"How did you know my uncle's name?" Madelyne asked.
"You told me," Duncan supplied, smiling over the way her eyes widened.
"When? I've an excellent memory and I don't recall mentioning it."
"When you were sick, you told me all about your uncle."
"If I spoke to you, I don't remember. It was rude of you to listen to anything I said."
"It wasn't possible to block out your voice," Duncan told her, grinning over the memory. "You shouted everything you said."
He exaggerated, just to increase her reaction. When Madelyne wasn't guarded, her expressions were so innocently refreshing to see. "Tell me what else I said," Madelyne demanded. Her tone sounded with suspicion.
"The list is too long. Suffice it to say that you told me everything."
"Everything?" She looked horrified now. Lord, she was embarrassed. What if she'd told him how much she liked him kissing her?
There was a sparkle in Duncan's eyes. Perhaps he was only teasing her. That didn't sit well. Madelyne decided to remove that smile. "Then I gave you all the names of the men I've taken to my bed, didn't I? The game is up, I suppose," she ended with a sigh.
"Your game was up the moment we met," Duncan told her. His voice was soft.
Madelyne felt as though she'd just been caressed. She didn't know how to react. "And just what does that mean?"
Duncan smiled. "You talk too much," he told her. " 'Tis yet another flaw you should work on."
"That's ridiculous," Madelyne returned. "I've said little enough to you all week and you've ignored me altogether. How can you suggest I talk too much?" she asked, daring to poke his shoulder.
"I don't suggest anything. I state facts." Duncan answered. He watched her closely, saw the flash of fire in her blue eyes.
Baiting her was easy work. He knew he should stop but he was actually enjoying the way she responded. He could find little harm in it. She was suddenly as feisty as a hellcat.
"It displeases you when I speak what's on my mind?"
She thought he looked every bit the rascal now. A lock of dark hair had fallen forward to rest against his forehead. He was grinning too. Why, it was enough to rattle a saint into cursing. "Then I'll just quit talking to you. I vow I'll never speak to you again. Does that please you?"
He nodded again, though much slower this time. Madelyne took a deep breath, preparing to tell him what she thought about his rudeness, but Duncan silenced her. He lowered his head and brushed his mouth against hers, startling her into temporary submission.
With barely any coaching, she opened her mouth to his insistent tongue. Duncan began to make slow love to her with his tongue. Lord, he could feel the fire in her. His hands spread wide against the sides of her face, his fingers tangling in her glorious hair.
God how he wanted her. The kiss quickly changed from gentle caress to wild passion. Their tongues mated again and again until Duncan was almost mindless with wanting more. He knew he should stop and was about to pull away, when he felt Madelyne's hands touch his back. A soft, hesitant caress it was and at first as skittish as a butterfly, but when Duncan growled and delved again into the sweetness of her mouth, the caress gained in pressure. Their mouths were hot, wet, clinging.
He felt a shudder pass through her, heard her ragged moan escape when he reluctantly eased himself away from her.
Madelyne's eyes were misty with passion and her lips, red and swollen, beckoned him to taste her again. Duncan knew he shouldn't have started what he couldn't finish. His loins throbbed with want and it took a supreme act of will to move away from her.
With another groan of frustration Duncan rolled to his side. He wrapped his arm around Madelyne's waist and pulled her up against him.
Madelyne wanted to weep. She couldn't understand why she kept letting him kiss her. More important, she couldn't seem to stop herself from kissing him. She was as wanton as a wench.
All Duncan had to do was touch her and she went to pieces. Her heart raced, her palms turned hot, and she was filled with a restless yearning for more.
She heard Duncan yawn and concluded then that the kiss hadn't meant much to him at all.
The man irritated her just like a rash. Madelyne determined to keep her distance from him even as she contradicted the decision by adjusting herself into the curve of Duncan. When she was almost settled to her satisfaction, Duncan let out a harsh groan. His hands moved to her h*ps and he held her firmly.
What a contrary man he was! Didn't he realize how awkward it was to sleep in her walking gown? She moved again, felt him shudder, and thought then that he might be getting ready to snap at her.
Madelyne was too weary to worry about his temper. With a yawn of her own, she fell asleep.
It was, without a doubt, Duncan's most difficult challenge. And if she moved her backside just one more time, he knew he'd fail this test.
Duncan had never wanted a woman the way he wanted Madelyne. He closed his eyes and took a deep, ragged breath. Madelyne wiggled against him again, and he began to count to ten, promising himself that when he reached that magic number, he'd be more controlled.
The innocent cuddled up against him had absolutely no idea of her jeopardy. Her derriere had driven him to distraction all week long. He pictured the way she walked, saw again the gentle sway of her h*ps as she strolled around his fortress.
Did she affect others the way she affected him? Duncan frowned over that question, admitting that she most certainly did. Aye, he'd seen the looks his men had given her when her attention was directed elsewhere. Even faithful Anthony, his most trusted vassal and closest friend, had changed his attitude toward Madelyne. At the beginning of the week Anthony had been silent and taken to frowning, but by week's end Duncan noticed his vassal was usually the one speaking. And he didn't trail behind Madelyne any longer either. Nay, he was always right by her side.
Just where Duncan wanted to be.
He couldn't fault Anthony for his weakness in falling under Madelyne's charms.
Gilard, however, was of a different cloth altogether. It appeared that the youngest brother was taken with Madelyne. That could present a problem.
She started squirming again. Duncan felt as though he'd just been branded. A painful longing claimed his full attention. With a growl of frustration he threw off the covers and got out of bed. Though Madelyne was jarred by the sudden movement, she didn't wake up. "Sleeps like an innocent babe," Duncan muttered to himself as he walked over to the door.
He was going back to his lake and realized with a hefty shake of his head that he'd find true pleasure in this second swim.
Duncan wasn't a patient man. He wanted the issues resolved before he claimed Madelyne for his own though. He resigned himself to the fact that he'd probably be swimming in his lake more often. It wasn't a challenge that sent him outside now, but a release from the fire burning in his loins.
With a mutter of disgust, Duncan closed the door.
A flower among thorns, an angel among thorns…
"And sometimes, Adela, if a babe was born with any noticeable flaw, why, the Spartan fathers would just throw the newborn child out a convenient window or off the top of a nearby cliff to get rid of him. Aye, I can see you're properly shocked, but my uncle Berton did relate the tales about those fierce warriors of times gone by, and he'd not exaggerate the telling just to please me. It was his duty to recount them with accuracy, you understand."
"What were the Spartan ladies like? Did your uncle Berton tell you all about them?" Adela asked, her voice quite eager. Duncan's little sister sat on the edge of her bed, trying her best to stay out of the way while Madelyne rearranged the furnishings in her bedroom. Adela had given up trying to convince Madelyne that it wasn't at all usual for her to work like a serving wench. Her new companion had a stubborn streak and it was useless to argue with her.
It had ben over three weeks since Madelyne had forced the confrontation with Adela. Once Adela had told the truth about her ordeal, the pain and guilt had truly lessened. Madelyne had been right about that. Madelyne hadn't seemed the least shocked by the story. Odd, but that helped Adela as much as the telling. Madelyne sympathized with Adela, yet she didn't pity her.
Now Adela followed Madelyne's lead, trusting her to know what was best. She accepted that the past couldn't be undone and tried to put it behind her, just as Madelyne suggested. That was easier said than done, of course, but Madelyne's friendship, so unrestrictive and so giving, helped Adela take her mind off her problems. Adela had finally started her monthly flux a week ago, and that was one less worry to concern her.
Madelyne had opened a new world to Adela. She told the most wonderful stories. Adela was amazed by the wealth of information in Madelyne's memory and eagerly awaited each day's new tale.
Adela smiled as she watched Madelyne now. Her friend did look a sight. A smudge of dirt had settled on the bridge of her nose, and her hair, though tied with a piece of blue ribbon behind her neck, was gradually gaining freedom from the binding.
Madelyne stopped sweeping the dust from the corner and leaned against the handle of her broom. "I can see I've caught your interest," she remarked. She paused to brush a stray curl away from her face, making a new mark of dirt on her forehead, and then continued on with her story. "I do believe the Spartan ladies were most undignified. They'd have to be as horrible as their men, Adela. How would they ever have gotten along if they weren't?"
Adela answered the question with a giggle. The sound warmed Madelyne's heart. The transformation in Duncan's sister was most pleasing. There was a sparkle in her eyes now and she smiled quite often.
"Now that the new priest has arrived, we must be careful not to talk like this in front of him," Adela whispered.
"I've yet to meet him," Madelyne answered. "Though I'm looking forward to it. It's high time the Wexton brothers had a man of God looking after their souls."
"They used to," Adela said. "But when Father John died, and then the church caught fire well, no one did much of anything about it." She shrugged and then said, "Tell me more about the Spartans, Madelyne."
"Well now, the ladies had probably all gone to fat by the time they were twelve or so, though that is just a supposition on my part and not a dictate from my dear uncle. I do know, however, that they took more than one man to their beds." Adela gasped and Madelyne nodded, thoroughly satisfied by her friend's reaction. "More than one at a time?" Adela asked. She whispered the question and then blushed with embarrassment.
Madelyne nibbled on her lip while she considered if that was possible.
"I don't think so," she finally announced. Her back was to the door, and Adela's full attention was centered on her friend. Neither noticed Duncan now stood in the open doorway.
He was about to announce his presence, when Madelyne spoke again.
"I don't believe it's possible to be flat on your back with more than one man at a time," she admitted.
Adela giggled, Madelyne shrugged, and Duncan, having heard most of Madelyne's dissertation on the ways of the Spartans, rolled his eyes heavenward.
Madelyne had propped the broom against the wall and was now kneeling in front of Adela's chest. "We'll have to empty this if we're going to move it across the room," she said.
"You must finish your story first," Adela insisted. "You do tell the most unusual tales, Madelyne."
Duncan started to interrupt again and then discarded the notion. In truth, his curiosity was caught.
"In Sparta there wasn't any such thing as celibacy. Why, it was considered a crime not to wed. Gangs of unmarried women would take to the streets. They'd search for unmarried men and when they found them, they fell upon them."
"Fell upon them?" Adela asked.
"Aye, they'd fall upon the poor man and beat him to a bloody pulp," she yelled out. Her head had completely disappeared inside the trunk. " 'Tis the truth I'm telling you," Madelyne added.
"What else?" Adela asked.
"Did you know that the young men were locked in a dark room with the women they'd never seen in the light of day and they were supposed to… well, you get my meaning there," she ended.
Madelyne took a breath, sneezed over the dust inside the chest. "Some of the women had babies before ever seeing their husbands' faces." She straightened up then, bumped her head on the lid of the chest, and promptly rubbed the ribbon off her head.
"It sounds horrible, but I'll tell you this. When I think of your brother Duncan, I can imagine his Lady Eleanor might prefer a dark room."
Madelyne made the statement as a jest. Adela let out a gasp of dismay. The little sister had just noticed Duncan was leaning against the door.
Madelyne misunderstood Adela's reaction and was immediately contrite.
"'Tis common talk I've taken up," she announced. "Duncan is your lord, after all, and brother, too, and I've no business teasing you about him. I do apologize."
"I will accept it."
It was Duncan giving her forgiveness. Madelyne was so surprised by his booming voice, she bumped her head again when she turned to look up at him.
"How long have you been standing there?" she asked, blushing with mortification. She stood up and faced him.
Duncan didn't answer her, he just stood there, making her nervous. Madelyne smoothed the wrinkles from her gown, noticed a large stain right above her waist, and immediately folded her hands in front of it. A lock of hair swayed in front of her left eye, but if she moved her hand to push the hair away, he'd see what a mess she'd made of her gown, wouldn't he?
Madelyne had to remind herself that she was only his captive and he her keeper. What difference did it make if she looked messy or not? She blew the hair out of her vision and struggled to give Duncan a serene look.
She failed miserably, and Duncan, knowing what was in Madelyne's mind, smiled over her failure. It was getting more difficult for her to hide her feelings. That fact pleased him almost as much as her disheveled appearance. She thought he smiled over her sorry-looking gown. Duncan reinforced her belief by giving her a thorough inspection. His gaze moved slowly from the top of her head to the dust on her shoes. His smile widened until the attractive dent was back in the side of his cheek.
"Go up to your room, Madelyne, and stay there until I come for you."
"May I finish this task first?" Madelyne asked, trying to sound humble.