from the splendor, she began to silently chant "I love you" until it became a desperate plea inside her heart to hear his pledge of love.

He buried his face in the side of her neck, heard her soft whisper vowing her love again and again, and was shaken and humbled that such an exquisite miracle could have happened to him. Only when he felt her tighten around him did he quicken his pace to give her fulfillment and claim his own. Emotions he had never even acknowledged before remained unspoken.

In the aftermath, they held each other, spent, satisfied. Silent now, they listened to their pounding heartbeats.

As was her endearing habit, she wept because of the sheer wonder of their lovemaking, and when she was finally able to control herself again, she flung her arms back on the bed and smiled up at him.

"It would seem I missed this most of all while you were away."

He nodded with arrogant satisfaction. "It would seem so," he agreed. He leaned down, kissed her, and then rolled onto his side. "You have my permission to give me this very same surprise tomorrow."

Her laughter pleased him. "Then it wouldn't be a surprise, would it? Besides, that wasn't it. I have something else for you."

Several kisses later, she convinced him to let her leave the bed long enough to get her gift for him, and when she returned, she wrapped the plaid around her and sat down, facing him near the foot of the bed.

He had already decided that no matter what the gift was, he would be happy to receive it, even if he had to pretend. Her feelings were at issue now, and that was all that mattered to him. Brenna had obviously gone to a considerable amount of trouble to please him, and so he decided to give the gift the importance it deserved. He sat up, propped his shoulders against the wall behind him, and then bent one leg up so that he could rest his arm on top.

"Come closer," he said.

She did as he asked and folded her legs under her before pulling the plaid up around her again.

"Closer," he repeated in a gruff voice.

She denied his request by shaking her head. "I know that look in your eyes, Connor. If I move any closer, you'll grab me."

Admitting she was right, he nodded agreement. "I have never been given a gift before, and two in one night is more than I deserve."

"Two? What other gift did you receive?"

"You don't remember what you said to me when I was inside you?"

She frowned with concentration while she thought about it. "Hurry up?" she teased.

"Besides that," he said with a grin.

"I don't recall. Did I say something else?"

Aye, you did, he thought, you told me you loved me.

Perhaps she had just been carried away by the heat of their lovemaking, unaware of the words she uttered, just the way she had prayed aloud without realizing it on the day he met her. But she had said it, which meant she'd thought it, and that was all that mattered to him.

"Why are you smiling? I haven't given you your gift yet."

"The way you wanted me tonight was all the gift I could ever want."

"But there's more."

"There will be, if you'll move closer to me."

She shook her head again. "You're going to have to wait. I'm going to tell you two stories."

"Just one," he said.

"Two," she insisted.

His sigh was deliberately exaggerated. "All right, lass."

"My first story concerns something that happened to me when I was a little girl. I was too young to remember the details, but I remember being very frightened. My father sat me on his lap and told me what had happened, and don't you dare frown, Connor; you're going to hear about my family now, like it or not."

"I'm not frowning."

"You were thinking about it."

He laughed. "I wasn't. It's all right for you to talk about your relatives now. It wasn't before."

"Why?"

Because your heart and your loyalty belong to me now, he thought. "I'll explain later," he said. "Continue with your story now."

"My father told me I was the reason for a new tradition in our family. We were on our way to an uncle's holding when we stopped for the nooning meal. Everyone wanted to stretch their legs, and when it was time to leave, my father forgot to count."

"Count?"

"There were eight children, Connor. He always counted to make certain he had all of us."

"But this time he didn't count."

"No, he didn't. He thought I was with my oldest brother, Gillian, and Gillian thought I was with Arthur, another brother," she explained. "I wasn't though. As was my habit at the time, I wandered off, got lost, and the family didn't realize they'd left me behind until they were well on their way."

Connor was frowning now. He pictured his wife around Grace's age and couldn't even begin to understand what terror she must have experienced.

"Gillian found me before the others, although I was told my wails were loud enough for the king of England to hear if he'd leaned out the window, and that very night, my father began his new tradition."

"The medallion."

She nodded. "The older brothers and sisters embraced the idea and promised to keep their medallions close at all times. Mother worried the baby and I would choke ourselves with the leather necklaces around our necks, and so I was only allowed to wear the medallion whenever we left the holding."

She held his gaze for a long minute and then took hold of his hand and turned it so that his palm was facing her. Her fingers lightly brushed across the scars puckering his skin, but he saw only sadness in her eyes now, not repulsion or pity.

"You must have been frightened," he said in an attempt to get her to look up at him instead of the marks from his past. She tightened her hold on his wrist when he started to pull back. He conceded to her wishes for the moment and waited for her to continue.

"I recovered," she whispered. "But you haven't, have you, Connor?" The sadness had moved into her voice now.

"Because it isn't finished yet," he explained. "You want me to tell you how I got the scars, don't you?"

"No."

He felt a curious mixture of relief and disappointment.

Brenna ached for the pain he had suffered and tried to think of something to say to make him realize she wasn't trying to console him now, but simply acknowledging the terrible injustices of the past so that he would know she understood.

"These scars mark your past," she whispered as she slowly lifted his hand.

Again he tried to pull away, and she resisted him a second time. "Yes," he said, angry now.

Brenna leaned down and kissed each one of the marks.

He felt the caress all the way inside his heart and his soul. Stunned by what she was doing, he closed his eyes. Her touch shattered him, yet filled him with warmth at the same time. And he was renewed. He couldn't understand how it had happened, or why, but the empty gnawing ache was gone, and only her love remained.

She didn't stop until she had kissed each palm, and then she reached down beside her and put the medallion into his hand.

He opened his eyes again and stared down at the etching carved into the wood.

"A long, long time ago, there lived a boy named David," Brenna began, quietly. "The land he and his family and friends lived in was plagued by a terrible giant named Goliath. It came to pass that David had to fight this enemy. He was too young to use a sword. He could have carried his father's sword, the way you did, but unlike you, he didn't have to crawl across burning embers. You both had tremendous courage, though, and I think he too would have dragged others to safety the way you did, because he was just as noble as you were, Connor."

Overwhelmed by what she was saying to him, he couldn't speak. She knew everything and still felt he was courageous and noble. She didn't understand, of course. He wasn't worthy of such praise yet, because he hadn't found justice in all the years he had searched.

He shook his head at her. She nodded. And then she began to trace the outline of the figure of David with her fingertips.

"The boy only had a sling to use for his weapon, and so, when the time came for him to face Goliath, he reached for a stone," she said, pausing to trace the little circle at the bottom of David's feet. "You believe your father's sword is your strength, don't you, Connor?"

He didn't answer her. She stared into his eyes, waited no more than a few seconds, and then said, "It isn't. Your strength comes from within. It's your determination, your patience, your skill, but most of all, it's you thirst for justice. David slayed the giant and saved his people. You have already saved your followers."

"But I have still to slay the enemy."

"Look around you and see what you have accomplished. David will always represent what you were, and what you have become. You are worthy."

She lifted the medallion up so he could see it more clearly. "This is your past and your present." And then she turned it over. "And this is your future."

He recognized the symbol, for it was the same as the one on his wife's medallion. "The sun."

She was offering him her love and prayed he would give her his love in return.

He didn't say a word, or give her any other indication that he would, or could, give her what she wanted.

He seemed to withdraw then, looking aloof, distant, and yet she could see the moisture in his eyes and knew that the words she longed to hear were there, inside him, locked away with his feelings.

"You have only to open your heart to accept this."

She placed the medallion in his hand again and then leaned close and kissed him.

She tried to pull back. He wouldn't let her. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her over and over again, desperate now as he ravaged her mouth. He didn't understand or know if he was kissing her to show her how much he cared, or if he was deliberately keeping his mouth on top of hers so that she couldn't beg him to give her what he knew he couldn't.

Their lovemaking was wild, uncontrolled, savage, and it was only after he had satisfied her twice more and she had collapsed into sleep on top of him that he acknowledged his greatest weakness.

She terrified him.

Chapter 16

Connor was gone. Brenna awakened late that morning when Netta knocked on the door. She called out to her to please wait a moment, then sat up in bed and reached for her robe.

Her husband's medallion was underneath it. She felt a moment's disappointment before common sense told her he hadn't wanted to disturb her sleep searching for it, so he had simply left it behind when he'd gone downstairs. She put the medallion on the chest next to the bed and hurried to the door while she put on her robe.

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