She cried out in ecstasy.

Alec immediately stil ed inside her. "Did I hurt you, love?" he asked, his worry evident in his gaze.

"No," she told him with a low moan. "You didn't hurt me."

"I'm being too rough," he whispered, stil unconvinced he hadn't harmed her. He tried to pul back, to ease himself away from her, but her legs held him in a grip that wouldn't all ow retreat.

"Don't you dare stop now," she whispered. "I'l die if you do."

"So will I, Jamie," he admitted on a ragged breath. "So will I." He might have managed a smile, but he couldn't be certain. His body was demanding release, yet he was determined to give her fulfil ment first.

He captured her mouth in a searing kiss as he thrust deep, deeper stil . Her body accommodated him so completely, so tightly, so wonderful y. He wanted her fire to consume him, amazed she would so easily make him burn for more, more, always more.

Jamie felt as though he was taking her to the stars. She gave herself over to the wonder then, clinging to the man she loved to share the splendor only he could give her.

As soon as he felt the first tremors of her release, he gave a final thrust and spil ed his hot seed inside her.

He didn't know how long they stayed together. He thought he never wanted to leave her, though, and it wasn't until his heart and his breathing had calmed that he remembered he wanted to tel her he loved her.

"You get better each time, wife," he whispered as he rol ed to his side.

Jamie rol ed with him, tucked the top of her head under his chin, smiling over the teasing lilt in his soft burr. "You said practice would make me better," she reminded him. "I had no idea we'd practice so often," she admitted.

He could tel she was arrogantly pleased with herself. Alec smiled against the top of her head, then whispered in Gaelic, "I know you don't understand what I'm saying to you, Jamie, but I've need to tel you in my own language. I love you, lass, with all my being."

He felt her stiffen against him during his recitation, but when she tried to pul away from him, he held her secure. "I love you because you're so gentle and loving, caring, too. Ye have a heart of gold, lass."

She all but melted against him then. "But most of all , Jamie, I love you because you're such a truthful woman. Aye," he added when she stiffened against him again, "I could never love a woman who'd try to deceive me, but I have complete faith in you."

He thought she might have turned into stone. It took all Alec's determination not to laugh. "Good night, Jamie," he whispered, in her language.

"What did you just say to me?" Jamie asked.

She was trying to sound blase. "I said good night," Alec drawled.

"Before that," Jamie whispered, a tremor in her voice.

"'Tis not important," he countered.

She pushed away from him so he'd be able to see her frustration. "Did you mean whatever it was you said?"

He shrugged. Jamie almost lost her temper then and there, but she'd already determined to give Alec quite a surprise tomorrow: she was going to kneel before Edgar and recite her pledge in Gaelic.

She wasn't going to let Alec ruin her surprise. There was that, yes, but there was also the fact he'd just told her he loved her because she was so truthful.

She was good and trapped by her own hand. And why did she suddenly sense that Alec knew it?

It was the sparkle that came into his eyes, she decided. "Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked.

"Because you look as though you're trying to solve all of England's considerable problems," he answered.

"I have thought of a smal problem that needs solving," Jamie admitted.

"Tel me what it is."

She shook her head. "I will solve it tomorrow, Alec. It's my problem, after all . I will take care of it. Trust me on this."

"Oh, I do trust you, wife."

"You do?" she asked, looking very pleased with him.

"Of course. Honesty and trust are like the right and left hands. They're both important… Now what's the matter?" he asked, trying not to laugh.

"You're frowning again."

He decided he'd baited her enough for one evening. "It's late, Jamie," he said as he pul ed her back into his arms. "You must be exhausted after your long day. You shouldn't be trying to solve your problems now. You should be—"

"Sleeping," she interjected with a sigh.

"No," he countered. "You should be pleasing your husband."

"I just did please you, didn't I?"

"You've stil to get it right, lass." He rol ed her onto her back. "But you're most fortunate to have a patient husband."

"I have an insatiable husband, Kincaid. Do you know how many times we've—"

"Am I to keep count of our lovemaking, too?"

Jamie only had enough time to wrap her arms around her husband before he captured her laughter with a long kiss.

They made slow, sweet love. And all the while, Jamie kept hearing his pledge of love. Tomorrow, she promised, tomorrow I will give him my pledge in Gaelic.

She fel asleep before he'd rol ed away. Alec covered both of them with his plaid and was sound asleep moments later.

He only awakened once during the short night, when the door was opened. He was reaching for his sword when Mary Kathleen came running toward the bed.

She ran to Jamie's side of the bed first. "Don't bother your mother," Alec whispered. "Tel me what's the matter, Mary."

When he added to his order by motioning to her, Mary finally obeyed. Her expression was solemn, and when she'd reached his side, he could see the fear in her eyes.

"What is it?" he asked her.

Mary held out the bottom of her nightgown. "I'm wet," she whispered. Tears well ed in her eyes, then spil ed down her cheeks.

Alec pul ed her gown over her head and tossed the garment on the floor. "Now you're not wet," he announced.

Jamie had awakened to Mary's voice. She pretended to be asleep, though, for she knew her husband disliked women who wept. No, she didn't want him to see how misty her eyes were. He wouldn't understand the overwhelming love she felt for him when he picked up his daughter and rocked her in his arms.

She closed her eyes when he stood up and carried the sleeping child to the door and handed her to one of the soldiers.

She almost called out that it should be the father putting his daughter back in her bed and not one of his soldiers, then remembered that her husband was stark naked, after all , and Edith would certainly die of embarrassment if she woke up and found him in her room.

That picture was so amusing she had to rol over on her stomach to stifle her giggles.

Alec came back to bed, hauled her up against his side, and was snoring before she'd even gotten herself properly settled.

Her soft sigh of contentment fil ed the air. She could barely wait for morning. Tomorrow was going to be a glorious day.

It was the worst day of her life.

Oh, it started out well enough. Jamie and Edith had the great hall looking as grand as a palace in less than two hours' time. Fresh flowers decorated the tables, new rushes covered the floor, and the tal box-shaped chair King Edgar would sit upon was scrubbed spotless.

Gavin and Marcus did try Jamie's patience, however. Every time she turned around, one of the big men was blocking her path. "Isn't there something you need to be doing?" she asked.

The soldiers didn't take her subtle hint. "It's our day away from our duties," Gavin explained.

She didn't look as if she believed him. Neither did Marcus, for that matter.

"But why are you fol owing me around?" Jamie persisted.

The soldiers were saved from having to come up with a lie to that question when Mary Kathleen grabbed hold of Jamie's skirt. The little girl was dressed in a Kincaid gown.

The garment had come from the blacksmith's family and fit Mary well . Jamie lifted her daughter into her arms, gave her a quick kiss, and whispered a few words of praise in Gaelic.

"May I take Mary with me to Frances's cottage?" Edith called out.

"Frances?"

"The blacksmith's wife," Edith explained. "She has several pairs of shoes we can try on Mary."

"Be sure to tel Frances how much I appreciate her help," Jamie said.

Edith shook her head. "She'd be insulted. It's her duty to help."

Jamie didn't know what to make of that statement. She handed Mary to Edith, a difficult task, that, since Mary wanted to stay right where she was.

Edith explained to her niece what their errand was and finally gained her cooperation.

"I'l tel Frances you're pleased with her," Edith called over her shoulder.

She bumped into Marcus when she turned around. "I cannot help but wonder why you're fol owing me around," she said. She let him see her exasperation. "And why are those soldiers lounging above the stairs? Don't they have some duties to see to?"

Marcus shook his head. "It's their day off from other duties," he explained.

Alec walked into the hall in time to hear Marcus's outrageous explanation. He noticed his wife's incredulous expression, too. "Jamie? The clan is coming up the last hil s. They'l be here in a few minutes. Some of Harold's clan is with them. I want you—"

"We're receiving guests now?" she cried out.

"We are," Alec stated.

He didn't realize his wife could move so quickly. Alec reached out to grab her when she tried to fly past him. He pul ed her into his arms and forced her to look up at him.

She looked terribly worried. Alec couldn't resist. He leaned down and kissed her wrinkled brow. This spontane ous show of affection was stil new to him, but he found he liked it well enough. He kissed her again.

"I don't like to see you frown," he whispered. "Are you worrying again?"

She shook her head. "I need to change my gown," she announced.

"Why? Whether your English garb be clean or not, it stil won't matter. They're bound to hate it as much as I do."

She didn't give him an answer to that remark. He could tel , though, that she was more amused than irritated. Her reaction puzzled him. He kissed her again, a long, wet kiss on her sweet mouth, and when she wrapped her arms around his waist, his tongue moved inside and began to stroke the roof of her mouth.

She looked thoroughly bemused with him when he finally ended the kiss. He whispered in Gaelic that he loved her, pul ed her hands away from him, and walked down the three steps into the hall .

He motioned Gavin and Marcus over to the table. Jamie, he noticed, was slumped against the arch, staring at him. "Didn't you want to change your clothes?" he called out.

She straightened away from the wall and hurried up the steps. Alec could hear her mutterings all the way across the hall . He smiled in reaction.

The man could make her forget her duties with such ease, Jamie thought. When he kissed her, all she could think about was kissing him back.

She had to force herself to put Alec out of her mind. There was his surprise to be seen to, after all , and she wouldn't let him ruin it by robbing her of her determination.

She straightened the covers on their bed, then changed into a cream-colored ankle-length chemise.

Those two chores took her just a few minutes, but the wrapping of the plaid was another matter altogether.

The piece of material was approximately twelve feet long after she'd cut a third away. It was narrow, which should have made it easier for her to pleat, but no matter how she tried, she couldn't get it right.

In desperation, she opened the door and ordered one of the soldiers to fetch Father Murdock for her.

The priest arrived a short while later. She opened the door to his timid knock, then all but pul ed him into the bedroom and slammed the door shut.

Alec had heard the priest wheeze his way up the stairs. He did raise an eyebrow when he was given entrance to the bedroom. He wondered what in God's name she'd need Murdock for, then put the matter out of his mind.

Stil , he kept watching the door. When it was finally opened and Murdock came outside, Alec saw the wide smile on the priest's face.

"Father Murdock? What were you doing in my chamber?" he shouted.

The priest didn't answer until he'd reached Alec's side. "I was assisting your wife," he said then.

"Assisting her in what?"

"I cannot tel you," Father Murdock stated. He held his smile, even in the face of Alec's dark expression, then added, "She's wanting to give you a little surprise, Alec. Let her have her way. You don't want to be hurting her feelings by knowing ahead of time."

"So you also worry about her feelings," Alec answered dryly. " 'Tis an affliction we all seem to share." He glanced over at Marcus and then turned to include Gavin in his gaze.

The bedroom door opened then, drawing his full attention.

Alec wasn't aware he'd stood up. He stared at the vision making her way around the smiling soldiers, feeling such incredible pride he could barely breathe.

She was wearing his plaid. And he was so pleased, he couldn't even speak. It was high time, he kept tel ing himself, high time indeed.

"She couldn't make the pleats. The lass had even folded the garment on the floor and tried to stretch herself out atop it Aye, she'd tried ways I'd never heard of until she confessed them to me."

"And so you assisted her," Gavin interjected with a nod.

"She praised me for my quick hands," the priest whispered as he, too, watched Jamie come down the stairs. "My, she's a bonny lass."

Jamie knew she had the men's full attention. She kept her shoulders straight and her hands at her sides so she wouldn't accidental y pul one of the pleats away from her belt. When she reached the steps leading down into the hall , she gave her husband a formal curtsy.

He wanted to kiss her again. He might even tel her how proud he was to have her for his own.

When Alec motioned to her, Jamie gently lifted the hem of her gown and walked over to him. He reached for her then, but she shook her head and backed up a space. "Don't touch me, Alec."

"What?"

"Don't raise your voice either," Jamie returned, frowning. "You can tel me how pleased you are standing right where you are. I'l not have my pleats disturbed before the king arrives, and that's that."

He didn't look at all happy with her now. "You are pleased with me, aren't you, husband?"



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