The man looked ready to throttle something all right. “I’m not afraid of you most of the time,” she added in a rush. “Why are you so angry with me?”
He didn’t answer her question. He couldn’t. He was still in jeopardy of bellowing at her. He would wait until he had his temper under control before explaining she’d taken a good twenty years off his life by giving him such a scare.
Her husband tightened his hold on her. Her question had obviously upset him. She couldn’t imagine why. She wasn’t a mind reader, after all. She thought about mentioning that fact, then changed her mind. It wouldn’t do her any good at all to incite his fury. She was his wife and therefore should try to soothe him.
She decided to change the topic. She’d start with praise, thinking to please him. “You were right, husband. The woods are infested with wolves.”
It was the wrong thing to say to him. She came to that conclusion when his grip tightened and he let out a loud, shuddering breath.
“I’m getting you all wet, m’lord.” she blurted out, trying to turn his attention away from her unfortunate mention of wolves.
“You’re soaked through.” he snapped. “You’re going to catch a fever and be dead in a week.”
“I will not,” she announced. “I’ll change into dry clothing and be as fit as ever. You’re squeezing the breath out of me, husband. Do let up on your hold.”
Gabriel ignored her request. He let out an expletive, then suddenly moved. She tightened her hold on his neck and closed her eyes. She’d let him worry about keeping the branches out of her face on the way down.
He wouldn’t let her walk. He carried her over to his mount, lifted her up higher, and then dropped her onto the saddle. He wasn’t overly gentle about the task.
She immediately tried to straighten her underskirts. The material was stuck to her skin. She knew she didn’t look like a decent lady now, glanced down, and let out a gasp of dismay when she saw how her clothing was clinging to her breasts. She quickly threaded her fingers through her hair and pulled it forward to cover her chest.
Thankfully the soldiers weren’t paying her any attention. Gabriel stood with his back to her and ordered the removal of the wolves. Calum and Keith jumped down from their mounts to tie ropes around the wolves’ necks.
“Drag them back to the ridge and burn them,” Gabriel commanded. He tossed the reins to Johanna’s mare in Lindsay’s direction and ordered him and the other soldiers to return to the keep.
He wanted a moment alone with his wife.
Calum gave her a sympathetic look before taking his leave. He obviously believed she was going to catch hell. So did Keith, if his dour expression was an indicator.
She held her head high, folded her hands together, and pretended to be composed.
Gabriel waited until his soldiers had left before turning back to her. He put his hand on her thigh to get her to look at him.
“Have you nothing to say to me, wife?”
She nodded. He waited. “Well?” he finally demanded.
“I wish you would get over your anger.”
“That isn’t what I want to hear.”
She put her hand on top of his. “You expect an apology, don’t you? Very well, then. I’m sorry I ignored your suggestion to rest.”
“You needn’t bellow at me, husband. It’s rude.”
She didn’t understand why he needed to repeat what she’d just said. He didn’t understand why she wasn’t hysterical over her encounter with the wolves. Didn’t she understand what could have happened? Dear God, he couldn’t quit thinking about it. She could have been torn apart by the wild beasts.
“Johanna, I want you to promise me you’ll never again leave the keep without a proper escort.”
His voice sounded hoarse. She thought it might be due to the fact that he was trying to keep himself from shouting at her. If that deduction was true, then her husband was actually being considerate of her feelings.
“M’lord, I don’t want to become a prisoner in your home,” she explained. “I’ve already had to resort to trickery just so I could do a spot of hunting. I should be able to come and go as I please.”
“You should not.”
“With an escort then?”
“Damn it, woman, that’s just what I ...”
“I didn’t suggest. I demanded a promise from you.” She patted his hand. He wasn’t in the mood to be soothed, however. He motioned to the ground beneath the tree where her shredded plaid lay. “Don’t you realize you could have been torn apart as quickly and as easily as your plaid?”
The truth had been slow to dawn on her. Her eyes widened in surprise. He thought she was finally beginning to understand her jeopardy. He nodded. “Aye, you could have been killed, wife.”
She smiled. It wasn’t the reaction he’d hoped to gain. How could he ever teach her caution if she didn’t understand the dangers all around her?
He scowled with frustration. “I have been trying to get used to having a wife, Johanna. You make the adjustment difficult. Why in God’s name are you smiling?”
“I have only just realized, m’lord, that your anger is due to my near miss. I believed you were upset because I disregarded your suggestion to rest. Now I understand,” she added with a nod. “ ’Tis the truth you’re beginning to care for me. Your heart has softened, hasn’t it, husband?”
He wasn’t about to let her jump to such foolish conclusions. He shook his head. “You’re my wife and I will always protect you. That is my duty, Johanna. But I’m a warrior, first and always. You seem to have forgotten that important fact.”
She didn’t know what in heaven’s name he was talking about. “What does being a warrior have to do with your attitude toward me?”
“Matters of the heart do not concern me,” he explained.
She straightened her shoulders. “They don’t concern me either,” she replied, lest he believe she’d been hurt by his opinion. “And I, too, thought only to get used to having you around.”
He could tell from the look in her eyes he’d somehow injured her feelings. He reached up, cupped the back of her neck with his hand, and pulled her toward him. He kissed her long and hard. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back. When he pulled away, she almost slumped off her mount. He put his hands on her waist to keep her from falling.
“Give me your promise before we leave.”
Her immediate agreement improved his mood. It didn’t last long. Damned if she didn’t deliberately provoke his temper again.
“Exactly what did I just promise, m’lord?”
“You promised not to leave the keep without a proper escort!”
He really hadn’t meant to shout, but Lord, she made him crazed. What had they been discussing for the past ten minutes?
Johanna trailed her fingers down the side of his neck. His frown was intense, and she thought only to soothe him. She added a little praise to her caress of affection.
“ ’Tis the truth you make me forget everything when you kiss me. That is the reason I forgot what I promised you, m’lord.”
He couldn’t fault her for admitting the truth. There were times when he was also affected by her kisses. Certainly not as often as his wife, of course, he qualified to himself.
Johanna swung her leg over the saddle and tried to get down. Gabriel tightened his hold on her waist to keep her from moving.
“I would like to show you something,” she announced. “I had thought to wait until tomorrow, for I judged it would take you that long to forget about today’s little incident, but I’ve changed my mind. Gabriel. I want to show you now. My surprise will surely improve your mood. Do let me down.”
“I’m never going to forget about today’s incident,” he muttered. He kept up his scowl while he assisted her to the ground, then caught hold of her hand when she tried to walk away from him.
He reached up to retrieve her bow from the back of the saddle, then followed her into the cave. He had difficulty getting through the entrance. He had to squeeze his way through and keep his head tucked; but once he’d reached the cavern proper and saw the barrels, he quit his muttering over the inconveniences his wife forced on him.
Her enthusiasm over the find was more pleasing to him than the treasure itself.
“Now you will have something of value to barter,” she announced. “And you’ll have no need to steal again. What say you to that, m’lord?”
“Ah, Johanna, you take the joy out of my hunts,” he replied.
She didn’t like hearing that. “It is my duty to save your soul, husband, and by God, I’m going to try, with or without your cooperation.”
He laughed. The sound echoed throughout the cavern, bouncing from stone to stone.
Gabriel was able to maintain his cheerful mood until it dawned on him that his wife had gone inside alone to find the treasure.
“You could have walked into their lair!” he suddenly bellowed.
The swift change in his behavior caught her by surprise. She took a step back away from her husband. He immediately softened his tone. “What would you have done if wolves had followed you in here?”
She could tell he was struggling to control his temper. Gabriel really was a kind-hearted man. He knew she didn’t like it when he shouted and was, therefore, trying to accommodate her.
From the look in his eyes, she guessed it was killing him.
She didn’t dare smile. He’d think she wasn’t taking the topic seriously.
“It is true, m’lord, I didn’t consider that possibility. I was so excited when I found the cave, I forgot to be cautious. Still,” she added in a rush when he appeared ready to interrupt her, “I believe I would have been all right. Yes, I would have,” she added with a nod. “Why, I probably would have flown up those barrels. ’Tis the truth I flew up the tree to get away from the horrid beasts. I almost didn’t make it. One grabbed hold of the hem of my plaid and I . . .”
The expression on her husband’s face told her she shouldn’t have gone into such explicit detail. Gabriel was getting all riled up again.
She knew he was beginning to care about her all right. His heart was softening toward her whether he wanted to admit it or not. He wouldn’t be this upset if he didn’t care, would he?
Johanna was pleased with this proof of her husband’s affections until she realized how much it mattered to her. Then she began to worry. Why did she care how he felt about her? Was she also softening in her feelings toward him? Good God, was she beginning to love the barbarian?
The possibility appalled her. She shook her head in denial. She wasn’t about to allow herself to become so vulnerable.
Gabriel was relieved to see her frown. She’d gone pale, too. He nodded with satisfaction. The woman was finally understanding what could have happened to her.
“I was beginning to believe you were completely lacking in common sense,” he muttered.
“I have plenty of common sense,” she boasted in reply.
He wasn’t going to argue with her. He dragged her back outside. While she waited, he blocked the entrance with stones so the animals couldn’t get inside.
She rode on his lap back to the keep. The sun was shining again by the time they reached the ridge.
Johanna forced herself to put her worries aside. She could certainly control her own emotions, after all; and if she didn’t wish to love Gabriel, then, by God, she wouldn’t.
“You’re as tense as the string on your bow, wife. I can understand why, of course. You’ve finally realized how close you came to death today. Lean back against me and close your eyes. You should rest.”
She did as he suggested. She thought to have the last word on the topic, however. “Never once did I believe I was going to die, m’lord. I knew that eventually you or the other soldiers would find me. I was safe in the tree.”
“You were still worried,” he told her.
“Of course I was worried. There were wild wolves circling below me.”
She was getting tense again. He squeezed her. “You were also worried because you believed you disappointed me,” he remarked.
She rolled her eyes heavenward. Her husband certainly had an ego. “You think I believed I disappointed you?”
He frowned over the laughter he heard in her voice. “Yes, of course,” he answered.
“Why did I believe I disappointed you?”
He let out a long sigh. “You realized you caused me needless concern,” he answered.
“So you admit you were worried about me?”
“Damn it. woman, I just said I was.”
She smiled. Gabriel sounded surly again. She didn’t turn around to look at his face, but she knew he was scowling. She patted his arm in an attempt to soothe him.
“I’m happy to know you were concerned about me, even if you thought it was a needless inconvenience.”
“It was that, all right.”
She ignored his rebuke. “Still, you should learn to have faith in me, m’lord. I can take care of myself.”
“I’m not in the mood for one of your jests, Johanna.”
“I wasn’t jesting.”
“Aye, you were.”
She quit trying to argue with him. After thinking about the topic for several minutes, she decided she really couldn’t fault her husband for believing she couldn’t take care of herself. She’d acted like a coward when she’d first met him, and she’d been very timid ever since. No, she couldn’t blame him for believing she needed watching over. In time, however, she hoped to change his mind. She didn’t want her husband to continue to think she was a weakling.
“Johanna. I don’t want you to mention the barrels in the cave to anyone.”
“As you wish, husband. Do you know what you’ll do with them?”
“We’ll discuss it later, after supper,” he promised.
She nodded. Then she turned the topic. “How did you find me? I thought you went hunting for the day.”
“There was a change in plans,” he explained. “The MacInnes laird and ten of his soldiers were spotted crossing our border.”
“Are they coming to your home, do you suppose?”