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Chapter 18

When the waves of pleasure receded and she became aware of her surroundings once more, Lachlan was leaning over her, his eyes glowing almost pure gold. He looked very satisfied with himself. "Good?"

"Unbelievable," she croaked and realized her throat was raw from screaming.

"Sleep and then I will show you how to pleasure me."

"I don't want to sleep. I want to pleasure you now." She needed to see him go wild for her in order for her fantasy to be complete.

"I need time to regain my control."

"I don't want you in control."

"Do you hope to tease me into taking you, Emily?" he asked quietly. "It would probably work. I have never been as out of control with a woman as I am with you."

The admission touched her deep inside, but the accusation stung, threatening to bring back the pain. "I don't want to trick you into anything. I want to pleasure you. Please believe me, Lachlan."

He sighed. "I know."

"If you say we must wait, then we will wait."

He closed his glowing eyes, his face twisting in a kind of agony she now understood. Sexual need had his body in its grip. "Put your hand on me."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. You pleasuring me will be enough." He said it like he was telling himself as well as her.

She was determined to make the words true. She would satisfy him, for nothing else would satisfy her. "Lie on your back first."

His eyes snapped open. "Why?"

She wasn't sure. It just seemed right. "I want you at my mercy like I was at yours," she said and realized that sounded right, too.

"Unless you tie me to the bed, I will never be at your mercy."

"I'll consider that for sometime in the future." Though how much of a future they had she refused to speculate on at the moment.

He laughed out loud and then rolled onto his back. His erection strained upward, almost parallel to his muscular stomach. She curled her fingers around it. They did not quite touch, but he didn't seem to mind. He sighed in bliss, laid his hand over hers and proceeded to show her how to pleasure him.

He was thrusting up into the tunnel created by both of her hands when she had the idea of kissing him the way he had kissed her. Bending over, she brushed her hair against his thighs. This drove him crazy and he started thrusting against her hand so fast she could barely see the movement. "Stop," she commanded.

He ignored her.

She released him and demanded again, "Stop, Lachlan."

He glared at her, his body rigid with tension.

She curled one hand around him again and caressed him from tip to root. "I want to kiss you."

She'd succeeded in shocking him. "You don't have to," he strangled out.

"I want to. Is there anything special I should do?"

He shook his head. "Whatever you want."

"And will you like it as much as I did?"

"More."

She liked hearing that and smiled. Then she leaned down and kissed the slit at the tip of his shaft. He growled. She licked him, a single swipe that caught his taste a salty sweetness that gave her tremendous pleasure. She took the broad tip into her mouth and swirled her tongue around. His hips moved in short, jerky movements, but he did not start thrusting again and she explored him with her tongue and lips as thoroughly as he had explored her.

He shuddered. "Suck it, please Emily, suck me."

She sucked as much of him as she could into her mouth and wrapped both hands around his hardness below her lips. He pulsed against her fingers, his skin so hot it almost burned her.

Suddenly he grabbed her hair and yanked her head back from him. "Enough."

Her grip on him tightened convulsively and he thrust upward with an earsplitting shout, then thick white fluid erupted from his male member as it jerked in her hands. She didn't know what to do to prolong the pleasure like he had done with her, so she just held him as his hips thrust up and down and he spurted several more times, but none of them lasting as long as the first one.

Finally, he fell back against the bed, his eyes closed, his face for once devoid of any harsh lines and his body completely slack. She forced herself to climb from the bed on unsteady legs.

"Where are you going?" he asked with his eyes shut.

"My hands are messy I want to wash them."

He said nothing to that and she did as she'd said she wanted to, then searched through a trunk against the wall for a cloth and thankfully found one. She stumbled back to the bed and he allowed her to clean away the evidence of his pleasure without so much as a murmur. Something about his passive acceptance touched her deeply. Perhaps because her ministrations now felt every bit as intimate as what they had just done.

When she was finished, she dropped the cloth on the floor, grabbed the plaid and pulled it over them both as she settled against his side, her head on his chest. "I liked that."

"I did, too, sweeting." His words slurred together and were barely discernible. He said something else, but she didn't understand and finally she wondered if that language was Chrechte.

She asked and he said yes, but didn't volunteer a translation. He sounded far too tired to give one and she did not mind. She'd satisfied him to the point of exhaustion and she was very, very proud of that. Realizing she was a bit tired herself, she let her eyes close.

Lachlan smiled as Emily's body relaxed into sleep. She felt so right next to him with her small hand over his heart. He had never known such a sense of peace as he did in that moment.

He trailed the silken strands of her hair back from her face. She was so lovely, so perfect for him in every way but one. She was not Chrechte, but she was as courageous as a femwolf and she accepted his beast completely. He had never changed in front of a human woman, not even his own mother, but he had felt no inhibition about changing in front of Emily.

She'd touched his wolf's body with obvious delight and affection. Even his prolonged werewolf orgasm had not disgusted her as he had heard it did some human women. In fact, her passion was as uninhibited as any femwolf's.

Their fit had been so perfect that he had even called her his mate in the heat of the moment. She had not seemed to notice, or mayhap she was unaware of the significance of such a claim. But just as he had not been able to hold back from marking her body with his scent and her throat with his love bite, he had made the verbal claiming as well.

If she had been a femwolf, she would expect marriage. By rights, since he had made the claim, he should offer anyway.

Which duty dictated his honor more strongly? That to his clan to wed within the Chrechte or that to his integrity to follow through on the verbal promise he had made? Telling himself that since she did not know it had been a declaration of intention, he was not held to it, did not diminish his sense of obligation. He had known what it would mean and he had said the words anyway.

She had not trapped him with her body; he had trapped himself with a need he had been unable to suppress.

Was that how his father had come to be married to a human woman? It was something Lachlan had only asked his father about once and the tough warrior had said that when destiny slapped you upside the head, you listened, or you paid the price for your arrogance. Lachlan had not understood his father's words at the time, but later he thought his father meant that he'd had sex with a woman and found himself true-mated. Lachlan had been determined never to make that mistake.

But he wondered if he had merely been running from his destiny.

He was past the age when he should have taken a wife, and Emily was the first woman he had even considered spending the rest of his life with. He had made excuses for that reality, but the truth was he knew the femwolves of his clan and although he liked and admired many of them, none of them appealed to him as a future mate.

He had considered Susannah, but merely because she was sister to his first-in-command and Lachlan liked her. He had never felt the consuming passion in her presence he did when he was with Emily. He had known Susannah was in heat at the last full moon and had assumed they would end up mated when she ran with the pack. His wolf's nature would dictate that he fight for her and no other wolf could hope to beat him.

However, one of the reasons Ulf's suggestions for vengeance had been so repugnant to him was that Lachlan had been relieved to discover she had mated another. He could hardly go to war over a situation from which he benefited, even if he did not want to admit such a thing to his pack, or even to himself.

He could go to another clan and look for a wife. He had considered that plan many times, but he had never followed through on the intention. Now, he could not imagine finding a woman as perfect for him as the one sleeping so securely in his arms. Even if she had no beast inside to match his own.

And she loved him.

Perhaps it was time he stopped running from his destiny and accepted that God alone could determine the future of the Chrechte. Making love to Emily completely would determine if she was his true mate. If she was, who was he, a mere mortal, to thwart providence?

Emily woke to the sensation of her naked body being caressed by the sun.

Her eyes fluttered open.

Lachlan was watching her with his wolf's eyes, his hands the sun against her sensitive skin. "Good afternoon, sweeting."

She yawned delicately, arching into the delicious sensations he evoked. "I fell asleep."

"I did, too." He sounded bemused by that fact.

She felt his hardness surge against her thigh. "You're not asleep now."

"Far from it."

She smiled, his obvious desire for her and the beautiful dreams she'd woken from putting her in a very good mood.

She'd dreamt of being in the water, of all things, but there had been no terror. Lachlan had finished teaching her to swim and then they had made love. Parts of the dream were vague and unfocused as if even her sleeping mind could not conjure up how to accomplish such a feat in the water, but the remembered pleasure of his caresses still pulsed through her body.

It was easy to slip back into the fantasy that his touch and affection were born of deeper feelings than lust. She had no regrets for allowing him such liberties with her body or taking equally ardent ones with his. If that made her more wanton than a lady, so be it. She was at least happy for this brief moment in time.

She smoothed her hand down his naked flank, loving the feel of hair-roughened skin over muscles as ungiving as a rock. "You are so hard."

"Aye." He thrust against her hip. "Very hard."

Giggling, she pinched his backside, which was as solid as the rest of him. "I meant your body, you wicked man."

"I did, too, but mayhap we each meant a different part of my body."

"You know we did." She moved her hand to his manhood, caressing its length. "Though this is probably the hardest bit of all and that is saying something."

"At the moment it is."

She laughed and he kissed her, his mouth swallowing her expression of joy.

Unlike before her nap when everything had been overwhelming passion and harsh carnal delight, they caressed each other languidly, learning the secrets of one another's bodies while the tension between them built. He touched her everywhere and in doing so gave her permission to do likewise. Her own arousal at a fever pitch, she made him roll onto his stomach, so she could explore his back.

Pushing his long black hair away from his neck and shoulders with one hand, she brushed her fingertips down his nape with the other. He shivered beneath her.

"You like that?" she asked, her voice impossibly husky.

"Yes."

She did it again, but she wanted to touch all of him. She started kneading the bulging muscles of his back. It was a good thing she was used to working bread and had strong fingers because he was so hard everywhere. When she got to his backside, she pushed his thighs apart so she could trail her fingertip down the center of his cheeks to the soft spot just before his scrotum.

He made a harsh sound and then that pleasure growl that made his chest rumble. She bit her lip wondering how she could increase the sensation. She pressed lightly against the tender skin, reaching under him with her other hand to gently cup his stones.

"Yes!" he shouted into the furs on the bed.

She pressed deeper into that small area of flesh between his bottom and his scrotum and he bucked, his entire body jerking. She bent down and kissed him there, reaching with her tongue to tickle his stones.

He erupted from the bed, yanking her onto her back and under his heaving body. He stared down at her, his eyes almost wholly gold and so serious she caught her breath.

He reached down between her legs and caressed her wet heat, gliding his thumb along her sweetest spot. "You offered me your virginity. I ask formal permission to enter your body now."

She moaned and his words took several seconds to penetrate the haze of passion surrounding her. When they did, the sweet fantasy she had created shattered around her. She could not breathe. He did not love her and the last thing he really wanted was to make love to her completely. She did not understand how this time he had lost control so much when their touching had been so much more tender and slow, but he must be nearly out of his head to suggest such a thing.

She should not have touched him like she had, but she had not foreseen the consequences.

She shook her head wildly.

He stared down at her, his brows drawn together in a scowl. "You're denying me?"

She forced words from her suddenly tight throat. "I'm denying you. You don't really want it."

One blunt, man-sized fingertip penetrated her opening. "But I do, Emily. I want to bury myself in your body very much."

It felt so good, but she could not hide behind the physical ecstasy when he threatened his own future. With strength born of desperation and gut-wrenching pain, she shoved him off of her and rolled from the bed, landing on the hard floor with a bruising thump.

She scrambled to her feet. "I won't trap you that way, Lachlan. I won't! Was it sleeping together that broke your control? We can't do that again. I think it would be best if I left. If we share our bodies again, I will be careful not to touch you the way I did just now."

Tears burning her eyes, she searched for her clothes. She spied her shift on the floor and grabbed it. She had started yanking it over her head when it was torn from her grasp.

With a hard hand on her shoulder, Lachlan spun her to face him. "What is the matter with you?"

Wild with grief for the taste of happiness she had lost, she gave a convulsive sob. "I promised I wouldn't trap you with your own lust. Please, I'm sorry, but I must leave."

If she didn't, she was going to give in, and once his lust had subsided, he would never forgive her. Especially if they turned out to be true mates.

He grabbed her upper arms with both hands, his grip strangely gentle, and pulled her close. His eyes were filled with warmth. "Your conviction to adhere to your promise does you credit, sweet Emily, but I do not require that promise of you any longer. I would much rather you followed through on your promise to give me your body."

"I did not promise that!"

"You offered me your virginity. Do you deny it?"

"No," she choked out, "but that was before I realized how against any sort of lasting attachment between us you are."

"I may have changed my mind about that." He sounded rational, but his member protruded hard and throbbing between them and his body vibrated with tension that belied his calm tone.

"That's lust talking, not you." And she almost hated him for giving in to it. Didn't he know how hard it was for her to tell him no? To refuse her deepest desire? "You don't want a human wife. If we make love and find we are true-mated, you won't have a choice. You'll end up hating me."

"If we find we are sacred mates, that tells us that God created us one for the other."

"You don't believe that. I know you don't. I've got to leave. Please, let me go," she pleaded brokenly.

He shook his head, his expression no longer warm, but implacable. "I want you, Emily. I don't want another woman or a femwolf. Only you."

"That will change after I leave."

"I'd sooner kill Talorc then let him take you back."

"Don't say that! He is Cait's brother, remember."

"But not your mate."

"No. I already told you I won't marry him."

"It does not matter. Marriage or no, you do not belong to the Sinclairs. You belong to the Balmoral clan now and evermore." He picked up her English dress and ripped it into shreds, the violence of his actions further proof that, his words to the contrary, he was out of control. "You will wear our plaid from this day forward."

She stared at the pile of torn strips on the floor that used to be her dress. "I can't."

"You have no choice."

She shook her head, pain twisting her insides. "You can't mean to marry me."

Before he could answer, someone pounded on the door to his chamber. Ulf's voice shouted from the other side, his words indistinct to Emily, but his urgency unmistakable. Lachlan scowled and crossed the room to swing open the door without bothering to dress.

Emily dove for the bed, yanking the plaid over her nakedness as Ulf came into view.

"What is it?" Lachlan demanded.

Ulf glared at Emily. "Not in front of her."

Lachlan sighed with impatience and stepped into the solar, still naked, closing the door behind him.

A moment later, he returned, his expression grim. "Our mating will have to wait, but mark this, English you offered me your body and I will have it along with the rest of you."

The rest? Was he talking about her heart? No. Impossible. And he'd change his mind about her body soon enough, too. Wouldn't he?

He dressed quickly. "I will have Marta bring you a woman's plaid." And then he left without so much as a kiss or explanation of what had required his immediate attention.

But she feared she knew already. Talorc.

She'd finished washing with another cloth from the trunk and the cold water remaining in the pitcher and had donned her shift when Marta arrived with the woman's plaid. The housekeeper helped Emily figure out how to put it on over her shift, her expression worried.

"Do you know what has happened?" Emily asked.

"A young soldier was found dead near the loch. It looked as if a wild animal had gotten him."

Or Talorc. Worried for what this might mean to Cait, Emily thanked Marta, picked up her skirt and ran to the great hall. She skidded to a halt ten feet from a knot of soldiers. She could hear Lachlan's voice, but could not see him.

He was demanding details from someone Ulf who had apparently found the body.

"He was dead when I found him, I told you. But if you think wild animals did this to a Balmoral soldier" His voice trailed off, allowing his listeners to conjecture what he thought of such an assumption.

"There is no scent of an animal on him," Lachlan said with a deadly quiet voice.

"There is no scent at all," Angus, she thought it was, said.

"Talorc." Drustan's voice was filled with fury.

"No." That was Cait's voice and it was laced with torment.

Emily rushed around the soldiers, looking for her friend. She found Cait standing beside her husband, but they were not touching and he was glaring down at her.

Cait's brown eyes were shiny with appeal. "Talorc would no more kill a boy barely out of childhood than I would."

"Didn't you?" Drustan asked.

"What do you mean?" Cait's voice was faint.

"If you had told me the truth, this boy would not be dead."

"That is what you get for trying to make your enemy a member of your clan," Ulf said with disgust. He condemned Lachlan with a look. "Your plan for reparation did nothing but bring grief and loss to our clan. Is she"he nodded toward Cait with a sneer"worth this boy's life?"

Emily couldn't believe they were all trying to blame Cait. Even if Talorc had done this dreadful thing, she wasn't responsible. Apprising the Balmoral of his presence at the lake would not have made any difference. If the man didn't want to be found, he wouldn't be.

Which made it difficult for her to believe Talorc was responsible for the young soldier's death. Were they all so steeped in prejudice that they didn't see that?

"Wait," Cait whispered. "You've got to listen to me."

"Anything you had to say worth hearing should have been said yesterday," Drustan replied with disgust.

"You're making a terrible mistake," Cait insisted stubbornly, though she looked as if her heart were breaking.

If she'd had a bucket of cold water handy, Emily would have thrown it over Drustan and Ulf. Both to cool their tempers and just because she wanted to. They were being idiots, and while she was used to that with Ulf, she'd come to expect more from Drustan. She would have said so, but even she could tell right now was not the time for plain-speaking.

"The only mistake I made was believing your marriage vows meant something to you."

"They did!" Cait cried. "They do. If you would only listen."

"Do you know where Talorc is now?"

"No, but"

"Then you have nothing to add to this situation. Go to our chambers. This is Balmoral clan business."

"I am a member of this clan."

"Are you?"

Cait's eyes filled with tears.

Drustan looked totally unmoved by her obvious hurt. "My clan comes first with me. If you were a member of this clan, it would come first in loyalty with you, too. I would come first before your precious brother. You and Emily knew that Talorc was spying, that he was on the island, and yet you said nothing. Emily, I can understand"

"I can't," Lachlan interrupted in a chilling voice.

Emily's gaze snapped from Cait to him.

His eyes so recently filled with passion now looked on her with dark contempt "You lied to me."

"I didn't."

"Clever misdirection is still a lie. You knew what I was asking and you deliberately withheld the truth from me."

"I don't want war between the Sinclairs and the Balmorals any more than Cait does."

"What difference does it make to you?"

She wasn't going to use Cait as her excuse. The poor woman had enough blame heaped on her. "I didn't want anyone killed."

"Like this boy?" he asked.

And she looked down at the body at their feet. Bile rose in her stomach. Blood was everywhere and his face was as pale and lifeless as stone.

"I'm not convinced Talorc did this."

"Why?"

"Because he wouldn't need to. He's too good a warrior to be caught out by such a new soldier." The boy could not have been more than thirteen summers.

"Maybe he just wanted to."

Cait gasped out a protest.

Revolted he could even suggest such a thing, Emily said, "That is a horrible accusation to make. Talorc may have the manners of a pig, but he doesn't kill for pleasure."

"How would you know? Or did you know him much better than you told me you did?"

She could see Ulf gloating out of the corner of her eye and she wanted to kick him. Did the man even have a good side?

"What do you mean?" she demanded of Lachlan.

"Did you hope to seduce me into forgetting my duty while your betrothed or is he your husband spied on my people and decided best how to attack us?"

Drustan jerked back as if shocked by Lachlan's words, and his expression went from angry to enlightened to remorseful in rapid succession.

"No, it wasn't like that." Emily couldn't believe Lachlan was talking of their time together as if it were something foul. "I am not his wife. I am not his betrothed even. I told you I'm not going to marry him."

"And your word is worth less than your promise."

"My promise is worth everything. You should know."

"You mean because you refused to let me enter your body? I might have found out you were not a virgin. I thought your passion uninhibited, but the way you used your hands and your mouth was a little too knowing."

Emily couldn't speak. She felt like someone had driven a stake through her chest.

Ulf sniggered.

Drustan said, "Lachlan"

"Why so silent, Emily? You are never at a loss for words. Where is your denial? Your so-called desire was nothing more than experience masquerading as innocence, wasn't it?" He shook her by the shoulders. "Answer me, you bloody-minded woman. Where is your sharp tongue now?"

Emily shook her head, the pain inside her too big for any words, and then she shoved against his chest. It was a feeble attempt at best, but he let her go. His expression was one she couldn't decipher, his face almost as pale as the dead soldier at his feet.

And then Cait was there, her hands on her hips, her face inches from Lachlan's. "Don't you speak like that to her, you bastard!"

Drustan pulled Cait around to face him. "Do not dare show such disrespect to your laird." The words were harsh, but the tone he said them in was almost gentle. "You will apologize, my own."

Cait shook off his hold and stepped back, away from all of them. "I don't belong to you and he's not my laird. Our marriage vows meant nothing. You said so."

"I also told you to go to our chambers, but I see that you are still here. Not all words spoken in anger have meaning."

Apparently while Lachlan had been venting his anger Drustan's had been waning, but Emily didn't think Cait noticed. Or if she did, that she cared.

She glared at her husband, her eyes glistening with moisture. "How remiss of me, to stay where I'm not wanted."

She spun on her heel and ran from the great hall, becoming nothing but a blur of color even as Drustan shouted her name.

"For that, we lost a promising soldier," Ulf said.

Drustan punched him straight in the face, and Ulf went flying backward to land with a thud a good dozen feet away. "Do not ever speak of my mate in that tone again or I will kill you."

Ulf sat up, shaking his head, his eyes dazed.

And in that moment, several things became clear to Emily. All of them painful. Most disturbing was a suspicion she had no doubt that if she voiced would go unheeded. After all, in Lachlan's eyes, she was the betrayer.

But looking at his brother, so filled with vindictiveness, spite and a thirst for blood, she could not help wondering if he would kill one of his own soldiers to try to push Lachlan into the one thing his brother had refused to do.

Declare war.


Chapter 17 | Moon Awakening | Chapter 19