In Bed with a Highlander Page 16


Despite Ewan’s intention to spare a moment to speak with Mairin—he wasn’t entirely sure about what—the day passed in a blur of activity. He’d thought to gauge her mood and offer reassurance that Duncan Cameron’s men had been dispatched. Aye, she’d feel better and more secure, and she damn sure wouldn’t doubt his ability to protect her or his keep any longer.

An incident with his men prevented Ewan from dining with Mairin, and by the time he trudged up the stairs to his chamber, he was tired, but at least he was clean after a dip in the loch.

He nudged the door open to see that she was already abed, her soft, even breathing signaling her slumber. He started forward, intent on waking her, when h saw that once again, Crispen was snuggled against her. He sighed. Tomorrow he would make it a point to tell her that Crispen was to sleep in his own chambers across the hall.

He never got the chance to make his point. From the moment Mairin awoke, he never seemed to gain the opportunity to speak with her. Toward afternoon, he grew impatient and issued a direct summons for her to appear before him.

When it went unanswered, he sent Cormac to fetch her, since Diormid was guarding her. Cormac returned with the news that Mairin was visiting the cottages of the other women and would speak to her laird later.

Ewan scowled, and Cormac seemed uncomfortable telling his laird that his bride had refused him.

Clearly they were going to have to discuss matters far more important than where his son slept. Namely, the idea that she had the right to refuse a direct order from Ewan.

He made it a point to eat dinner with Mairin that evening. She looked tired and nervous. Her gaze kept darting toward him when she thought he wasn’t looking, as though she feared him lunging across the table and hauling her to his chamber.

He sighed. He supposed it wasn’t an unreasonable fear given what had occurred on their wedding day. Some of his irritation fell away. The lass was skittish. It was up to him to allay her fears and soothe her worries.

Protection was something he could readily offer. His loyalty to the woman he called wife would be unwavering. She’d never want for anything he could provide as long as he lived. Those were things that the warrior in him readily embraced. But things like tenderness and understanding? Sweet words meant to soothe away worries? The mere idea appalled him beyond measure.

His thoughts must have been expressed on his face because Mairin sent him a startled look and then she immediately rose and excused herself from the table. Without waiting for his permission to leave, she murmured something to Crispen. The lad stuffed his mouth full of food and hastily shoved away from the table. He took her hand and they left the hall in the direction of the stairs.

Ewan’s eyes narrowed as he realized just what it was she was doing. She was purposely taking Crispen into their bed in an effort to avoid Ewan. If he weren’t so annoyed, he might have been impressed by her craftiness.

He himself pushed away from the table and rose with a nod to Caelen. He’d rather go off to war than go up those stairs and face a situation with his new wife that he had no inkling of how to resolve.

A good start would be to issue a stern lecture on obeying his orders. After that, he would simply command her to cease being so skittish around him.

Feeling confident about his plan of action, he went up to his chamber and opened the door. Mairin whipped around, surprise written in her eyes.

“Is there something you need, Laird?”

He lifted an eyebrow. “Can I not retire to my own chamber?”

She flushed and gathered ng pen to her skirts. “Aye, of course. You don’t usually come to bed so early. That is, I hadn’t expected you to …”

She trailed off, her blush deepening. She pressed her lips firmly together as if refusing to say another word.

He couldn’t resist teasing her. “I hadn’t realized you were so familiar with my sleep habits, lass.”

Her blush disappeared and she glared her displeasure.

Determined to set her straight on several issues, he crooked his finger at Crispen, and when he grudgingly separated himself from Mairin and approached his father, Ewan put his hands on Crispen’s shoulders.

“Tonight you’ll sleep in your own chamber.”

When Mairin would have protested, he silenced her with a stern look. Crispen also wanted to argue, but he was too disciplined for that. Most of the time.

“Aye, Papa. May I kiss Mama good night?”

Ewan smiled. “Of course.”

Crispen hurried back over to Mairin and allowed her to sweep him into a hug. She kissed the top of his head and then squeezed him tight. Crispen returned and stood solemnly in front of Ewan.

“Good night, Papa.”

“Good night, son.”

Ewan waited until his son had left the room before turning back to Mairin. Her chin went up and defiance sparked in her eyes. She was preparing for battle. The thought amused him but he smothered the smile that threatened. It was God’s truth, he’d smiled more since her arrival than he had in his life.

“When I issue you a summons, I expect you to heed it,” he said. “I expect—nay, I demand—obedience. I won’t accept defiance from you.”

Her mouth took on a pinched look. At first he thought he’d frightened her again, but on second look, he saw she was furious.

“Even when your demands are ridiculous?” she asked with a sniff.

He raised an eyebrow at that. “My asking you to present yourself to me is ridiculous? I had matters to discuss with you. My time is valuable.”

She opened her mouth and then promptly shut it again. But she muttered something under her breath that he didn’t catch.

“Now that we have that matter resolved, while I appreciate your devotion to my son, he has his own chamber that he shares with other children of the keep.”

“He should sleep with his mother and father,” she blurted.

“Aye, there will be times when that is indeed the case,” Ewan agreed. “But right after our marriage is not one of them.”

“I fail to see what being newly married has to do with it,” she muttered.

He sighed and tried to rein in his impatience. The lass was going to be the death of him.

“ ’Tis hard to bed my wife if my son is sharing the bed with us,” he drawled.

She looked away and twisted her hands in front of her. “If ’tis all the same to you, I’d rather not have you … bed me.”

“And how do you plan to become pregnant, lass?”

Her nose wrinkled and she cast him a cautious but hopeful look. “Perhaps your seed has already taken root. We should wait to see if that is the case. ’Tis truth you’ve no skill at loving, and ’tis obvious I’ve none as well.”

Ewan’s mouth gaped open. He was sure he hadn’t heard correctly. No skill? His mouth closed then fell open and then he snapped it shut with the force of his incredulity.

She shrugged. “ ’Tis a well-known fact that a man is either skilled in matters of loving or matters of war. ’Tis obvious that fighting is your skill.”

Ewan winced. The little wench was shredding his manhood. His cock positively shriveled under her criticism. Anger warred with exasperation until he saw the tremble of her lower lip and the trepidation in her eyes.

He sighed. “Ah, lass, ’tis true I bedded you with all the skill of a stable boy with his first woman.”

Her cheeks flushed a delicate pink, and he kicked himself for his coarseness. He dug his fingers into his hair.

“You were a virgin. ’Tis unlikely anything I could have done would have made it good, but there is a lot I could have done to make it more pleasant.”

“I would have liked pleasant,” she said wistfully.

He cursed. How badly had he hurt her? He knew he hadn’t given her the pleasure or patience she deserved. At the time, all he’d known was that he had to consummate the marriage with all haste. There hadn’t been time to seduce a shy virgin. Only now his shy virgin had turned into a stubborn, unwilling wife.

“Mairin, the marriage wasn’t valid until I bedded you. I couldn’t risk having something happen before I had the chance to bed you. If you’d been captured, Cameron could have taken you and petitioned to have our marriage set aside. He would have bedded you and got you with child to strengthen his claim.”

Her lip trembled and she cast her eyes downward to where her fingers twisted nervously at her skirts.

He took advantage of her momentary distraction and closed in. He reached down and took her hands in his. She was small and soft. Delicate. The idea that he’d been too rough, that he’d hurt her, unsettled him.

He should suffer no guilt for taking his wife. Her duty was to provide him pleasure, however he saw fit to take it. But the memory of her tear-filled eyes was a fist to his gut.

“It won’t be like that from now on.”

She raised her eyes to his and her brow wrinkled in confusion. “It won’t?”

“Nay, it won’t.”

“Why?”

He tempered his irritation and reminded himself that she needed a gentle hand right now.

“Because I’m quite skilled in loving,” he said. “And I plan to show you.”

Her eyes widened. “You do?”

“I do.”

Her mouth rounded, and she tried to take a step back. He held her hands tightly in his and pulled her back until she bumped into his chest.

“In fact, I intend to show you how very skilled I am.”

“You do?”

“I do.”

She swallowed and stared into his eyes, her own, wide and confused. “When do you plan to do this, Laird?”

He bent and swept his mouth over hers. “Right now.”

CHAPTER 15

Mairin put her hands on Ewan’s chest to steady herself, else she would have fallen under his relentless assault on her senses. She sighed and leaned farther into his kiss, not even protesting when his tongue slid sensuously over her bottom lip as he coaxed her to open.

The man might not be skilled in loving, but she could drown in his kisses. Maybe he’d be amenable to continue kissing and forego the rest.

“Kiss me back,” he murmured. “Open your mouth. Let me taste you.”

His words slid like velvet over her skin. She shivered as her breasts plumped and swelled. An ache began deep in her body, in parts that didn’t bear mentioning. How was he able to incite such a response when all he was doing was kissing her?

His palms glided up her waist and then up over her shoulders and up her neck until he framed her face. The heat from his touch branded her. It felt as though she’d have permanent marks on her cheeks from his fingers, and yet he was exquisitely gentle, the tips glancing over her skin like tiny winged creatures.

Unable to deny the probing of his tongue, she relaxed her mouth and allowed him to slide inside. Warm and rough. So very sinful. It was a decadent senson, one she was certain she should deny herself, but she couldn’t.

The temptation to taste him back was strong. So strong that it beat an incessant rhythm at her temples, in her mind, at her very core. Shyly she brushed her tongue over his lips. He groaned and she immediately pulled back, afraid she’d done something wrong.

He hauled her right back and captured her mouth once again in a ravenous fashion that left her breathless.

“Do it again,” he whispered. “Taste me.”

From the sound of it, he hadn’t disliked her touching him with her tongue. Tentatively she licked over his lip again. He relaxed his mouth against hers, opening so she had access.

Feeling braver, she boldly pushed forward, hot and wet. She shivered from the sheer carnality of something so simple as a kiss. She felt naked and vulnerable, as if she was spread out and underneath him as he slaked his lust over and over. Only this time she burned for him. She wanted him over her, his body covering hers. She felt twitchy and anxious, like her skin was too tight.

“This time I’ll undress you as I should,” he whispered, as he walked her back toward the bed.

Her mind was dim and she was slow sorting through her muddled thoughts. She frowned, knowing he didn’t have the right of it again. Was she forever going to have to instruct him?

“I should undress you. ’Tis my duty,” she said.

He grinned. “ ’Tis only your duty when I say it is. Tonight I fully intend to undress you and enjoy every moment. You deserve a slow wooing, lass. This will be your wedding night all over again. If I could go back and do it all differently, I would. But I’ll give you the next best thing. I’ll give you tonight.”

The promise in his voice shook her to her toes. She blinked as he lowered her dress over one shoulder and then followed a line down her neck and over the curve of her arm with his lips.

Each inch of her skin he uncovered, he kissed, sliding downward until her dress fell away, leaving her nearly bare under his gaze. Each layer pooled at her feet, until she was naked.

“You’re beautiful,” he husked, his warm breath whispering over the chill bumps that dotted her flesh.

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