She looked incredulous now. “And every other night,” he announced.


“Because I’m your husband,” he explained.

He pulled her down next to him again, rolled to his side, and leaned over her. He gently brushed the hair away from the side of her face.

His touch was gentle and soothing. “Are you here just to sleep, m’lord?”


“Then you wish to ...”

“Yes,” he said, irritated by how horrified she looked now.


She really didn’t understand. His own observation soothed his pride, but he couldn’t control his exasperation with her. “Johanna, weren’t you married for three years?”

She was trying not to stare into his eyes. It was a difficult task. They really were quite beautiful. The color was the purest of gray. He had nice high cheekbones, too, and a straight nose. He really was a handsome devil, and even though she tried not to care, her heartbeat reacted to his nearness. It was racing now. His scent was appealing, too. He smelled clean, male. His hair was damp. Gabriel had had a bath before coming to bed.

She shouldn’t have thought that was nice. She did, though. She really should get hold of her undisciplined thoughts. What he looked like or how he smelled shouldn’t matter.

“Are you going to answer me before daylight?”

She remembered his question. “I was married three years.”

“Then how can you ask me if I want to sleep with you?”

His confusion didn’t make any sense to her. “For what purpose? I can’t have your children.”

“You’ve mentioned that,” he snapped. “There’s another reason I want to bed you.”

“What other reason?” she asked suspiciously.

“There’s pleasure in the marriage act. Have you never experienced it before?”

“I don’t know about pleasure, m’lord, but I’m most familiar with disappointment.”

“Do you think I’ll be disappointed, or do you believe you will be?”

“Both of us will be disappointed,” she said. “Then you’ll become angry. It’s really for the better if you leave me alone.”

He wasn’t about to agree to that suggestion. She acted as though she had everything all figured out. He didn’t need to ask where she’d gotten her opinions. It was apparent to him she’d been sorely mistreated by her first husband. She was so damned innocent and vulnerable. MacBain thought it a pity Raulf was dead. He would have liked to kill him.

He couldn’t change the past for her, however. All he could do was concentrate on the present and their future together. He leaned down and kissed her brow. He was pleased to see she didn’t flinch or try to turn away.

“Tonight is the first time for you—”

He was going to explain that it would be their first time together and that it would be a new beginning for both of them, but Johanna interrupted. “I’m not a virgin, m’lord. Raulf came to my bed many times during our first year as man and wife.”

That statement caught his curiosity. He leaned back to look at her. “And after the first year?”

“He went to other women. He was most disappointed in me. Aren’t there any women you could go to?”

She sounded enthusiastic over the possibility. He didn’t know if he should be insulted or amused. Most wives didn’t wish to share their husbands. Johanna looked eager enough to run outside and recruit a mistress for him. Hell, she’d probably give up her side of the bed. too.

“I don’t want any other women.”

“Why not?”

She had the gall to look disgruntled. He was having difficulty believing this bizarre conversation. He grinned and shook his head. “I want you,” he insisted.

She let out a sigh. “I suppose it’s your right.”

“Yes, it is.”

He pulled the covers away. She jerked them back in place. “Just one moment please,” she said. “I would like to ask you an important question before you begin.”

He frowned over her request. She turned her gaze to his chin so he wouldn’t see how frightened she was becoming as she waited for his agreement or his denial.

“What is your question?”

“I would like to know what will happen when you’re disappointed.” She dared a quick look up into his eyes, then hastily added, “I would like to prepare myself.”

“I won’t be disappointed.”

She didn’t look as though she believed him.

“But when you are?” she persisted.

He held onto his patience. “Then I will have no one to blame but myself.”

She stared at him a long minute before letting go of her death grip on the covers. While he watched, she folded her hands together on top of her stomach and closed her eyes. The look of resignation on her face made him shake his head in frustration.

It was inevitable, he supposed. Gabriel was going to get his way, and she was intelligent enough to know it.

She wasn’t in a complete panic. She remembered the pain involved in the mating act; and although she certainly wasn’t looking forward to the god-awful discomfort, it wouldn’t be unbearable. It wouldn’t kill her. She had gotten through the ordeal before, she reminded herself; she could get through it again. She would survive.

“All right, m’lord. I’m ready.”

Lord, she was an exasperating woman. “Nay, Johanna,” he countered in a low, gruff whisper.

He reached for the ribbon holding her gown in place and pulled the string free. “You aren’t ready yet, but you will be. ’Tis my duty to make you want me, and I won’t take you until you do.”

She didn’t show any outward reaction to his promise. God’s truth, she looked as though she’d just been placed inside a wooden box. The only thing missing was a flower clutched between her rigid fingers, MacBain decided. Then he’d know for certain she was dead and about to be put in the ground.

He decided he was going to have to change his approach. His bride was alarmingly pale and as tense as the string on his bow right now. She was on guard against him. That fact didn’t bother him overly much, for he understood her reasons, even if she didn’t. He was going to have to wait until she had calmed down just a little. Then he would begin his gentle attack. His strategy wasn’t complex. He was simply going to overwhelm her. Hopefully she wouldn’t realize what was happening to her until it was too late. Her shields would be down; and once passion ignited, there wouldn’t be much room in her mind for fear.

He’d already learned his bride was a gentle lady. The expression on her face when she’d been talking to his son before the wedding told him she was a compassionate, caring woman. He didn’t know if she had a passionate nature, however, but he was determined to find out before either one of them left the bed.

MacBain leaned down, kissed her brow, and then rolled onto his back and closed his eyes.

Long minutes passed before she realized he was actually going to sleep. She turned to stare at him. Why had she been given this reprieve?

“Have I already disappointed you, m’lord?”


She continued to watch him, waiting for further explanation. He didn’t say another word to appease her curiosity.

Not understanding his motives made her worry all the more. “What would you like me to do?” she asked.

“Take your shift off.”

“And then?”

“Go to sleep. I won’t touch you tonight.”

His eyes were closed, and he, therefore, didn’t see the change in her expression. He heard her sigh though, speculated it was due to relief, and couldn’t help but become a little irritated with the woman. Hell, it was going to be a long, long night before he found satisfaction.

She couldn’t make any sense out of his order. If he was going to leave her alone, why did he care if she wore a nightgown or not? Perhaps the command was just his way of saving face, she thought to herself. She wasn’t about to argue with him, not now, not after she’d been given this wonderful gift.

Since his eyes were closed, she didn’t have to concern herself with modesty. She got out of the bed, took her gown off, folded it neatly, then walked around to the other side of the bed to put the garment on the chair next to it. His plaid was on the floor. She picked it up, folded it, and put it on top of her nightgown.

The air inside the chamber had become frigid, and the floorboards were freezing cold against her bare feet. She hurried to get back under the covers before her toes turned to ice.

His heat drew her close to his side, but she was careful not to touch him. She turned on her side, giving him her back, and ever so slowly edged closer and closer to him.

It took her a long time to relax. She was afraid to trust him, yet afraid not to because he was now her husband and deserved her trust, until he’d proven he wasn’t worthy, of course. Nicholas trusted him. Her brother was the most honorable man she’d ever known, save for her father. Nicholas was also an excellent judge of character. He wouldn’t have suggested she marry the laird if he didn’t believe Gabriel was a good, decent man. There was also the telling fact that her husband hadn’t forced himself on her. Why, he was actually being very accommodating.

The heat from his body radiated against her back. It felt wonderful. She moved just a little bit closer until the backs of her thighs touched the tops of his. She was sound asleep minutes later.

Gabriel decided he was going to get a high place in heaven no matter how mortal his past sins were and all because of the consideration he’d shown his bride tonight. Anticipation made his forehead break out in a cold sweat. Rolling in hot coals wouldn’t have been as painful as this wait, he decided. He believed he could endure any amount of physical pain, but lying next to her with lustful thoughts raging through his mind now made this night one hell of a challenge. She wasn’t helping matters much. She kept pressing her backside up against his groin. It was the sweetest torture he’d ever experienced and he had to clench his jaw tight against the provocation.

The fire burned down to embers in the hearth and it was well after midnight before he decided he’d waited long enough. He put his arm around Johanna’s waist and leaned down to nuzzle the side of her neck. She awakened with a start. She went completely rigid, but only for a minute or two, and then she put her hand on top of his where it rested just below her breasts. She tried to push his hand away. He wouldn’t move. She was groggy from sleep, and the wet kisses he placed on her neck were actually making her shiver with heat, not cold. It felt too good to worry about. Just to make certain he didn’t think he was going to be allowed any more liberties, however, she laced her fingers through his to keep his hand from moving.

He knew what her plan was. He wasn’t deterred. He teased her earlobe with his teeth, then with his tongue while he gently disengaged his hand from her hold and slowly began to caress the undersides of her full br**sts with his knuckles.

The sensations coursing through her body were extremely pleasant, surprising, too. Odd, but his touch made her restless for just a little more. His breath was sweet and warm against her skin. She instinctively tried to get away from him and yet tried to get closer at the same time. Her body was contradicting her mind. Until she felt the hard evidence of his arousal. A tremor of panic took hold. She turned to him. She was going to demand he keep his word. He had promised he wouldn’t touch her tonight. Surely he hadn’t forgotten.

“You promised you wouldn’t touch me tonight.”

He kissed the frown away from her brow. “I remember.”

“Then . . .”

He kissed the bridge of her nose. Johanna suddenly found herself surrounded by his heat. He’d pinned her to the bed with his body and covered her from head to feet. His hard thighs rested between hers. His arousal was pressed intimately against the soft curls shielding the core of her femininity. The feel of his hard body against hers made her gasp with fear and pleasure.

“Gabriel . . .”

He threaded his fingers through her hair and cupped the sides of her face. He leaned down until he was just inches away from her. His gaze was settled on her mouth.

“It’s past midnight, Johanna. I kept my word to you.”

He didn’t give her time to protest or panic. He silenced her with a kiss. His mouth was hard and hot as it settled on top of hers. His tongue swept inside to rid her of any argument she might have wanted to make.

Gabriel wanted her to forget her fears before her mind became ruled by them. No matter how much he wanted her, he knew he would never force himself on her. If Johanna couldn’t get past her apprehensions tonight, then he would wait and try again tomorrow . . . and tomorrow . . . and tomorrow. In time she would surely learn to trust him and then hopefully rid herself of her own inhibitions.

The kiss wasn’t tender, but ravenous and carnal. She wasn’t resisting him and was, in fact, kissing him just as thoroughly. A low groan of pleasure sounded in the back of his throat when her tongue timidly brushed against his.

The sexy sound of approval made her a little bolder. She was so overwhelmed by her own reaction to the arousing loveplay, she could barely think. She rubbed her feet against his legs in a restless motion and tried to remember to breathe.

She tasted as good as he’d fantasized she would. His mouth slanted over hers again and again, and he didn’t let up his assault against her defenses for a long while. He made love to her mouth with his tongue, slowly penetrating and then receding, forcing her to respond with his deliberate teasing.

He meant to overwhelm her, and overwhelmed she was. Within minutes she was trembling with desire. When his hands moved to her br**sts and his thumbs brushed across her sensitive nipples, she let out a low moan of pleasure. She couldn’t stop herself from arching up against his hands, deliberately trying to get a little more of his sweet torment.

He had to make her put her arms around him. Her hands were fists at her sides until he dragged his mouth away from hers and told her what he wanted her to do.

And still she didn’t cooperate. He lifted his head to look at her. He smiled with pure male satisfaction then. Johanna looked dazed by what was happening to her. There was passion in her eyes. He lowered his head again. He gave her another open-mouthed, tongue-dueling kiss just to let her know how pleased he was with her and then took hold of her hands and put them around his neck.

“Hold onto me,” he commanded in a rough whisper. “Pull me close.”