Maude was just leaving the room and announced to the baron that Madelyne's bath was ready for her, as he'd instructed.
As soon as the door closed behind the servant, Madelyne said, "I can't bathe in front of you, Duncan. Please go and swim in your lake while I—"
"I've seen you often enough without your clothes on, Madelyne," Duncan said. He untied her braided belt, tossed it over one of the chairs, then proceeded to remove her bliaut and chainse as well.
"But always in bed, Duncan, with the covers and…" Her voice trailed off.
Duncan chuckled. "Get into your bath, love, before the water turns cold."
"You swim in a freezing lake," Madelyne reminded him. Her husband was slowly edging her chemise up over her shoulders. "Why do you do that?" she asked, blushing enough to feel the heat in her cheeks. "Do you like to swim when it's so cold?"
Madelyne thought to turn his attention away from undressing her. But Duncan seemed capable of answering her question and stripping her at the same time.
"I don't particularly enjoy it," Duncan answered. Duncan made short work of her undergarment, eager to get rid of the clothing that shielded her beauty from him. He knelt down in front of her and slowly removed her stockings and shoes, and then caressed a hot trail back to her waist.
His hands made her sigh with pleasure.
"Then why do you do it?" Madelyne stammered.
"To toughen my mind and my body."
He stopped touching her. Madelyne was disappointed. "There are easier ways to toughen your body," Madelyne whispered.
She thought she sounded hoarse. Madelyne tried to cover her br**sts by pulling her hair forward, frowning when she realized the length didn't do an adequate job. She twisted the ends of her hair, conveniently blocking his view of her breasts.
Duncan wouldn't let her hide from him. He stood up and gently pushed her hands away. His palms cupped the fullness of her br**sts while his thumbs made lazy circles around her pink nipples. Madelyne's toes curled into the rushes. She instinctively leaned forward, seeking more of his touch.
"If I kiss you, Madelyne, I won't let you have your bath. I can see the passion in your eyes. Can you feel how much I want you?" He whispered to her in a voice that caressed as tenderly as his hands.
Madelyne slowly nodded. "I always want you, Duncan."
She forced herself to turn around and walk over to the tub.
Duncan tried not to watch his wife. He had vowed to go slowly this night. He was going to make love to her without rushing, no matter how much the urge to throw her on the bed and love her wildly challenged him.
He was going to gentle her with soft words too. His plan was to force her to tell him how much she loved him. Duncan was uneasy. He needed to hear the words now that he'd admitted to himself how much he loved her.
Duncan was determined to make her love him. And he was arrogant enough to believe that once he'd wooed her, she wouldn't be able to deny him anything.
Duncan smiled to himself. He was about to use her obsession with telling the truth to his advantage. He removed his tunic, then knelt down before the hearth to add another log to the fire.
Madelyne washed quickly, worrying that Duncan would turn and watch her doing such an intimate task.
And then she saw the humor in her predicament and laughed.
Duncan walked over to stand beside the tub. With his hands on his hips, he demanded to know what she found so amusing.
He wasn't wearing his shirt now. Madelyne's heart started racing. She suddenly became breathless too. Oh, how he could so easily arouse her. "I sleep beside you every night without a stitch of clothing and I really shouldn't be embarrassed now. That was why I was laughing," she added with a shrug that nearly drowned her.
Madelyne stood and faced her husband, proving to herself and to him she wasn't embarrassed any longer.
Droplets of water glistened against her skin. The ends of her hair were clumped together in wet locks. She had a mischievous look on her face. Duncan leaned down to kiss her once, on the top of her forehead, then again, on the bridge of her nose. He couldn't help himself. Madelyne was looking so magnificent and trying so nobly not to be shy with him.
When she shivered, Duncan reached for the cloth Maude had left on one of the chairs. He wrapped the material around Madelyne, lifted her from the tub, and carried her over to the hearth.
Madelyne stood with her back to the fire. She closed her eyes when Duncan's chest rubbed against her breasts. The heat from the blaze warmed her shoulders and Duncan's tender gaze warmed her heart.
She felt cherished. It was such a wonderful feeling, she didn't offer any protest when Duncan began to dry her. At first he used the cloth to pat her skin, but when he'd finished with her back, he suddenly pulled the edges of the material toward him, dragging her up against his chest. And then his mouth captured hers in a searing kiss. His tongue penetrated the treasure she offered him. Duncan let go of the cloth, cupped her buttocks, pulling her up against his hardness, his incredible heat.
She moaned with pleasure into his mouth, stroked his tongue with her own. Her hands caressed his back, but when her fingertips edged under the waistband of his pants, Duncan abruptly pulled away.
"Take me to bed, Duncan," Madelyne pleaded. She tried to capture his mouth for another kiss. But Duncan deliberately eluded her.
"In time, Madelyne," he promised her in a husky whisper. He kissed the tip of her chin, then slowly made his way down to her breasts. "You're so beautiful," he told her.
He wanted to taste all of her. Duncan stroked one breast with his hand while he worshipped the other with his mouth, sucking until the nipple was a hard nub.
His tongue felt like hot velvet. Madelyne could barely stand up. When Duncan knelt down and began to rain hot, wet kisses down the length of her belly, she took a deep breath and forgot to let it out. His hands rubbed her thighs, moved between them, driving her to the brink of losing her control. He kissed a path along the length of her scar as his hands continued their sweet torment, stroking, caressing, adoring the very heat of her.
He held her by her hips, and when his mouth began to kiss the soft mound of curls between her thighs, her knees did buckle.
Duncan wouldn't let her move. His mouth and his tongue tasted the moist heat he'd created in her. She was as sweet as honey and as intoxicating as a fine wine.
Madelyne thought she was going to die from the pleasure. Her fingernails dug into Duncan's shoulder blades. She moaned a soft whimper. The primitive erotic sound nearly drove Duncan mad.
He slowly lowered Madelyne to the floor. His mouth claimed hers just as his fingers penetrated her tight, wet sheath. Madelyne arched against his hand, cried out his name when the splendor erupted inside her. Wave after wave of incredible pleasure washed over her, and through it all, Duncan held her close, whispering words of love.
She felt like liquid gold in his arms, thought to tell him how much he pleased her, but couldn't seem to quit kissing him long enough to tell him anything.
Duncan pulled away and quickly removed the rest of his clothes. He stretched out on his back then and pulled Madelyne on top of him.
He knew he was about to lose control. Duncan pushed her legs apart, trying not to be rough, and when she was straddling him, his hand began to stroke her wild again. Madelyne moaned his name, begged him with her hands and her mouth to end this torment.
He lifted her h*ps and thrust into her with one powerful surge. She was more than ready for him.
She was so incredibly hot, so wet, so tight.
Duncan let her capture him then. Madelyne arched her back until she surrounded all of him, and then began to move, with slow, instinctive motions that drove him crazed.
He felt as weak as a squire and as powerful as a warlord. Duncan held her by the sides of her hips, demanding her to move more forcefully.
He found release before Madelyne did, but the sound and feel of him gave Madelyne her own blissful surrender.
Madelyne collapsed against his chest. Duncan groaned but Madelyne was too exhausted, too satisfied to apologize.
Long minutes passed before either was capable of speaking. Madelyne's fingers stroked Duncan's chest. She loved the feel of his crisp hair, his smooth, hot skin, his wonderful scent.
Duncan slowly rolled with Madelyne until she was trapped underneath him. He moved to his side then, propped his head up with one elbow, and casually draped one heavy thigh over her legs.
Madelyne thought he looked most arrogant. He stared at her with such a smug expression on his face. A lock of hair had fallen forward to rest against his forehead.
Madelyne was about to reach up and brush the hair back in place when Duncan spoke. "I love you, Madelyne."
Her hand froze in the air between them.
Madelyne's eyes widened and it was then that Duncan realized what he'd said to her.
It wasn't at all how he'd planned it. She was supposed to tell him she loved him. He smiled over his own blunder while he patiently waited for her to recover from his admission and tell him how much she loved him.
Madelyne couldn't believe he'd said the words. His expression turned solemn, telling her he meant what he said.
She started to cry. Duncan didn't know what to make of that. "Are you weeping because I've told you I love you?"
Madelyne shook her head. "No," she whispered.
"Then why are you so upset? I have just pleased you, haven't I?"
He actually sounded a little worried. Madelyne wiped the tears from her cheeks, bumping Duncan's chin. "You have pleased me," she told him. "I'm so frightened, Duncan. You shouldn't love me."
Duncan sighed. He decided he'd have to wait a few more minutes to get a decent explanation out of her. She was shivering too much to speak coherently.
He really held his patience, but once he'd carried Madelyne to their bed and they were under the covers, she snuggled up against him and didn't say a word.
"Why are you afraid?" he asked. "Is it so terrible for me to love you?"
His voice was filled with tenderness and that made Madelyne cry again. "There can be no hope for us. Duncan. The king will—"
"Give us his blessing, Madelyne. Our king will have to approve this marriage."
He sounded so sure of himself. She drew comfort from his confidence. "Tell me why you think the king will side with you. Make me understand. I don't want to be frightened."
Duncan sighed. "King William and I have known each other since we were young boys. He has many flaws, but he has proven himself to be an able leader. You dislike him because of the stories you've heard from your uncle. And your uncle reflects only the attitudes of his church. The king has lost the support of the clergy because he took treasures from their monasteries. He has never been quick to replace any church official either. The clergy belittles our king because he doesn't bend to their dictates."
"But why do you think—"
"Do not interrupt me when I'm instructing you," Duncan said. He softened his command by giving her a gentle squeeze. "Though I don't mean to boast, in truth I've helped our king unite the Scots and maintain a peaceful coexistence. The king knows my value. I've a well-trained army he can call upon in time of need, Madelyne. He relies on my loyalty. I would never betray him. He knows that too."
"But, Duncan, Louddon is his special friend," Madelyne interjected. "Marta told me so and I've also heard rumors from my uncle's friends."
"Who is this Marta?"
"One of the servants assigned to my uncle," Madelyne answered.
"Ah, then she must surely be as infallible as the pope," Duncan returned. "Is that your way of thinking?"
"Of course not," Madelyne muttered. She tried to turn around to look at Duncan, but he wouldn't let her move. She settled back against his shoulder and said, "My brother even boasts of his power over William."
"Tell me, wife, what you mean by special," Duncan commanded.
Madelyne shook her head vehemently. "I cannot say the words. It would be sinful."
Duncan sighed in exasperation. He knew well enough what the king's preferences were, had guessed long ago that Louddon was more than a clerk in William's court. He was surprised, however, that his innocent little wife would have such knowledge.
"You will just have to trust me on this, Duncan, when I tell you it's a sinful pact between my brother and our king."
"It will not matter," Duncan returned. "We'll not speak of this any longer, since it seems to embarrass you so. I know what you mean by special, Madelyne. Yet the king will not betray his barons. Honor is on my side in this feud."
"Are we speaking about the same honor that got you tied to a post in Louddon's fortress perchance?" Madelyne asked. "You're so honorable, you trusted Louddon to honor the temporary truce, didn't you?"
"It was a most carefully thought out plan," Duncan answered. His voice grated against Madelyne's ear. "I never trusted your brother."
"He could have killed you before your men gained entrance, Duncan," Madelyne returned. "As for that matter, you could have frozen to death. I, of course, saved you. Honor had little to do with it."
Duncan didn't argue with her. Madelyne was wrong in her assumptions, of course, but he didn't feel he needed to point out her error.
"Louddon will use me to harm you."
That comment didn't make any sense at all. "Madelyne, there isn't a baron in England who hasn't heard about Adela. If the king turns his back on the truth, he'll have made his first foolish mistake. There are other loyal barons who will stand by me. We are all honor bound to our leader, aye, but he must also act with honor toward each of us. Otherwise our pledge of fealty means nothing. Have faith in me, Madelyne. Louddon cannot win this war. Trust me, wife, to know what's to be done."
Madelyne thought about what he said for several minutes and then whispered, "I've always trusted you, ever since that night we slept together in your tent. You promised me you wouldn't touch me when I slept, and I believed you."
Duncan smiled over the memory. "Now do you realize how absurd it was for you to think I could take advantage without you knowing it?"
Madelyne nodded. "I am a very sound sleeper, Duncan," she teased.
"Madelyne, I'm not going to let you ignore our initial topic. I've just vowed my love for you. Have you nothing to say to me in return?" Duncan asked.
"Thank you, husband."
"Thank you?" He shouted the words back at her. His patience deserted him. Madelyne was supposed to tell him how much she loved him and why the hell she didn't know that infuriated him.