He carried her out of the hall and up the stairs. She protested most of the way. “I’m feeling fine now,” she argued. “I can walk, husband. Do put me down.”
“I want to carry you,” he explained. “It’s the least I can do after all the trouble you went to convincing my men.”
“The least you can do?”
“Aye,” he answered.
She didn’t have any idea what he was talking about. His smile was even more confusing to her. “You act as though my faint amused you,” she blurted out.
Gabriel opened the door to their bedchamber and carried her inside. “ ’Tis the truth you did amuse me,” he admitted.
Her eyes widened. “But you’re usually overly concerned about me, nagging me to rest all day long. Why this sudden change in your attitude, I’m wondering.”
“I don’t nag. Old women nag, not warriors.”
“You used to nag,” she countered. She couldn’t help but become a little irritated. Her husband’s callous attitude bothered her. A husband should be a little concerned when his wife fainted, shouldn’t he?
“Your ploy worked,” he said. “My men forgot their argument. That was the reason you pretended to faint, wasn’t it?”
He all but tossed her on the bed. She bounced twice before settling.
She felt like laughing now. She was certainly filled with relief. Gabriel wasn’t such an unfeeling clout after all. He really believed she’d pretended to swoon.
Johanna didn’t want to lie to her husband, but she didn’t particularly want to set him straight either. If he realized she hadn’t been pretending, he’d probably force her to stay in bed until next spring.
She didn’t agree or disagree with her husband. If he decided to take her silence as agreement over his own conclusion, so be it.
He’d turned her attention anyway. He was taking his boots off.
“Aren’t you going to boast over your cleverness?” he asked.
He tossed his boots to the floor and began to untie the knot in his belt. He kept his gaze on her all the while.
“Old men boast, m’lord,” she answered. Her gaze was on his waist. “Not warriors’ wives.”
Lord, how she pleased him. He liked the way she turned his own words back on him. Johanna was becoming downright sassy. Such behavior was proof enough she’d conquered her fear of him.
She still blushed quite easily. She was blushing now. She obviously guessed what he intended to do. He decided to tell her anyway just to further her embarrassment. She’d get all flustered then, and Lord, how he liked that feminine trait.
He stood by the side of the bed and told her in explicit detail exactly what he planned to do to her. The pictures he painted with his erotic words made her face burn, and the way he wanted to make love to her made her think she was going to faint again.
The dark and incredibly arousing look on his face made her think he wasn’t jesting with her. Still, she needed to be sure.
“Do men and women really make love in such a way?”
She sounded breathless, but she couldn’t help it. Her heart was slamming a wild beat, and she was fighting her own arousal while she tried to decide if such a thing was possible. The thoughts Gabriel had deliberately planted in her mind both appalled and excited her.
He pulled her to her feet and began to take her clothes off her.
“You’re jesting with me, aren’t you, husband?”
He laughed. “No.”
“Then husbands and wives really . . .”
“We’re going to,” he answered, his voice a rough whisper.
She shivered. “ ’Tis the truth I’ve never heard of such a . . .”
“I’ll make you like it,” he promised.
“Will you like . . .”
“What will I ...”
His wife was having difficulty finishing her sentences. She was obviously shaken. So was he, he realized. He was certainly aroused. His movements were damned awkward as he fought the tiny ribbons holding her undergarments together.
He let out a sigh of satisfaction when he finally got rid of the last of her clothes and then roughly pulled her up against him. He lifted her up so his hard arousal could press against the junction of her thighs.
She instinctively moved until she was cuddling him. He grunted with pleasure.
They fell into bed together. Gabriel rolled on top of her. He braced his weight with his elbows on either side of her and leaned down to capture her mouth for a long, drugging kiss. Their tongues dueled and stroked each other; and when he finally moved to kiss a path down the side of her silky neck, he could feel her trembling with pleasure.
She wasn’t quite finished plying him with questions. She was a worrier, he supposed, and that was surely the reason she wanted a full explanation.
“Gabriel, you really think to use your mouth to kiss me .. there?”
“Oh, yes,” he whispered against her ear. His breath, so sweet and warm against her sensitive skin, made her tremble with desire.
“Then I’m going to . . . you know . . . kiss you . . . there.”
He went completely still. She began to worry. A scant second later he slowly lifted his head to look at her.
“You don’t have to do anything,” he told her.
“Do you want me to?”
He’d drawled out the word, and God, he was such a sexy man. She felt as though she’d already pleased him. She reached up to stroke the side of his face. He leaned into her hand.
He liked her to touch him. He needed her to, she realized . . . almost as much as she needed him now to stroke her.
She let out a sigh and put her arms around her husband’s neck. She tried to pull him down for a long kiss, but he resisted.
“Johanna, you don’t have to ...”
She smiled up at him. “I’ll make you like it,” she whispered.
His head dropped to the crook in her shoulder. He leaned up, bit her earlobe, and then said, “I know I’ll like it, but I don’t know if you’ll . . .”
Now he was having trouble finishing his sentences. It was all his wife’s fault. She reached down and gently stroked his arousal. He was too busy shuddering to think coherent thoughts.
He’d been worried she wouldn’t like tasting him. She started out timid, but she got over being shy soon enough and became damned enthusiastic.
She made him crazy. His heart felt as though it had stopped when she took his arousal into her mouth. She was wild now, completely uninhibited as she stroked him with her mouth, her tongue, and dear God, she made him just as wild to please her.
He couldn’t stand the ecstasy for very long. He came before she did, but once he’d recovered from the spasms that racked his body, and he could think again, he turned his full attention to pleasuring his wife.
Her whimpers soon turned to shouts. The intensity of her own orgasm made her forget to breathe. She demanded he stop his wonderful agony even as she clung to him and pressed herself against him in a contradictory plea for more.
The taste of her made him hard and throbbing in scant minutes. He was suddenly desperate to be inside her. He moved, pinned her to the bed, and knelt between her thighs. His hands cupped her backside and he lifted her up at the same instant he thrust deep inside.
He felt as though he’d died and gone to heaven. She was so damned tight, so incredibly sweet and giving, and he knew he would never be able to get enough of her.
The bed squeaked from their forceful movements. Their breathing was harsh and choppy, and when she found fulfillment again, her scream made his ears ring.
He was thoroughly satisfied. He collapsed on top of his wife and let out a loud groan.
He could hear her heart hammering inside her chest. He was arrogantly pleased and satisfied. He’d made her completely forget herself.
She’d done the same to him. He frowned over the acknowledgment. It had become impossible to distance himself from his wife, he realized. He couldn’t simply make love to her and then go back to his duties and put her out of his thoughts. She had become more than simply a woman to mate with during the dark hours of the night. She was his wife, and damn it all, she was even more than that.
She was the love of his life.
He muttered the expletive, then lifted his head to look at her. She was sound asleep. He was relieved, for he wouldn’t have to explain the appalled look he was certain he had on his face or the blasphemy he’d just uttered.
He couldn’t seem to make himself leave her. He stared down at her for long minutes. She was so beautiful to him. Yet her appearance wasn’t the reason he’d lost his mind and fallen in love with her, God help him. Nay, it was her character that wooed him into forgetting his shields. Looks faded with age, but the beauty in Johanna’s heart and in her soul seemed to grow more wonderful with each new day.
She’d snared him all right, blindsided him she had, and now it was too late to do anything about protecting himself from her.
There was only one course of action left to him. Johanna was going to have to love him. By God, he wasn’t about to let himself become this vulnerable without gaining equal measure.
Gabriel felt better. The plan made sound sense to him. He wasn’t certain how he’d get her to fall in love with him, but he was an intelligent man. He’d think of something.
He leaned down, kissed her brow, and then got out of bed. Their lovemaking had worn her out, he supposed, as he reached for his plaid. That possibility made him smile until he yawned. He realized then she’d worn him out, too.
He stared down at her all the while he dressed; and when he was finished, he took time to cover her up. Then, damned if he didn’t have to kiss her one last time before he left the chamber. He was becoming appalled again by his own shameful behavior. Loving was a tricky affair, he decided. Perhaps, in time, he’d get the hang of it. He started to forcefully pull the door closed, caught himself in time, and shut it as quietly as possible.
Hell, he was becoming considerate. He had to shake his head over that disgusting trait. He wondered what other surprises were going to come his way now that he’d acknowledged to himself the fact that he did indeed love his wife. The future worried him. If he turned into a doting husband, he swore he’d have to kill someone.
Aye, loving was a tricky affair.
Johanna slept through the night. Gabriel left the chamber before she awakened. She was thankful for her privacy. She felt so sick, she could barely breathe without gagging. She tried to get out of bed twice, but each time the room would begin to spin and her stomach would lurch in protest of the movement. She took deep, gulping breaths to try to calm her nausea. It didn’t help. She made it over to the washstand and slapped a wet cloth against her forehead, but that didn’t help either. Johanna finally quit fighting the inevitable and ended up kneeling over the chamber pot, wretching until she was certain she was going to faint again.
While she’d been throwing up, she thought she was surely going to die; yet after she was finished, she felt surprisingly fit again. Whatever sickness had claimed her had either ended abruptly or had strange symptoms. Until she knew what was ailing her, she couldn’t treat herself.
Johanna wasn’t one to pamper herself, yet she couldn’t help but be worried. She’d believed her faint the night before was due to an empty stomach mixed with the unpleasant aroma of cooked meat. But she’d almost fainted again this morning and the only aroma in the chamber was the scent of the outdoors coming through the opened window.
She tried not to think about being sick. She’d missed Mass and knew she would have to take Father aside later and explain that she’d been indisposed. The color had come back to her face by the time she dressed. She braided her hair, straightened the chamber, and then went to look in on Clare MacKay.
Hilda opened the door for her. Johanna smiled when she saw Clare was sitting up in bed. Her face was still horribly swollen, of course, and the left side of her face was black and blue from bruises, but her eyes looked clear, not murky, and Johanna surmised the blow to the head hadn’t done irreparable damage.
“How are you feeling this morning, Clare?” Johanna asked.
“Better, thank you,” the MacKay woman answered in a weak, pitiful voice.
“She barely ate a morsel of the food I carried up,” Hilda interjected. “Says her throat pains her too much. I’m going back to the kitchens to mix a tonic for her.”
Johanna nodded. She kept her gaze on Clare. “You’re going to have to eat in order to regain your strength.”
Clare shrugged in answer. Johanna shut the door behind Hilda and went over to sit down on the side of the bed next to her patient.
“You do want to get better, don’t you?”
Clare stared at Johanna a long minute before answering. “I suppose I’ll have to,” she whispered. She deliberately tried to turn the topic then. “It was good of you to take me in, Lady Johanna. I haven’t properly thanked you yet. I’m most appreciative.”
“You needn’t thank me,” Johanna protested. “Why did you sound so sad when you said you would probably have to get better?”
The MacKay woman didn’t answer her. She was obviously nervous, for she was twisting the end of the blanket into a knot.
“Is my father going to come here?”
“I don’t know,” Johanna answered. She reached over and placed her hand on top of Clare’s. “Will you be happy to see him if he does come to see you’?”
“Yes, of course,” Clare rushed out.
She didn’t sound very sincere. Johanna was determined to gain some answers, but she wasn’t going to demand anything from the battered woman. She would use patience and understanding. Eventually Clare would tell her why she was so worried.
She decided to soothe her now. “You needn’t be afraid, you know. You’re safe here. No one’s going to hurt you. After your baby’s born and you’ve regained your strength, my husband and I will help you decide what’s to be done. You may stay with us for as long as you wish. You have my word.”
Clare’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m very weary now. I would like to rest.”
Johanna immediately stood up. She tucked the covers around the woman, acting like a concerned mother now. She put her hand to Clare’s forehead to make certain she didn’t have fever, then went over to check the pitcher to make sure her patient had enough water to drink.
Clare appeared to be sound asleep by the time Johanna left the chamber. Hilda went back inside to take over the watch.