He reached for her, but she backed away and put her hand out as a command for him to stay where he was. "Don't."

"Don't what?"

"Kiss me. That's what you were going to do, isn't it?"

He leaned back against the tree again. "Do you want me to?"

She threaded her fingers through her hair in agitation. "Yes… I mean, no. Oh, stop asking me questions," she cried out. "You're making me daft. I can't marry you. I have to find my sister and that cursed box and go back to England. If I married you, you'd end up alone."

"Have you so little faith in me? Don't you think I can protect you?"

She didn't hesitate. "Of course I have faith in you. I know you can protect me, but this isn't your battle. It's mine, and I will not put you in the middle of it. If anything happened to you, I don't think I could bear it."

A sudden thought struck him and shook him to the core. "Is there a man in England waiting for you?"

For the first time since they had begun the heated discussion, he sounded unsure of himself. His vulnerability was endearing. Though she knew she could lie and end the discussion now and forever, she felt compelled and honor-bound to tell him the truth.

"No, there isn't any other man. I'm going home to my Uncle Morgan… but no other."

"Has your uncle chosen a husband for you?"

"No."

He tilted his head as he studied her, and then quietly said, "He would find me acceptable."

She didn't argue with him. "Yes, he would."

"Would it please him to know you married a laird?"

Brodick's armor was fully back in place, and any uncertainty she had glimpsed in him had completely vanished. The arrogant warrior faced her now, cocky and full of himself.

"It would please my uncle to know you had attained such an important position in your clan, but that isn't why he would find you acceptable."

"Why then?" he asked curiously.

"Because he would easily see through your gruff exterior. You're hot-tempered and passionate in your beliefs, and you're extremely loyal to those you love. You're an honorable man, Brodick, and you couldn't fool my uncle. He would know what's in your heart." what about you, Gillian? Do you know what's in my heart?"

His voice was whisper soft, and a jolt of longing rushed all the way down to her toes. In the sunlight filtering through the branches of the trees surrounding them, Brodick's body had taken on an iridescent glow. His skin glistened and his long golden hair shimmered. Looking at such a fit man made her mouth dry and her stomach churn. Her fantasies heated her face, and when she realized she was staring at his mouth, she forced herself to look at the ground until she could get her errant thoughts under control. She had never thought much about mating with a man until she had met Brodick, and thanks to him, she knew she was going to have to spend a good deal of time in the confessional, telling a priest how depraved she had become.

"Have you been with many women?" She couldn't believe she had the nerve to ask him such an intimate question, and more than anything she wished she could take the words back. "Don't answer," she blurted out. "I shouldn't have asked."

"You can ask me anything," he said. "And yes, I've been with women," he answered very matter-of-factly. "Would you like me to speculate on the number?"

"No, I would not," she answered. She continued to stare at the ground when she asked, "Is there a woman waiting for you?"

"I imagine there are several waiting for me."

Her gaze flew to his. "You cannot marry several women, Brodick. Only one."

Her cheeks were flushed. It took all he had not to laugh. "There are always women waiting and willing to share my bed," he explained. "None of them have the expectation of marriage."

She decided she hated every single one of those women. The burst of jealousy she felt didn't make a lick of sense but made her feel miserable. She wasn't going to marry him, yet she detested the thought of Brodick sharing his bed with another woman.

Unable to hide it, the anger radiated in her voice when she asked, "And will these women continue to share your bed after you are married?"

"I hadn't thought about it," he admitted.

"Then think about it now," she snapped.

She realized he knew exactly what was going on inside her head when he smiled at her. Oh, yes, he knew she didn't like hearing about his women, and he was thoroughly enjoying her reaction. She suddenly wanted to kick him and kiss him at the same time.

She chose to behave instead. "Your wife would not wish you to take other women to your bed."

"Gillian, when we marry, I will have only you and no other. We will both be faithful to each other, during the good and the bad times we share. You needn't worry about such inconsequential things. I want only you. Will your Uncle Morgan know I will take care of you?"

"He would know I could take care of myself. I'm not a weakling. My uncle taught me how to defend myself. Did you get the notion that I was weak because Alec told you I was beaten?"

"No," he answered. "You showed strength, not weakness. You protected the boy from harm by turning the bastard's rage on yourself. Besides," he added arrogantly, "I would never marry a weakling."

The warmth in his voice and his praise were almost her undoing. Oh, how she wanted to throw herself into his arms and hold him. She didn't know how to protect herself from him, and she was already beginning to mourn her loss, for when she returned to England, she knew she would never be the same.

"Tell me you love me," he said.

"I do love you," she confessed. "But I'm not happy about it. I don't know how it happened… so fast… I didn't have time to protect myself from you, and I certainly didn't mean to fall in love." She shook her head as if to settle her thoughts. "It doesn't matter, though. I still can't marry you."

Brodick's entire body relaxed. Although he already believed she loved him, hearing her say the words reassured him. The tension eased out of him and he suddenly felt reborn. She made him feel clean and new and indestructible.

"I will have you, Gillian."

Taken aback by the vehemence in his voice, she shook her head. "No."

"Yes," he countered, his voice hard now, determined. "Know this. No other man will ever touch you. You belong to me."

"When did you make that decision?"

"When you told me you loved me. I already knew, but it seems I needed to hear you say the words."

She burst into tears. "Why won't you understand? I can't ever have Annie Drummond's house. Not now, not ever. You're trying to put foolish thoughts into my head, and I want you to stop. It's cruel to make me long for what I can never have. No," she added in a near shout, "I will not dream. It's dangerous."

"You want Annie Drummond's house?" he asked, thoroughly puzzled by the bizarre wish. "Why?"

"Oh, never mind. You wouldn't understand."

"Explain then so that I will understand."

"It's what Annie's cottage represents," she said, her voice hesitant. "She has a home and a husband who loves her, and her life is… idyllic."

"You cannot know what her life is like unless you walk in her shoes," he countered.

"Stop trying to be logical," she demanded. "I'm simply trying to make you understand that I can't ever have a life like Annie's. I have to go back to England."

Brodick suddenly stiffened. The truth struck him hard. He finally guessed her real reason for refusing to marry him, and he realized that even now she was trying to protect him.

"You believe you're going back to England to die, don't you, Gillian? That's what you're not telling me."

She looked away when she answered him. "There is that possibility." She burst into tears again.

"I don't like seeing you cry. You will stop it at once."

She blinked. Only Brodick could give such a ludicrous command. Did he think she was crying on purpose just to upset him? "You are the most difficult man, and I will not marry you." He moved so quickly she didn't have time to react. In two long strides he had her in his arms.

"You've already made your commitment to me when you admitted you loved me. Nothing else matters. I don't give a damn how complicated it all becomes. You're mine now. Do you honestly believe I'm ever going to let you go?"

Telling herself she had to remain strong and not give in to him, she shook her head and struggled to get free. She pushed against his chest with all her might, desperately trying to put some distance between them. When she was close to him, all she wanted to do was wrap herself in his warmth and let the world pass her by. She wanted time to stop… and that was impossible.

Her struggles proved useless. She couldn't get him to budge. His superior strength was at least ten times her own, and after a moment she ceased squirming and bowed her head.

"What are we going to do?" she whispered, once again on the brink of tears.

She had no idea how telling her question was. She hadn't asked what she was going to do, but what they would do. Content for the moment to simply hold her, he bent down, kissed the top of her head, and closed his eyes as he inhaled her light feminine scent. Her hair smelled of roses. She was unlike the Buchanan women, and he realized he was actually a little in awe of her. Her skin was as smooth and soft as he imagined a cloud would be, and her smile enchanted him. It was as beautiful as baby's first, and just as pure. There wasn't a hint of cunning in her. No, she wasn't like other women. He remembered that when he'd first met her, he'd judged her almost painfully prim and proper, and frail, too frail for his way of life. Yet almost immediately he had seen the steel strength inside of her. She was courageous and honorable, and those were but two of the hundred or so reasons he was never going to let her leave him.

"I'll give you a promise," he said gruffly. "And then you will cease your worrying."

"And what is this promise?"

"If you go back to England, I'll go with you."

"If I go back?"

"It hasn't been decided yet."

"What are you saying? I don't understand. The decision is mine to make."

He didn't argue, and his silence worried her. She once again tried to get him to explain his remark, but he stubbornly refused.

"When I go back, I'll go alone. You must stay here. I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you."

Her voice shivered with emotion, and the fear he heard surprised and pleased him. He'd never had anyone care about him the way she did. His only family was his brother, Winslow, but it was a distant, rigid relationship. They loved each other as brothers did, but never showed any outward affection.

"You will have confidence in my ability to protect you," he ordered.

"You don't know what you're up against. These aren't ordinary men. They have the king's support and friendship, and surely the Devil's on their side."

"None of them have Highland blood running through their veins, and that makes them vulnerable."

"Will you be serious?" she demanded. "A Highlander can bleed as easily as an Englishman."

"You will have faith in me. I command it."

She gave up arguing with him, feeling as though it would be easier to get a stone wall to understand.

"I do have faith in you, and I will try not to worry, but that's all I will promise. You can give me as many commands as you wish, and it won't change how I feel."

"Every man has a weakness," he patiently explained. "I'll find theirs, I promise you."

"Every man?"

"Yes," he answered emphatically.

His hand moved to the back of her neck. Twisting her curls around his fist, he jerked her head back. His face loomed over hers, his breath warm and sweet as he stared down into her eyes.

"What is your weakness, Brodick?" she asked.

"You."

Chapter Seventeen

He lowered his head and kissed her, effectively sealing any protest she might have made. It wasn't a gentle caress of his lips against hers, but a hard, demanding kiss that let her know in no uncertain terms how much he wanted her. His tongue sank into her sweet warm mouth to stroke and caress, and within seconds she was kissing him just as thoroughly. Timid at first, the tip of her tongue touched his fleetingly, but when she felt him tighten his hold and heard him growl low in his throat, she grew bolder. His passion overwhelmed her, yet she wasn't frightened, trusting him to know when to stop. He didn't seem inclined to at the moment, though, and, Lord, his mouth was doing such magical things to her body. A yearning deep in the pit of her stomach burned for more, and as his mouth slanted over hers again and again, all she could think about was getting closer.

His hands stroked her back, then splayed wide as he lifted her up against the junction of his thighs so that they were pressed intimately against each other. Her br**sts rubbed against his chest and his thighs felt like hot steel. He made her burn for more of him, and she couldn't seem to catch her breath as she frantically returned his kisses.

"Brodick, I want—"

He kissed her once again, almost savagely, and then he abruptly pulled back and let her slowly slip down to the ground. His face was buried in the crook of her neck, and he took several long deep, shuddering breaths as he tried to regain his discipline.

She didn't want to let go of him, and when he began to nibble on her earlobe with his teeth and his tongue stroked her sensitive skin, she felt a jolt of pleasure course through her.

"Don't…" Her voice cracked and she shivered in his arms.

He kissed his way down the side of her neck. "Don't what?" he asked.

She tilted her head to the side to give him better access and with a sigh said, "Don't stop."

He gently lifted her away from him and would have let go of her if she hadn't swayed. Displaying a wicked look of male satisfaction, he was arrogantly pleased he'd been able to arouse and confuse her in so little time. Her passion matched his own, and he knew that once he rid her of her shyness, she would be as uninhibited and wild as he planned to be on their wedding night. God help him, they'd better be wed soon because he didn't think he could wait much longer, and he certainly didn't want to disgrace her by taking her before their vows were spoken and blessed. But she was making it difficult. Just looking at her stirred a burning desire in him. Those incredible green eyes looked thoroughly ravaged now. Her hair was a riot of curls about her shoulders, and her mouth was rosy and swollen from his kisses.



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