She had the grip of a warrior. Gabriel slowly kissed a path to her chest. He palmed her br**sts with his hands, then leaned down to take one nipple into his mouth. Her nails raked his shoulders in reaction. He grunted with raw pleasure.

Gabriel had been in complete control of the loveplay; but when his hand slid down her flat, smooth, silky belly and moved lower to touch her intimately, and he began to caress the very heat of her, he lost his own composure. The folds hidden beneath her soft curls were slick, wet, and incredibly hot. His thumb rubbed across the sensitive nub of flesh as his fingers slowly penetrated her.

She cried out in fear now, for the intensity of the pleasure he forced on her was new, too frightening for her to understand or control. She tried to push his hand away, even as her body contradicted that action to move restlessly against him.

Dear God, she didn’t know her own mind. “Gabriel, what is happening to me?”

Her nails dug into his shoulder blades and her head rolled to the side as he continued his lovemaking. He shifted his position so he could soothe her with another kiss.

“It’s all right,” he whispered in a voice that sounded out of breath. “You like how this feels, don’t you?”

He didn’t give her time to answer him. His mouth took possession of hers again. His tongue moved inside just as his fingers plunged deep inside her tight sheath.

She came undone. Passion such as she’d never known before ignited in the pit of her stomach and spread like wildfire through her body. She clung to her husband, whimpering now, demanding with her slow, erotic movements to end the overwhelming bliss.

And still he held back. The pressure building inside him was almost unbearable. All he wanted to think about was sinking into her beckoning heat. He fought against the raging desire and continued to make love to her with his mouth and his fingers. When she suddenly tightened around him, he knew she was about to find her own release. He immediately shifted positions again so that his arousal was pressed against the opening of her sheath. He braced himself on his elbows, held her jaw with his hand, and demanded that she look at him.

“Say my name, Johanna.”

His voice sounded harsh and angry. The intensity in his expression indicated his restraint.

“Gabriel,” she whispered.

He kissed her quick and hard. He dragged his mouth away, looked down into her eyes, and demanded, “Now and forever. Say the words, wife. Say them now.”

Every nerve in her body was screaming for release. He gripped her shoulders while he waited for her pledge.

“Now and forever, Gabriel.”

His head dropped to her shoulder. With one powerful surge, he imbedded himself fully inside her. He was surrounded by liquid heat. Dear God, she was tight and so damned hot he could barely stand the sweet agony.

He couldn’t stay still inside her, giving her body time to adjust to his invasion, and in the back of his mind was the worry he might be hurting her, yet he was powerless against the all-consuming demand of his own body now. His thrusts weren’t measured but hard and urgent. She raised her knees to take him deeper inside. She surrounded him, squeezed him. He groaned with pure animal pleasure. It was exquisite agony. She became wild in his arms. She clung to her husband and met his demand by arching up against him. Her thighs tightened around him, and her whimpers, soft and incredibly sexy, drove him wild. He had never experienced such passion before. She held nothing back. Her complete surrender to him quickened his own. He didn’t want it to be over. He slowly withdrew until he’d almost become separate from her, then sank back again.

Gabriel was mindless now to everything but giving her fulfillment and finding his own. His breathing was harsh and choppy, and when he felt the tremors of her cl**ax and heard her call his name with a mixture of wonder and fear, he couldn’t hold back any longer. He poured his seed into her with a loud, lusty groan.

Johanna’s body seemed to splinter apart with her orgasm. She thought she’d died. Never in her wildest imaginings could she have thought such bliss was possible. It was the most shattering and wondrous of experiences.

She had actually allowed herself the freedom to give herself completely to Gabriel, and dear Lord, her reward had been most astonishing. Her husband had held her close and kept her safe during the raging storm, and the sheer beauty of their lovemaking made tears come to her eyes.

She was too exhausted to weep. He had certainly drained her of her strength. He collapsed on top of her. She thought that she might have taken all of his strength, too. Yet his weight didn’t crush her. She realized then his arms were still braced at her sides. As physically spent as he appeared to be, he still sought to protect her.

The scent of their lovemaking filled the air around them. Their heartbeats pounded frantic beats.

Gabriel was the first to recover. His immediate concern was for his wife. God, had he hurt her?

“Johanna?” He forced his strength back into his arms and lifted himself up so that he could look at her. The concern in his expression was evident. “Did I ...”

Her laughter stopped his question. There was such joy in the sound, he couldn’t help but smile in reaction.

“Aye, you did,” she whispered.

The woman was a puzzlement to him. “How can you laugh and cry at the same time?”

“I’m not crying.”

He brushed his fingertips across one cheekbone to wipe the wetness away. “Aye, you are crying. Did I hurt you?”

She slowly shook her head. “I didn’t know it could be like this between a man and a woman. It was very beautiful. ”

Those words made him nod with arrogant satisfaction. “You’re a passionate woman, Johanna.”

“I never knew I was . . . not until tonight. Gabriel, it was most enjoyable. You made me ...”

She couldn’t come up with the right word to describe how she’d felt. He was happy to supply it for her. “Burn?”

She nodded. “I didn’t realize some husbands liked to kiss and caress before mating,” she said.

He leaned down, kissed her mouth, and then rolled onto his back, away from her. “It’s called preparation, wife.”

“It’s nice,” she whispered with a sigh. Raulf’s idea of preparation was to pull the covers back. Johanna immediately blocked the memory. She didn’t want to mar the beauty of what had just happened with ugly pictures from the past.

She didn’t want Gabriel to go to sleep. God’s truth, she wanted him to make love to her again. She couldn’t believe her own boldness and had to shake her head over her own surprisingly wanton behavior.

Johanna pulled the covers up and closed her eyes. An unsettling thought began to nag her. Now that they had mated, shouldn’t one of them leave? Raulf had always come to her bed, and, after he’d finished with her, immediately left. Since Gabriel was acting as though he was going to sleep, she decided it was her duty to leave him.

She wanted to stay, but the thought of being ordered to leave would sting her pride. It was better not to give him the chance to order her to go, she supposed. Johanna battled with the worry for several minutes.

Gabriel was having disconcerting thoughts of his own. His cunning plan to overwhelm his bride while her defenses were down had been turned around on him. Hell, she’d overwhelmed him. He’d never lost his discipline so thoroughly with any other woman, never, ever felt this vulnerable, and he began to wonder what she would do if she knew she had such power over him. He scowled just thinking about it.

Johanna moved to the side of the bed. She reached for her robe before she stood up. She kept her back to her husband while she put the garment on. Her shoes, she remembered, were near the door.

And still she hesitated to leave. She couldn’t understand her own mind. She felt miserable now and lonely, and she couldn’t imagine why she wanted to weep. Their lovemaking had been wonderful, yet now she was filled with new uncertainty. Nay, she didn’t understand this change in her, but she imagined she would have the rest of the dark hours to think about it. She doubted she would get any sleep, and by morning light she would have worked herself up into a state of exhaustion.

Gabriel looked as though he’d already gone to sleep. She tried to be as quiet as possible as she made her way to the door. She was just reaching for the latch when he stopped her.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

She turned to look at him. “To the other chamber, m’lord. I assumed that was where you wanted me to sleep.”

“Come back here, Johanna.”

She slowly walked back to his side of the bed. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“I wasn’t asleep.”

He reached for the belt of her robe. His voice sounded only mildly curious when he asked, “Why do you want to sleep alone?”

“I don’t want to,” she blurted out.

He used the sleeves of her robe to pull the garment off. She was shivering with the cold. That observation amused him. He thought it was damned hot in the chamber. He pulled the cover back then and simply waited for her to get into bed again.

She didn’t hesitate. She climbed over her husband. Gabriel put his arms around her and pulled her close. The side of her face rested on his shoulder. He pulled the covers up, let out a loud yawn, and then said, “You will sleep in this bed with me every night. Do you understand, Johanna?”

She bumped his chin when she nodded. “Is it usual in the Highlands for husbands and wives to sleep together?”

He gave her a roundabout answer. “It’s going to be usual for you and me.”

“Yes, m’lord.”

Her whispered agreement, given so quickly, pleased him. He tightened his hold on his bride and closed his eyes.


He grunted his reply.

“Are you pleased you married me?”

She was sorry she’d asked the question the minute the words were out of her mouth. Now he would know how vulnerable she was feeling and how horribly insecure she really was.

“The land belongs to me now. That pleases me.”

He was a brutally honest man. She thought she should probably admire that trait. She didn’t though, not tonight. She decided she wanted him to lie to her and to tell her he was happy to have her for his wife. God, she was becoming daft. She didn’t want to be married to a man who would blatantly lie to her. No, of course she didn’t.

She knew she wasn’t making any sense. Surely exhaustion was the reason she was having such foolish, unimportant thoughts. What did she care if he wanted her or not? She had gained exactly what she had set out to gain when she married him. She was free from King John’s tentacles. Yes, she was free . . . and safe.

She had gotten exactly what she’d bargained for, and so had he. The land now belonged to him.

“You’re too soft. I should have preferred a strong, tough-skinned woman.”

She was almost asleep when she heard his comment. Since she didn’t know what to say in reply, she kept silent.

Another minute passed before he spoke again. “You’re too tender for life here. I doubt you’ll survive a full year. I probably should have preferred a more robust, unemotional woman. Aye, you won’t last a full year here.”

He didn’t sound particularly disturbed by that possibility. She tried not to take exception. She wasn’t going to try to talk him out of his opinions either. Arguing that she was indeed a very strong woman with every bit as much endurance as any of the Highland women would have been useless. Gabriel had already formed his opinions and only time together would prove to him she wasn’t a summer flower. She really did have stamina. She had already proven to herself she was a survivor. In time she would prove it to him.

“You’re a timid lass. I probably should prefer a woman who was more forceful.”

It took a supreme act of will to keep silent. She had asked him one simple question. A quick yes or no would have been sufficient answer. He seemed to be taking delight in listing her faults though. She could hear the laughter in his voice. Her husband, she was learning, was a bit rude.

“You have daft opinions. I should probably prefer a wife who always agreed with me.”

She started drumming her fingers in irritation on his chest. He put his hand on top of hers to stop the telling action.

Johanna let out a loud yawn. It was a deliberate hint for him to let her go to sleep. A thoughtful husband would have ceased his litany of insults immediately.

Gabriel wasn’t particularly thoughtful. “The least little thing frightens you,” he remarked, remembering the expression on her face when she had first seen his wolfhound. “I should probably prefer a woman my hound would be afraid of,” he added.

The heat radiating from his body made her drowsy. She draped one of her legs over his thighs and scooted closer.

“You’re too thin by half,” Gabriel said then. “The first northern wind will blow you over. I should probably prefer a big, strapping woman.”

She was too sleepy to debate with her husband. Outrage took too much concentration. Johanna fell asleep listening to her husband as he continued to list her countless flaws.

“You’re terribly naive, wife,” he said when he remembered she had told him the year-round warm climate appealed to her. She had believed her brother’s outrageous lie.

“Aye, you’re naive all right,” he said again.

Long minutes passed before Gabriel decided to finally answer her question.


She didn’t answer him. He leaned down, kissed the top of her head, and then whispered, “’Tis the truth, I am pleased I married you.”


Johanna awakened to the sound of pounding. A crash followed. She thought the roof had caved in. She bolted up in the bed just as the door opened. Gabriel walked inside. She grabbed hold of the covers and pulled them up to cover her chest.

She knew she looked a sight. Her hair hung down over her face, obstructing her view. She clutched the covers with one hand and brushed her hair back over her shoulders with her other hand.

“Good morning, Laird MacBain.”

He found her attempt at modesty amusing, considering the fact that he’d stroked every inch of her body during the night. She was blushing, too.

“After last night, I don’t believe you need to be embarrassed with me, Johanna.”

She nodded. “I will try not to be embarrassed,” she promised.

Gabriel walked over to the foot of the bed. He clasped his hands behind his back and frowned at her.

She smiled back.

“It isn’t morning,” he announced, “but afternoon.”