Annal¨ªa slept through the entire night and woke to find Court's big warm body all along her back, an arm flung possessively around her waist. And she was sore in the most unique places. She turned to him, burrowing down closer to his chest, and slept again.
When she woke once more it was nearly noon, and he was gone. She sat up, rubbing her eyes groggily, then looked down at herself and scanned the sheet. No blood. Hadn't he made sure there wouldn't be? Her Scot was proving to be very considerate.
She called for a bath, and as she'd hoped, the warm water soothed her aches. But while she sat in the steaming water, she thought of the one dilemma she'd neglected to settle with MacCarrick. His answer would've been the only thing that could've kept her from proceeding.
They'd spoken about children and had settled that easily enough. He'd brought up the subject of wealth. It was probably good that he didn't want her fortune because Aleix would never approve the marriage and release the funds. Living in Scotland? She'd live on the moon with him.
There was only one thing she could never, ever tolerate....
She took extra care with her dress and her hair, then descended, wondering if seeing him this morning would be awkward. When she saw him downstairs, he took one look at her and then glanced away.
Her lips parted and in that split second she had the urge to cry.
She only realized he was scanning the room for others when he stormed up to her. He cupped his hand behind her head and pressed her hard against the wall, kissing her neck with a groan. "You took too long to come down."
Better! "Why didn't you stay with me?"
"Because I woke up wantin' you more than I did before I bedded you. And even if I could have managed to let you leave the bed, I feared you'd be embarrassed."
"I was a little." She felt herself blushing. "When you...cared for me."
"I dinna know what to do." He raised his hand to the wall above her. "I only wanted to make you feel better."
She again thought she might cry. He took a curl of her hair in his other hand and coaxed it around his finger. Had it come loose? She hadn't even noticed.
He was acting as if he were seeing her for the first time. She understood. With him around her like this, she delighted in his size, loving his broad shoulders and deep chest. His shirt was white and crisp against his sun-darkened face and his expression was intent. She'd never seen a more handsome man. And he was hers.
She frowned. Was he hers?
"Anna, I'm as new at this as you are."
"You've never taken a girl's virtue before?"
"Christ, no, I have no' done that."
"Truly?" In a way she'd been his first as well. "Why did you start with me?"
"Because you tempt me till I canna think." He put his face to her neck. "You smell so damn good."
Her eyes slid closed. His lips on her neck...No! She had to know. "Is it something you would want to do again?" she asked, attempting a casual tone.
He reared back and shook his head emphatically. "No, even were it possible to go back."
"I meant with another woman."
He grew serious. "No. Never." His eyes narrowed. "Do you regret what we've done?"
She felt him tensing around her. This would be difficult for her to say, especially since he'd made his wants clear before.
"There will no' be another man for you." His voice was harsh, startling her. "You're mine now, Anna," he growled as he wrapped her hair around his fist. "Look at me."
She did, shocked speechless by how quickly his anger had flared. Whatever he saw in her expression made the lines around his eyes whiten. "What exactly is it that you'd be wantin' for yourself?" His tone was seething.
She took a shaky breath and said, "Y-You said you wanted your harem, that you didn't want only one woman. I-I know this isn't the way of the world and it was ingrained in me never to expect it, but I...I want you to be mine too." How embarrassing. She felt unsophisticated, ignoring what she'd been instructed was normal and anticipated from the first day she'd ever heard of marriage.
She'd been told that a woman's misconception on this matter was what ruined marriages and made women bitter. But on the opposite side of the coin, she'd seen the devastation her mother's adultery had caused - why would Annal¨ªa think she would hold up better than her father had?
She could sense emotion roiling in him. "What do you mean?" At least his voice was no longer an angry rasp.
It occurred to her that she hadn't done any of this as she'd been taught, not making love, definitely not choosing a "suitable" mate. If she started now, the pattern would be interrupted and she rather liked where it'd taken her so far. She put her chin up. "I won't share you. If I'm to be loyal and faithful, I-I want the same!"
His jaw was slack. It was unreasonable, she knew, but the thought of him with another woman...She hadn't been able to tolerate it before she'd made him hers. "You distinctly warned me - "
"The night on the coast."
He flashed a look of realization.
"Why have one when you can have many, you said, but the thought of you with another..." She trailed off.
"Finish what you were telling me."
She looked away again, her eyes watering. "I just couldn't bear it."
He put his fingers under her chin and turned her face. He wore some new expression, just as powerful, but unseen before. He kissed her fiercely.
But he was avoiding her question. She broke away and gazed up at him with all the hurt she felt.
"Anna, last night I made you mine because I want you above all others." He brushed the backs of his fingers along her cheek, then put his forehead to hers. "It will always be so. I dinna hope you would feel as strongly."
Over the next two weeks, when she was in the library or reading in the salon during the day, MacCarrick would come to her with his brows drawn and his body tense and hold out his hand to her.
No words and no need for them. The look in his dark eyes told her all. When she took his hand - she never failed to take his hand and would as long as it was offered to her - he would always mask a flash of surprise a second too late. Then as he led her to their bed, she sensed this masculine pride in him even as her heart sped up in anticipation.
Her Scot was attentive to her and thoughtful, sending out for her favorite foods and finding her books - though she was mortified at first when he'd secured several of the gothic novels she loved.
Each night, after or between the times they made love, they would share a book together in bed, sometimes with her reading the novels to him, her head in his lap as he caressed her hair. Though whenever she gripped the book, nervous as the heroine investigated a dark cellar, he never failed to startle and tickle her.
At other times, MacCarrick would read her bawdy poems, making his brogue thick and rolling, until her eyes watered and her stomach hurt, she laughed so hard. Of course, she'd had to learn a new set of vocabulary to be truly appreciative.
One day, he'd sensed something was weighing on her, and she'd finally confessed how much she missed riding. He'd given her a wicked grin and taught her a completely different meaning of bareback. That wasn't all he taught her. If she'd thought her fingers could work his flesh, she'd never imagined what her lips could do once she convinced him how badly she wanted to kiss him.
Then this morning in bed, she'd stretched, and as usual he'd said, "Mind the arm, lass."
But she'd replied, "I swear you care about it more than I do."
"I like to watch you stretch. Woman, I love to watch you stretch, but you have to be careful till it's completely healed."
"Will the scar make me less attractive in your eyes?"
"An impossibility, Anna," he'd said, nipping her neck. Then he'd turned serious. "Every time I look at it I'll remember how close I came to..." He'd coughed into his fist. "How close it was. Mo cridhe, we are fortunate."
They were fortunate to be together. Yet during this time he never mentioned marriage, and she followed his lead. There was no talk about the future. And each day that passed brought her closer to the day her brother would arrive. She'd had the brief hope that MacCarrick was waiting so he could ask Aleix for her hand. But that was an absurd idea.
He'd never ask for her. A man wouldn't ask for something that he'd already claimed.
So they went on in this state without a promise from him. She thought that once she had it, she might have the nerve to tell him she'd fallen in love with him so fiercely she felt like she'd fallen from a height.