Her eyes widened at the image his words provoked. She went still beneath his fingers and stared down at him. He tilted his head back so he met her gaze, and the intensity in his eyes made her mouth go dry.

His hand left her and slid up her belly to cup her breast and he leaned down to kiss the tip, forming it into a tight peak. Then he shifted his body and moved up so their lips were just a breath apart.

He touched her cheek with the back of one finger and trailed over her cheekbone to her jaw. “I won’t hurt you, lass. You were afraid our wedding night. ’Tis why I didn’t bed you. I’ll be as gentle as a man can be when he’s shaking with want for his bride.”

She opened her mouth to refute his assertion that she was afraid of anything but the protest died as she blew her breath out and closed her lips once more.


Then he kissed her, his mouth moving with infinite tenderness over her lips. All the while his hands slid over her body, stroking, caressing. Soothing.

Somehow he managed to shift over her, his body covering hers like a warm blanket. One muscled thigh wedged between hers and nudged them farther apart.

She was so senseless from his kisses that she hadn’t registered that his very large, very naked body was pressing tightly against hers, and another very hard, very large portion of his anatomy was prodding insistently at her most intimate flesh.

He found her opening and went still as she stretched around the tip of his manhood. Her startled gaze flew to his face. She tensed, unable to prevent the unease that gripped her.

“Relax, lass,” he whispered against the corner of her mouth. “ ’Twill be easier if you give over. I’ll give you pleasure. I swear it.”


“Tell me what to do,” she whispered back.

“Wrap your legs around me and hold on to my shoulders.”

She lifted her legs and twined them around his, sliding her calves up the hairy, muscled wall of his legs to lock them behind his knees.

Her hands felt small on his shoulders. Her fingers barely left dents in the hard flesh. She stared into his eyes and found gentleness there. It comforted her that he worried over frightening her. Surely she could find courage. How could she expect him to respect his “warrior princess” if she never showed her to him?

“Come to me, husband,” she said boldly.

His hardness found her again, firm against her softness. Probing and insistent.

She gave a little gasp when he slipped the barest inch inside her body. She stretched to accommodate him but the fullness unsettled her.

It was an odd combination of hesitancy and urgency. She wanted him to stop and yet she wanted him to continue.

She bit her bottom lip and lifted her hips, urging him on.

“Ah, lass, how sweetly you beckon me.”

He closed his eyes and a shudder rolled over his shoulders. Beneath her fingertips, he trembled and shook, so tense, as if he fought against his every instinct to hold back.

She ran her hands up and down his shoulders and arms, caressing as her heart softened. He truly was taking the utmost care with her.

“ ’Tis all right,” she whispered. “I know you won’t hurt me.”

His lips were thin, white lines on a face etched in concentration.

“Aye, but I must, lass. I must break through your maidenhead and ’twill pain you no matter what I do.”

He brushed a kiss across her mouth and then he wooed her gently, feeding and sipping at her lips. “ ’Tis sorry I am for it, but there is naught to do for it.”

“Then be done with it. There is no sense in both of us being in pain. I can feel the tension in your body. ’Tis uncomfortable for you to hold back as you’re doing.”

He gave a soft laugh. “You have no idea, lass. You have no idea.”

For the first time, she initiated an intimate gesture. Her hands framed his face, her thumbs feathering over his firm cheekbones. She caressed his angular jaw and then smoothed her fingers over his lips.

Raising her head, she framed his face once more and pulled him down into a long kiss. Their tongues tangled hotly. She had no breath but she refused to pull away. His kiss was intoxicating. The sweetest nectar she’d ever tasted.

Her body opened under his insistent push. ’Twas like having a fiery sword invade her depths. So hard and velvety. Her body resisted his intent to conquer but he held her in place, his hands grasping her hips as he thrust again.

“Kiss me, lass. ’Twill be over in an instant.”

Just as their mouths met in a breathless rush, he thrust hard and deep. She was unprepared for the pain. Aye, she’d known what had to happen, but she’d expected a twinge. Maybe even a brief piercing pain. But not this tearing sensation that had her insides feeling brushed by fire.

She cried out and tears sprang unbidden to her eyes, burning as they trailed down her cheeks.

Caelen immediately stilled, his cock buried deep inside her passage. There was matching pain in his expression as he clenched his jaw tightly. His nostrils flared and he took in several deep breaths as he shuddered against her.

He kissed her forehead, her eyelids, each cheekbone, and even her nose. Then he kissed away the trails of moisture sliding over her cheeks.

“I’m sorry, lass. So very sorry.”

The ache in his voice made her heart twist. A knot formed in her throat, swelling until she couldn’t shape the words she most wanted to say.

He kissed her again even as a harsh groan welled from his chest.

“Tell me when ’tis better. I’ll not move until you say me aye.”

She clenched experimentally around him, testing the tenderness of her sheath.

“God’s teeth, lass. Have mercy.”

She smiled, relieved that some of the fiery pain had dulled to an odd ache deep in her womb. “ ’Tis much better now. The pain has dulled.”

“Thank God,” he muttered. “I cannot hold out much longer.”

She swept a hand over his damp brow and then thrust her fingers into his hair as she pulled him down into a deep kiss.

“Finish it,” she whispered.

He carefully withdrew and her eyes widened at the myriad of sensations that bombarded her. She was tender, aye, and the discomfort was there, but there was also an incredible burn that had nothing to do with pain.

“Easy now,” he murmured. “Give it time, lass. You’ll feel pleasure.”

He pushed forward again, slowly and with such tenderness that she sighed. He seemed so determined that the experience be as pleasant as possible for her.

His fingers found her nipple and he rubbed the pad of his thumb over the peak until it stiffened and became erect. Then he caressed the other until both breasts were achingly tight.

He smiled down at her, a wicked gleam in his eyes. “You grow wet around me. The breasts you try so hard to hide bring you much pleasure. And me. They are beautiful like you and a credit to your womanhood. They are soft, as a woman should be, and pleasing to look upon. There is naught I can find fault with you, lass. God fashioned you a perfect woman. I am a lucky man, indeed.”

Oh but she planned to remind him of his honeyed words the next time he turned his scowl of disapproval on her. And she’d remember each and every one of his endearments. She’d hold them close to her heart and pretend that she was his cherished love and not a bride thrust upon him for the sake of loyalty and honor.

Keeley had warned her that a man would say a lot when his cock was involved. Things he didn’t necessarily mean. Now Rionna understood what Keeley had meant.

He withdrew and thrust again, this time with much more ease. He was right. She had grown damp the moment he fondled her breasts. For so long they’d been such a source of irritation but now she was discovering that they had their uses after all.

For the first time she embraced the idea that somehow she was feminine. Beautiful even. She didn’t despair of appearing softer and not as fierce. It felt good to be a woman in a strong warrior’s arms. Aye, it felt good indeed.

“Do I hurt you still?” he asked.

She raised her mouth to his. “Nay, warrior. You feel very, very good.”

“As do you, wife.”

He slid his hands underneath her buttocks and cupped her, spreading her wider and holding her closer to him. He thrust, burying himself deeper than before.

Gone was the tender warrior who’d strove not to cause her any pain. Now that he was assured of her comfort, he began planting himself inside her as if he were proving his possession, his right to possess her.

His teeth scraped her jaw and then moved lower to her neck. His breath blew hot over her skin, scorching a path from her ear to her shoulder.

He alternately nipped, sucked, and kissed her until she was sure she’d wear the marks for an entire fortnight. He was insatiable, as if he’d starved himself of her for too long and could no longer control his intense hunger.

She threw back her head, surrendering to his power. She offered her submission freely. He awoke a fierce longing within her. Feelings that she’d never considered. She wanted to belong to him. She wanted to be cherished by him.

She was his wife. She closed her eyes and her heart to the reason for their marriage. Just because it had begun one way didn’t mean it couldn’t change to something else entirely.

She wanted his love.

Aye, she demanded it.

Now that she’d had a taste of his regard and his tenderness, she knew he was capable. Aye, he was more than capable of more tender feelings. No matter what he thought, his heart wasn’t completely closed to love.

It was up to her to show him.

Faster and harder he moved between her legs. Refusing to lie passively as he staked his claim, she returned each kiss and each caress with equal fervor.

He might be claiming her, but she was staking her claim as well.

This warrior was hers. He was her husband. Her lover.

Never would she let him go.

He slipped one hand between them and brushed his fingertips over her quivering flesh just as he thrust fiercely into her once more.

’Twas all that was needed for her to lose all sense of herself. The flash bewildered her. One moment she was drawn as tight as a bowstring and the next she was being flung across the star-filled sky, scattering just like the twinkling lights.

Her mind went completely and utterly blank. All she could process was the incredible pleasure that flooded her veins and slugged like thick honey through her limbs.

She couldn’t draw a breath. She panted, her nostrils flaring with the effort it took to pull air into her lungs.

Above her, Caelen gave a shout and then thrust forward so hard that he collapsed onto her body, driving them both deep into the mattress.

His forehead hit the pillow beside her head and he dug his arms underneath her so that he gathered her tight against his body.

Between her thighs, he flinched and flexed as his big body shuddered helplessly above her.

His chest heaved, and she knew that he had the same difficulty in drawing breath.

With a smile, she wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly. She closed her eyes and rested her cheek in the curve of his neck as she absorbed the wondrous sensation of their bodies joined so tight that naught could separate them.


Rionna woke to blissful warmth. She was surrounded by heat. She flexed her toes experimentally and sighed when they dug into the warm furs. Lazily her eyelids fluttered open and she saw a fire blazing in the hearth. Waking to a fire was a luxury she was unused to, and she quickly decided that it was one she could quickly grow to like.

She glanced sideways to see the space beside her bare. There was not even any sign that Caelen had lain beside her, their limbs tangled together for most of the night.

She stretched her arm over the furs where Caelen had indeed spent the night and stroked the pillow where his head had rested.

Her body felt the effects of her husband’s possession. When she moved, the tenderness between her legs was more pronounced and there was a soreness in her muscles like she usually felt after a vigorous sparring session.

’Twas the truth she had no desire to move from the bed.

Aye she was sore but it was a delicious soreness. One she’d willingly suffer again and again. She closed her eyes and stretched leisurely, calling back the images of Caelen over her, inside her, stroking deep, his mouth making sweet, sweet love to her flesh.

A sound at the door had her opening her eyes and turning to see who was about. Sarah stuck her head in and once she saw Rionna was awake, she bustled in and shut the door behind her.

“You’re awake, I see.”

“Observant as ever,” Rionna said dryly.

Sarah clucked under her breath and rolled her eyes in Rionna’s direction. “The laird thought you’d like a bath before you begin your instructions. I’m having water brought up to fill the tub.”

“Tub? What tub?”

Rionna sat up, pulling the furs to her chest. She rubbed her eyes and stared around the room to see a large wooden tub situated in front of the fire. Such a thing had escaped her when she’d just awoken. When had Caelen had a tub brought in? Likely before he carried her into his chamber the night before.

Then something else Sarah had said registered.