He was pleased she didn't flinch when he reached for her. He lifted her hair back over her shoulder, then slipped his fingers in around the neckline of her gown to catch hold of her chain.

He didn't say a word until he'd removed the chain and ring.

"Do you remember the promises you gained from me today?"

She nodded. Dear God, he wasn't going to tell her he'd changed his mind, was he?

He saw the look of panic on her face and shook his head. "I have never broken my word before, Judith, and I won't break it now." His guess had been proven correct. The fear immediately left her gaze. "If you knew me better, you never would have had that worry."

"But I don't know you better," she whispered, excusing her behavior.

"I have a promise I want you to give me," he explained. He dropped the chain and ring into her hand. "I don't want you to wear this to bed."

It didn't sound like a request to her, but an order. He didn't explain his reasons either. Judith was about to ask him why he would want such a promise, then changed her mind. He hadn't made her explain why she wanted him to promise he'd never get sotted when he was with her, and he deserved to receive the very same consideration.

"I agree."

He nodded. He looked satisfied.

"Do you want me to throw it away?"

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"No," he answered. "Put it in there," he told her, motioning to the small box on top of the chest. "No one will bother it."

She hurried to do what he suggested. "May I keep the brooch my aunt Millicent gave me in here, too?" she asked. "I wouldn't want to lose it."

He didn't answer her. She turned around and only then realized that he had left the room. He hadn't made a sound.

She shook her head. She must have a talk with him about his rude habit of disappearing like that, she decided.

Since she didn't have any idea how long he planned to stay away, she hurried through her bath. She wasn't planning to wash her hair, but then changed her mind.

Iain opened the door while she was rinsing the rose-scented soap from her hair. He got a glimpse of golden skin before he pulled the door closed again. He leaned against the wall and waited for his bride to finish.

He didn't want to embarrass her. The woman was taking forever, though. He had walked a fair distance to the water basin, washed, and then walked back, fully expecting that his bride would be waiting in bed for him.

He waited another fifteen minutes, then went inside. Judith was sitting on a blanket on the floor directly in front of the hearth, diligently drying her hair. She wore a prim white nightgown and matching robe.

She looked absolutely beautiful to him. Her face was scrubbed pink everywhere and her hair was the color of pale gold.

Iain leaned against the door frame for several minutes, just staring at her. A tightness settled in his chest. She was his wife. Aye, she belonged to him now. A feeling of contentment swept over him, catching him by surprise. It all seemed so inevitable to him. Why had he put himself through the torment of trying to stay away from her? From the moment he first kissed her, he should have accepted the truth. His heart had always known he would never let another man have her. Why had it taken his mind so long to accept?

Matters of the heart were damn confusing, he decided. He remembered how he'd boasted to Patrick that one woman was just as good as another. He understood the blasphemy in that arrogant remark now. There was only one Judith.

Iain shook himself out of his foolish thoughts. He was a warrior. He shouldn't be thinking about such inconsequential things.

He turned around to go back into the hall and then let out a shrill whistle. The sound echoed down the stairs. Iain came back into the room and walked over to the hearth. He leaned against the mantel, not two feet away from his bride, and pulled his boots off.

She was about to ask him why he'd left the door open when three men came hurrying inside. They nodded to their laird, crossed the chamber and lifted the tub. They were quite deliberate in keeping their gazes away from Judith while they carried the heavy tub out of the room.

Iain followed them to the door and was about to shut it when someone shouted his name. He let out a sigh and left the chamber again.

He didn't come back for almost an hour. The heat from the fire had made Judith sleepy. Her hair was just a little damp now and most of the curl was back. She stood up, put her brush back on the mantel, and went over to the side of the bed. She was removing her robe when Iain came back inside.

He shut the door, bolted it, and then took off his plaid. He wasn't wearing anything underneath.

She thought she was going to die of embarrassment then and there. She turned her gaze to the center beam in the ceiling, but not before she had gotten a rather healthy glimpse of him. No wonder Frances Catherine had cried on her wedding night. If Patrick was fashioned anything like Iain was, and she was guessing he probably was, she could well understand weeping. God's truth, her eyes were already getting misty. Oh Lord, she really wasn't prepared for this. She had made a mistake after all. No, no, she wasn't ready for this kind of intimacy. She didn't know him well enough… she never should have—

"It's going to be all right, Judith."

He was standing right in front of her. She wouldn't look at him. He put his hands on her shoulders and gave her an affectionate squeeze. "It really will be all right. You trust me, don't you?"

His voice was filled with tenderness. It didn't help. She took several deep breaths in an attempt to calm down. That didn't help either.

And then he pulled her into his arms and held her tight. She let out a little sigh and settled down. It was going to be all right. Iain wouldn't hurt her. He loved her.

She leaned a little away so she could look up into his eyes. There was such warmth there, a little amusement, too.

"Don't be afraid," he told her, his voice a soothing whisper.

"How do you know I'm afraid?"

He smiled. "Afraid" wasn't quite the right word, he decided. "Terrified" was a far more accurate description. "You have the same expression on your face you had the night I told you Isabelle wanted you to help her deliver her son."

She turned her gaze to his chest. "I didn't want to help because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to… Iain, I don't believe I want to do this, either. I know it will be all right, but I still would rather not—"

Judith didn't finish her confession. She went back into his arms and rested against him.

Iain was pleased she was able to be honest with him, but he was frustrated, too. He had never taken a virgin to his bed, and he hadn't realized until this minute how important it was going to be to make it as easy as possible for her. It was going to require time, patience, and a good deal of stamina.

"Exactly what is it you're afraid of?" he asked. She didn't answer him. She was trembling now, and he knew it wasn't from cold. "There will be pain, of course, but if I—"

"I'm not afraid of the pain." She'd blurted out that announcement. He was more thoroughly puzzled now. "Then what are you afraid of?" He started rubbing her back while he waited for her to answer him.

"A man can always… you know," she stammered out. "But some women can't, and if I'm one of those women, then I'll disappoint you."

"You won't disappoint me."

"I really do believe I will," she whispered. "I think I'm one of the ones who can't, Iain."

"You can," he told her with great authority. He wasn't at all certain exactly what she was talking about, but it seemed to be important to her, and she certainly needed his confidence now. He was the experienced one, after all, and he knew she would believe whatever he told her. He kept stroking her back. Judith closed her eyes and let him soothe her. He was surely the most considerate man in the world, and when he was being so gentle with her, she couldn't help but love him.

It didn't take her long to get over her fear. She was still a bit nervous, of course, but she didn't think that was unusual. She took a deep breath, then pulled away from Iain. She couldn't look at him and she knew she was blushing, but that didn't stop her. She slowly lifted her gown up and over her head. Then she tossed it on the bed. She didn't give him time to look at her either. The second her gown was discarded, she rushed back into his arms.

He visibly shuddered. "You feel so good against me," he whispered, his voice gruff with emotion.

It felt much better than good to her. It felt wonderful. In a shy, halting voice, she told him so.

His chin dropped to rest on the top of her head. "You please me, Judith."

"I haven't done anything yet," she replied.

"You don't need to do anything," he explained.

She could hear the laughter in his voice. She smiled in reaction. By not rushing her, Iain was actually helping her get past her embarrassment. She knew that was his plan, and it didn't even matter that it was deliberate. His consideration for her feelings fairly overwhelmed her. She didn't even think she was blushing any longer.

The heat of his hard arousal pressed so intimately against her lower belly still worried her, but Iain wasn't being at all demanding, just gentle, terribly gentle as he slowly caressed her shivers away, and it didn't take long for that worry to seem unimportant.

She wanted to touch him. She let go of her hard grip around his waist and tentatively stroked his broad shoulders, then his back, and finally his thighs. His skin felt like hot steel against her fingertips. He was so completely different in texture and tone from her, and she found herself marveling over all the wonderful differences. His muscles were like knotted rope along his upper arms, and in comparison she was built like a weakling.

"You're so strong, Iain, and I'm so weak. It seems strange to me that I would please you."

He laughed. "You aren't weak. You're soft and smooth and very, very appealing."

She blushed with pleasure over his praise. She rubbed her face against his chest, smiling over the way his crisp hair tickled her nose. She leaned up and kissed him where the pulse beat at the base of his neck.

"I do like touching you," she admitted.

She sounded surprised by her own admission. Iain wasn't. He already knew she liked to touch him. He liked it, too. One of her most appealing traits was her desire to touch, to stroke, to hold him whenever possible. He thought about all the times she'd instinctively taken hold of his hand, the way she'd caressed his arm while she gave him hell about an opinion of his she had taken exception to.

She had very few inhibitions when she was with him… but only with him. Aye, he had noticed how reserved she was with his soldiers on the journey here. She was very pleasant, of course, but she went out of her way to avoid touching any of them. She never relaxed in Alex's arms when she had been forced to ride with him, yet she'd fallen asleep in his arms. She trusted him completely, and that fact was every bit as important to him as her love.

And Lord, she really did love him.

"Judith?"

"Yes?"

"Are you ready to quit hiding from me?"

She almost laughed. She had been hiding from him, and he'd known that was her game all along. She let go of her hold on him and took a step back, away from him. Then she looked up into his eyes and slowly nodded.

He had the most wonderful smile. She thought about that while she stared up at him. She had the most magnificent body he'd ever seen. He thought about that while he stared at her. She was exquisitely formed, from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet, and Lord, if he didn't get to touch her soon, to make her completely his, he knew he would lose his mind.

They reached for each other at the same moment. She put her arms around his neck as he cupped her backside and pulled her up against him.

He leaned down and kissed her, a deep, devouring kiss that left both of them breathless. His tongue moved inside to taste the sweetness she offered. A low growl of satisfaction came from the back of his throat when she imitated the erotic love play and rubbed her tongue against his.

She sagged against him. Iain kept one arm around her to keep her from falling down as he turned and leaned down to pull the covers back. She didn't want him to quit kissing her. She tugged on his hair at the back of his neck to get his attention and leaned up to kiss him when he didn't respond quick enough.

He liked her boldness. He liked the little moans she made, too. Iain lifted her into his arms and put her in the center of the bed. He didn't give her time to start worrying. He came down on top of her, separating her thighs with one of his own. He braced his weight on his elbows and let his body cover hers completely. And God, he had never felt anything this wonderful in all of his life.

Her response to him was overwhelming his desire to go slow, to take his time preparing her for his invasion. He needed to concentrate on what he was doing, to be deliberate in where and how he touched her, until she wasn't able to think, but only feel the pleasure. Judith was making his thoughtful, calculated plan impossible. She was restlessly moving against him, driving him to distraction. He kissed her again, a long, hot, wet kiss that made him wild for more. He finally dragged his mouth away from hers and moved lower to taste the fragrant valley between her soft breasts. His hands stroked, caressed, teased, and finally, when he couldn't wait a second longer, he took one nipple into his mouth and began to suckle.

She almost came off the bed. Tremors of raw pleasure coursed through her body. She didn't think she could take much more of this sweet torture. She clung to his shoulders and closed her eyes in surrender to the ecstasy he was giving her.

Iain was shaking with his need to take her. He could feel his control slipping away. His desire to taste all of her overwhelmed every other consideration. His hands stroked a path down the flat of her stomach, then lower still until he was caressing her inner thighs and slowly easing them apart. He leaned down and kissed the top of the soft triangle of curls shielding her virginity.

"Iain, don't—"

"Yes."

She tried to push him away from her, but then his mouth covered the very heat of her, and his tongue, dear God, his tongue was rubbing against her, and she became consumed with white-hot pleasure so intense, she forgot all about protesting.

Her h*ps instinctively rose up for more of his touch. Her nails dug into his shoulder blades. She had never known a man could make love to a woman in this intimate way, but she wasn't at all appalled or embarrassed now. She wanted to touch him the way he was touching her, to learn his taste, too, but every time she tried to move, he'd tighten his hold and make her stay put.