James continued his walk around her, poring over every inch of her, his touch light, as if awed by the sight of her.

"I was terrified I'd lost you," he whispered.

He stood once again in front of Magda and gently pushed her hair away from her neck and off of her face. James drew his fingers around the outline of her cheeks, and taking her chin, leaned in to brush a kiss against her mouth.

"Och, Magda, my love," he said with sudden tenderness. He raised her face to his. "How can you not know it? You're my compass. Leaving you was the greatest error of my life. I'll not make it again."

His eyes glittered in the dark, steely and sure. "And, on this, Magdalen, I am dangerously serious." He spoke her name like an oath, and the sound of it on his lips sent a shiver through her.

"Be with me." His strong fingers twined around hers, his hands warm and dry in the chill of the room, and she longed to feel those hands holding her, knowing her.

She nodded mutely, not trusting her voice to speak, and pulled her body taller, drawing close as if for a kiss.

"No, lass. Not just like this." He cupped her chin. "Truly be with me. When I thought harm had come to you…" James touched his forehead to hers. "It's not just my country I serve now." He pulled away sharply, intensity honing his voice, "Let me serve you now." He took his hands in hers and pulled them to his chest. "When I thought you'd come to some harm, I was a man undone. Be with me. We will be handfast. Brother Lonan will bless our union, an d when this madness ends—and I pray it will end soon—I shall take you to Montrose and marry you properly, making you my bride in front of all and sundry."

She looked at him, looked at this man who not too long ago had been a stranger, as foreign to her as the cruel and savage time he lived in. And Magda thought then that she'd never felt so treasured. So understood. So loved.

"Okay." Her voice cracked. Suddenly nervous, she fought the trembling of her hands in his.

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He stared at her, eyes grave in the darkne ss. "Is that aye or nay, hen?" The moonlight caught the edge of his strong jaw, set in a determined line that made her body flush with nervous anticipation.

She matched the somberness of his gaze. Magda hesitated. She knew what this meant. What it would me an especially to James, the implications for his time. And she took those rational concerns and set them aside. The moment felt right. He felt right. And for once in her life, she would take a risk. She would take what she wanted and follow her heart. "It's aye."

His mouth plunged to hers then, taking her with a ferocious kiss. Magda gasped with need, fumbling her hands over him, desperate to know him, to feel every inch. He pulled away and his hands went to his belt. His eyes didn't waver from hers as he unbuckled, and leather and sporran clattered to the ground. With a swift flick of his wrist, a cloud of wool followed, cascading heavily to their feet.

Magda glanced down and her heart pounded to see his shirt straining tight as he grew hard before her.

He kissed her again before tugging the coarse linen over his head and then stood before her gloriously naked. She ran her palms over the iron ropes of muscle at his biceps and back, and felt his erection heavy against her belly. Magda raked her nails down his back as something deep and primal stirred to life. He moaned in response and clutched her close, then she felt cool air pebble her skin as he stripped her bedgown from her.

James grew still. Surfacing from a haze of blind lust, Magda opened her eyes to the sight of him poring over her. "You're so beautiful," he whispered, swooping her into his arms, wrapping her legs around his waist. She felt his erection insistent against her bottom and groaned. "Handfasting"—He cleared his throat, gathering himself—"handfasting is a Lowland ceremony." He eased her down to sit at the edge of the bed then knelt on the floor in front of her. "Not a proper wedding, aye?" She felt suddenly shy, exposed, sitting naked before him. Eager to close the distance, to end his frank scrutiny, Magda extended her hands to him, but James gently put them aside.

"And though I may be versed in the world of the court, it's a Highland tattoo sounded by my heart. And Highlanders have a tradition…" he began, then stopped to trace his hands down the length of her legs.

She could hear his wanting of her in the tight rasp of his voice and, shyness forgotten, reached for him again. James smiled, not meeting her eyes, intent only on her body. He cleared his throat and began again, "'Tis called the glanadh nan cas. The washing of a bride's feet on the eve of her pledge." He wrapped his hand around her foot, pale against his ruddy skin in the moonlight. He stroked it and, with a quiet inhale, froze, feeling the thin web of scars from the injury Lonan had tended what felt like so long ago. James carefully kissed along the old wound, and then rested her foot atop his thigh, the muscles of his leg solid and reassuring under her.

"Generally it's one of the bride's maids who attends her."

There was a small pan of water at her bedside. James took it, dipped his hands, and brought a small puddle of cool water to her other foot. His thumbs kneaded leisurely down its length, water beading slow tracks along her skin. He reached her heel then moved higher, the callus es of his palms coarse against the thin skin below her ankle, and Magda shivered, her body piqued from the many sensations.

"But as there were no maids at hand, I didn't expect you'd mind a break from tradition. Considering the circumstances, aye?" His eyes finally met hers, a slow smile spreading across his face, and Magda swayed with the force of it. Hunger and intent sharpened his gaze. She was desperate now to hold him, to be held by him.

A gasp parted her lips, and he fixed his attention on her mouth, the smile gone from his face. James slowly rose to her, his gaze devouring the length of her body. He ever so gradually closed the distance between them, as if their joining were a fixed thing, inevitable, like gravity pulling two bodies together as one.

He took her shoulders in his hands and laid her back. His eyes were hooded as he hovered over her, the set of his jaw and the coiled muscles of his shoulders speaking to some dark urge, primal and predatory. Magda thought he'd take her then, half on the bed, their feet still resting on the ground.

His hands went to her breasts and cupped them tentatively. With a growl in the back of his throat, he leaned in to flick his tongue over a nipple.

Her breath became shallow, and at the sound of her light sighs, James nibbled at her, then sucked Magda hard into his mouth, abrading her tender skin between lips and teeth. He moved his attention to her other breast, kneading it in his hand, then ducked in to taste her, rolling her nipple on his tongue.

Magda threaded he r fingers through his soft brown hair, pulling him more tightly to her, whimpering with her growing need. "Oh, James," she gasped, and realized she'd chanted his name over and over.

"Please, James."

He rolled to the bed, sweeping her up on her knees to straddle him. Magda eased back along his body until she found him. and rubbed slick against his hardness.

James stared at her, his black eyes intense, sharp with the force of his hunger. He rubbed his thumbs along her thighs, and the gesture flashed back to the moment Magda first passed through the portrait, when she'd landed astride him just that way.

A devilish smile lit his eyes, and she was overcome by a powerful feeling of love, and tightness, and completion. "Please. James," she whispered again.

"Aye." His voice was ragged as he clutched her hips in his hands. "You're mine. I'll make you mine." Never taking his eyes from hers, James gave her a slight lift. "For now." He drove hard into her. "For always."

Magda gasped with the shock of him, at the newness of him full and large inside her.

He wrapped his arms at her back and pulled her toward him, silencing her moans with his mouth. James thrust his tongue hungrily as he began to move inside her, slowly at first, his cock slicked with her want.

Magda came almost immediately, collapsing onto his chest and clamping her teeth down onto the hard flesh between his shoulder and neck.

James flipped Magda onto her back, one hand pinning both of hers over her head, while the other slowly teased her breast. "You're not finished yet, lass," he warned, his voice a sultry growl.

She wrapped her legs around his back in answer, writhing her hips to grind even closer. She rubbed against the base of him and already felt the gathering in her belly again, her muscles tightening like a cord strung tight through her center.

Magda tensed beneath him, digging her heels into his back. "Aye, that's it," he said, voice hoarse. James held himself deep in her, and Magda felt him pulse inside her as he held himself back. "Let go of yourself," he rasped. James nibbled along her ears and neck and shoulders, giving gentle thrusts as he breathed, "I'll make you mine again and again and again."

He intensified, driving into her harder, and faster, and Magda felt the world slip away, and the edges of her vision faded to black, blood pounding just beneath the surface of her skin. She arched into him with the force of her orgasm, and James crushed his mouth to hers, letting himself finally find release.

They lay there for some time, their breathing and heartbeats gradually slowing. Magda shivered as the sweat cooled quickly in the chill night air. James reached down and swept his tartan off the floor and flicked the heavy wool over them, pulling her more tightly to his side for warmth.

"I've decided to stay," she said, breaking the silence.

James leaned in to nuzzle at her neck. "You'd best stay, hen," he said as he gave a gentle, playful smack to her bottom.

Magda giggled and snuggled closer, nestling one leg between his as he lay on his back.

James beamed. "This is what I wanted, aye?" He traced the lines of her face in the dying candlelight. "An easy smile on your lovely face."

Automatically, she began to deny the compliment, and he placed his finger over her mouth. "Hush, hen. If I've a notion to call you the bonniest in all Scotland, then I shall." He studied her, his black eyes solemn in the darkness. "And you are, Magda. The bonniest I've seen. You came to me like a torch in the darkness, and I've not been the same man since."