"What?" Emily asked.
Her eyes were wide with shock when Lachlan's lips closed over hers. Which would have been amusing if he wasn't aching so much from having her tell him how much she had enjoyed his kisses. Had the lass really not expected him to claim her lips again after that?
But to say in almost the same breath she thought she would respond to Talorc the same way had brought Lachlan's beast raging to the surface with more than desire fueling his blood. He'd wanted to rip the other laird's throat out for nothing more than the image of Emily sharing her body and her passion with the other man.
Her mouth was open on a gasp and Lachlan took immediate advantage, delving inside with his tongue to sip at the nectar waiting for him there. How could she believe he did not enjoy her like this? He had needed to test her yesterday, to see if she was as innocent as she claimed, but he'd never said he did not enjoy it.
She didn't fight him, but hung suspended in his grasp as he tasted her mouth and imprinted his wolf senses with both her flavor and feminine scent.
He lifted his mouth only a breath from hers. "There is no shame in this, Emily. I want your response. I crave it."
"Is it another test?" she asked, vulnerability shimmering in her violet eyes.
"Because I want to. Because I want you."
"Oh. But I don't want to be a wanton."
"I won't let you become one," he promised.
He connected their mouths again, exultation roaring through him when she made a small sound and melted into him.
He was a fool for kissing her again, for tempting his beast as well as his manly desire.
But there was something so perfect about this woman. She was destined for his rival, but she smelled right, she felt right, and she tasted like ambrosia. His beast howled with the need to come out and claim her. His bones ached with the desire to make the change, to show her his power. It was insane and he could not give in to it, but his body shook with the craving and a growl her human ear could never hear rumbled low in his chest.
If he did not do something quickly, he was going to lay her on her bed, strip her clothes from her body and make love to her until neither of them could walk. Not only was she too fragile for such handling, but she was human and she was English. She would believe that if he took her completely, that it would mean they had to marry. Hell… even the Sinclair Chrechte saw mating that way.
He shoved her away from him and then grabbed her again before she fell on her backside. "We will have our first swimming lesson now."
He only hoped that the cold water of the loch would restore some of his self-control.
Emily swayed in his grasp and blinked at him, her purple gaze hazy with passion. "I really am a strumpet."
He glared at her. "Liking my kisses does not make you a whore."
"It does when I am promised to another."
"No, it does not."
"There are those in the Church who teach woman is evil, a temptress. I feel like a temptress now." She blinked up at him, her lips parted, her breasts rising and falling with each rapid breath she took, their turgid peaks pressing against her bodice. "I want you to kiss me again. Surely that means I am depraved."
"It means I have roused your passion, 'Tis good to know." He placed his fingertip over the quickly beating pulse in her neck. Her blood was rushing for him and for no other. That did not make her a wanton; it made her more alluring than any other woman he had known. "I am tempted by your sweet innocence, but that does not make you a temptress. I kissed you, English, not the other way around."
"That is true. Does that mean you are the seducer?"
"You have not yet been seduced."
"Am I buried between your thighs?"
She gasped. "No!"
"Then you have not been seduced."
"Oh…" She chewed on her bottom lip.
"You would not respond so easily to another man."
"Are you certain of that?"
"You are very arrogant," she said speculatively. "Perhaps it is only that arrogance speaking now."
She had no idea what the drought of her being attracted to another man did to him, how angry it made him. But he could tell from the way she spoke that she was not trying to make him jealous. She was genuinely worried about her morals.
It would have been bloody amusing if she didn't look so upset.
"Did you ever want to touch one of your father's soldiers?" he asked, convinced the answer had to be a negative for her to be as wholly innocent as she was.
"No." She clasped her hands, as if pleased by that reminder. "And they were not all surly men. Some were quite pleasing to look at, but I did not feel the things I do when I am near you." Then her expression took on a worried cast again. "Of course I did not spend much time with them. It would not have been proper."
"You rode on Angus's horse with him. Did his nearness affect you the way mine does? You smiled at him," he reminded her. It rankled, that smile. For she'd given his soldiers many such looks while ignoring him completely the evening before.
"That was to confuse him, but no… I did not want to get nearer to him as I did when I rode with you."
Everything she did confused Lachlan, but he wasn't about to admit that sorry truth. The woman was a puzzle, but an appealing one. "Are you sure you had no desire to have Ulf kiss you, or one of my other soldiers?" he teased, knowing the answer to that question with certainty.
She grimaced, distaste at the idea written all over her expressive features. "Of course not."
"Then how can you believe yourself to be a woman of misplaced morals?"
"It is not my morals I'm concerned with, but my urges. It is you," she stated with conviction. "I must stay away from you. You bring out the worst in me."
He did not agree. "I bring out the woman in you."
"I am supposed to be a lady, but you give me impure thoughts. It is wrong."
He pulled her close into his body so she could feel the evidence of his desire, the result of his own thoughts where she was concerned. "It is hot."
"Hot?" she asked, her voice squeaking with alarm.
"Very hot." He rubbed himself against her and groaned. "And now, unless you want me to act on those impure thoughts, we need to cool down."
"How can you act on my thoughts? You don't know what they are."
"Do you mean to say you have the same ones?"
That made him smile. "You are too innocent to have my thoughts."
"But you said—"
"That it is time for your swimming lesson."
"I am not taking my tunic off. It would not be decent." She couldn't believe he had suggested such a thing.
"You cannot learn to swim wearing it."
"My shift will be as good as gone if it gets wet."
"Then do not wear it in the water." He made that impudent suggestion without so much as blinking an eye.
"I can't do that!"
"You are not serious."
"Explain this aversion you have to disrobing."
"I don't mind disrobing." But even saying the word made her blush. "In the privacy of my chamber, by myself" she stressed, "but I'm not about to do so in front of you."
"I admit doing so is not likely to have the calming effect on my sex I had wanted, but naked works best for swimming."
She knew the Highlanders looked at things differently, but this was totally outrageous. "You can't mean men and women swim naked together."
He shrugged. "Balmorals learn to swim when they are still babes. It is the way of things here."
"I am not a child."
"No. You are not."
"You said it works best to swim without your clothes." She paused, finding it difficult to utter the question that comment elicited. "Do you mean to say that you intend to take your plaid off as well?"
He gave her the devil's own grin and she knew he was enjoying her discomfort far too much. "Aye."
"You're daft! If your kisses are not bad enough, you cannot possibly expect me to do as you suggest."
"I told you daft is not a polite thing to call a laird."
"It is much ruder for you to demand I take my clothes off."
"I did not demand it. I suggested it."
"So I can keep them on?"
"Not if you want to avoid sinking to the bottom of the loch."
She went cold at the thought and felt her face draining of color. "This swimming thing is a bad idea. We will have to accept that I do not know how and leave it at that."
He shook his head. "You are becoming too excited over this. I am not suggesting you take your clothes off in front of my soldiers."
"You are going to be naked for me one way or another, Emily. You do not find my kisses bad at all… they make you hot, and merely being near enough to touch you makes me hotter than Hell in the summertime. I will try to preserve your maidenhead, but I am going to see you naked and caress you and learn your body's secrets."
Her entire body suffused with heat at his words and it wasn't embarrassment. He did make her hot like he said, but that didn't change anything. She could not give into him. "No."
"I am promised to Talorc."
"That is not something you should remind me of often. It makes the beast in me want to claim you as mine."
Did he really consider his lust a separate beast within him? Perhaps it was. She certainly felt urges that did not come from any place inside herself that she recognized. It was as if there was another Emily when she was in his company… a woman who craved things ladies were not even supposed to think about.
"Because he is your enemy?"
"Because you do not belong with him."
"You are so sure?"
"If you reacted to him the way you do to me, you would not have seen the kidnapping as a reprieve."
"I must marry him. I have no choice."
"You could stay with the Balmorals."
"You would give me sanctuary?"
But he said nothing about wanting to keep her for himself. In fact, as much as he wanted her, he had been careful to make no promises for the future. He was not looking for a wife, but for a woman who would slake the lust that raged like a beast inside him. She should be offended, mortified and a lot of other things her stepmother would have screeched at her, but all Emily felt was longing.
Nevertheless, she sighed and said, "I cannot stay."
"Tell me why."
So she told him about Abigail and her fear that her sister would be sent in her place.
He said nothing, but his expression turned thoughtful. "You wanted to bring your sister to live here in the Highlands."
"Talorc will not welcome her."
"I had hoped to change his mind."
"By calling him a goat?"
She blushed at the reminder. "I apologized."
"What about my apology?"
"You want to apologize to me?" she asked facetiously.
His glare said he did not appreciate her humor. "You will tell me you are sorry for your insults to myself and my clan. I have waited long enough, English."
"And if I do, will you give up this idea of teaching me to swim?"
"Then I don't see why I should apologize."
"Because you were wrong."
"Perhaps…" She paused and then said, "Then again, perhaps not."
He shook his head. "Do you hope to make me angry enough to forget your lesson?"
He was far too clever for her liking. It was a ploy that had worked for her with her stepmother and father more than once. "Maybe," she admitted, "but truly… Lachlan you cannot expect me to disrobe in front of you. Not to mention the possibility of someone else coming along."
"I would hear their approach before anyone could get close enough to see you."
He really did have an exaggerated view of his strengths. "I don't think so."
"Come here, English."
"Why?" Did he plan to undress her himself? She truly must be depraved because the prospect was as thrilling as it was shocking.
"I want to kiss you."
"Oh." She had enjoyed their kisses to this point. Very much. More than she should, if she wanted to admit the truth. "But I don't think you should keep kissing me. I am promised to Talorc."
The muscle in Lachlan's jaw tensed. "This is the last time we will discuss this. I do not wish to hear of him again from your lips. Understand?"
Lachlan rudely interrupted, "The Sinclair has said before witnesses that he would not marry you."
"Until he recants that statement, you are not betrothed to him."
"But our kings—"
"I told you, lass, we Highland lairds make our own laws. We cooperate with Scotland's king when it suits us. And only then."
"You mean you are all that way?"
"Aye. Even the lairds that are mere humans are still Celts. They will never submit to absolute rule by another."
"You think you are more than a mere human?" she asked, amused by his arrogance and secretly relieved at his interpretation of events.
If she did not belong to Talorc, then her honor was not compromised by the feelings Lachlan stirred in both her body and her heart.
"Come here and let me kiss you and then you may tell me your opinion of the matter."
She shivered to the depths of her being at the promise in his voice. "I think you plan to do more than kiss me."
He wanted to see her naked. He wanted to touch her. By the saints, she craved that touch more than she had hungered after acceptance in her own family.
"Perhaps… then again, perhaps not," he said, mocking her with her own words.
"And perhaps I will let you," she said with more boldness than sense.
She found true joy in his arms and a pleasure that was unimaginable. Once she left the Balmorals, she would never know either again. She decided in that moment to fully experience everything Lachlan would give her.
He had promised not to take her virginity and she would trust him to keep that promise. She was not so naive that she believed women did not engage in the sort of touching he spoke of outside the bond of matrimony. Jolenta had told Emily and Abigail stories of the goings-on at Court. Those tales had shocked and sometimes sickened her, but she did not feel in the least sick at the prospect of doing any and all of the things Jolenta had spoken of and alluded to with Lachlan.
If that made her wanton, then so be it, she would be wanton. Because deep in her heart she knew she would only ever be that way with this one man… a man who thought he was more than a mere human. And looking at him with his wolf's eyes and power radiating from him like a palpable presence, she thought she just might agree.
Having made the decision, she did not want to wait for him to act, but needed to make the first move herself. She stepped up against him, cupped his face with both her hands and reached up on her tiptoes to kiss him.
Making a feral sound, he dipped his head and took possession of her mouth with mind-numbing intensity. He kissed her like he meant to devour her, eating at her lips, his tongue tangling with hers and pervading her mouth with his spicy flavor.
Her knees went weak. She wobbled and fell against him, confident that he would hold her up and keep her safe. His big hands clamped to her waist and lifted her right off the ground.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back with every ounce of the passion she'd tried so hard to suppress until now. His hold changed, one arm wrapped around her back, his fingers brushing the side of her breast through the fabric of her shift and tunic. His other hand cupped her bottom, kneading her with erotic gentleness that sent a wash of humidity to the juncture of her thighs.
This was how men touched women they wished to mate with. It was incredibly intimate and yet not enough. She wanted more, but had no experience with which to determine what more might be. The things he made her feel were so very unique to her that she grew light-headed from the myriad sensations. And it was a good thing he was holding her so tight, for she was beyond remaining upright, even leaning on him.
Their surroundings ceased to exist for her and she knew only the taste and feel of his lips… the possessive hold of his hands. Nothing else mattered. Not her future, not her past and not even the present, except this man in this moment.
She did not know how it happened, but with only a couple of brief separations of their mouths, she found herself as nude as he'd promised her she would be. And she was not embarrassed. She felt no shame in allowing him to see her, to touch her… to know her like no one else ever had.
She belonged to him for this moment in time and she refused to consider anything else.
The summer sun warmed her skin, but not nearly as much as the heat of his gaze. Gold-rimmed brown eyes seared her with elemental fire while her own gaze became locked on the part of him that declared him fully male. He'd taken off his plaid and he stood proud and glorious in his own nudity. His masculine sex was swollen and rigid as a staff, pointing at a sharp angle toward the sky.
Oh, my. "I never thought it would be so big," she whispered.
"It?" he asked with strangled laughter in his tone.
She pointed to his male member. "That."
"Your penis," she said defiantly.
But he just smiled. She liked his smile. It made her feel warm in a way that even his touch did not.
"You spent much time thinking on the matter?" he asked.
"Only in recent days."
His eyes glowed with masculine satisfaction. "Since you met me?"
"Maybe," she hedged.
"A man is large… a woman small. The fit perfect."
But, according to him, that "fit" was one delight she would not know in his company. She said nothing, simply staring at him and trying to control the urge to reach out and touch. She would never have anticipated wanting to, but she could barely stop herself.
"You want to feel it?" he asked, as if reading her mind.
"Then do so."
Her gaze flew to his, but there was no mockery evident. He meant it. He had put himself at her disposal and her passion and curiosity demanded she accept his invitation.
She stepped closer and then reached down to brush one fingertip along his shaft. It moved and she jerked her hand away.
He laughed. "It is all right."
"I like your hand on me."
She looked into his eyes and saw a hunger that matched her own burning in their depths. A sense of exultation made her want to laugh, but not with humor… with sheer joy. She had no experience of men, was not the favored daughter in her father's household, but she could affect the powerful laird of the Balmoral so much that his body trembled with his need for her.
Lachlan watched the sense of feminine sensual power dawn in Emily's violet gaze and had to fight the urge to tumble her onto her back and bury himself in the silken wetness he knew waited for him between her legs. There was no calculation in her expression, only pure happiness.
She liked affecting him so strongly. It was an honest reaction, one worthy of a femwolf, though she was no more than human.
He must remember that truth, no matter how she delighted him. He would not claim her body completely, he would not spurt his seed into her womb. He had promised her mat he would not breach her maidenhead and he would keep that promise. Equally as important, to take a virgin was to imply the willingness to mate for life, and he had no such intention.
No matter how much he might want this human woman, he would not travel the path his father had taken. It was too fraught with danger to his kind.
Emily curled her fingers around his sex as if she had done it a thousand times and rubbed up and down. "You are so soft."
"Soft?" he asked on a choking laugh. "I think not."
"Your skin," she replied with a great deal of seriousness. "Have you ever felt silk?"
"We have silk tapestries in our great hall… or rather my father had. Sybil insisted. They feel like air against your skin, so thin and smooth."
"You are saying I am not more substantial than air?"
"Oh, no. You are quite substantial, laird. But so smooth here over the hardness." She caressed him along his length again, this time taking twice as long to make the journey from base to tip.
If he did not do something, he was going to spill and his pride would not let him do so without giving her pleasure first. Only he could not trust himself to pleasure her right now without swiving her. He had never been so lacking in control, but even his pride could not pretend his mind governed his body at that moment.
He swung her up in his arms and kissed her to stifle any protest she might make. She instantly began kissing him back with a passion that threatened his very sanity.
Using the last bit of self-discipline he had remaining, he forced himself to walk toward the water and not stop until he was in the chilly depths up to his waist. The shock of the cold did little to impact his arousal and he shook with the need to lower her hips and position her to take him inside. He moved toward deeper water. He was up to his chest and her whole body was practically submerged before he broke the kiss.
"Are you ready for your first swimming lesson?" The words came out strong, but his body was weak with desire.
She stared up at him as if she did not understand what he was saying and then her eyes widened and she gave a small shriek. "I'm in the water. And it's cold!" She drew out the last word in a complaining wail.
He shook his head. "Not cold enough." Not nearly cold enough.