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Chapter 21

"Speak respectfully of my intended, or die where you stand."

Ulf wiped at a trickle of blood from his mouth. "I pity her, but most of all I pity the children you might have children that could be like me."

"We will have children if God wills it. If some, or all, are fully human, I will love them."

"Our father loved me until I didn't make the change, but not after. I was his favorite; he trained me to be his next in command, but he dismissed me from the moment it became obvious I was not a wolf. Stupid bloody animal."

"It is not your lack of an inner wolf that makes you unsuitable to lead, but your lack of honor. I believe our father saw that."

Ulf attacked Lachlan, but within seconds he was insensate once again. "Lock him in the west tower," Lachlan ordered, his voice harsh.

Cait took Drustan aside for something. The warrior looked furious for a moment before giving instructions to another soldier. Emily couldn't dwell too long on what had been said by her friend to make her new husband look so angry because Lachlan had just called for the priest.

Which was how Emily had ended up where she was now, facing a priest and hearing the wedding mass spoken for the second time since coming to the Highlands. She'd seen the defeat and pain in Lachlan's eyes. He had lost a brother in the last hour and her heart had gone out to him. She had been incapable of adding to his torment by opposing him, but how could she allow Lachlan to make this sacrifice? How could she make it herself? He did not want to wed a human and she did not want to wed a man who saw her as less than she was because she was not half-wolf. Yet, he had agreed to the marriage, had not argued at all in fact. She didn't believe for one minute that was because Talorc had threatened war. Lachlan was too strong to be so easily cowed. No, he had his own reasons for marrying her, but she could not understand what they might be. She loved him so much, but she knew her feelings could never be returned, not while he thought her so inferior.

Only when they had touched it had not felt like he thought of her as inferior. It had not felt merely like an expression of lust either, and she did not think that was entirely the work of her fantasy. He had never treated her like she was "only a human" in his eyes, no matter what he said with his mouth.

When he was talking with Talorc, Lachlan had spoken of her as if he truly admired her. She could do worse than to marry a man who thought that highly of her. Couldn't she?

But when the time came for her to repeat her vows, she opened her mouth and nothing came out.

Lachlan looked down at her. "Is it so hard, lass?"

Mute, she nodded. Too many thoughts vied for supremacy in her mind; she could not give vent to a single one.

"I do not see why. You love me. You told me so. I will make you say the words again later, when I am satisfying your curiosity." He winked at her.

She almost swooned right then and there from shock and embarrassment. It would serve him right if she married him and made his life a misery, the fiend!

"Hush," she hissed.

"It is not a thing to be ashamed of."

"Says you," Talorc said from the other side of Lachlan.

"You don't want this," she whispered, finally getting her throat to work.

"If I did not, the priest would not be standing in front of us."

"But you wanted to marry Chrechte."

"I want to marry you."

"I could not stand for you to reject our children like your father rejected Ulf that is assuming we can even have children."

"I told Ulf it was God's choice whether or not we have children. Do you believe that?"

"Yes."

"If we have children, I will love them no matter what. I promise you this."

"But"

"Do you trust me, English?"

Tears wet her eyes. "Yes." He was not a man given to breaking his promises.

"Then speak your vows."

"But" she said again, only she didn't know what she wanted to say after.

She would love Lachlan all the days of her life. She had come to the Highlands prepared to do whatever was required to save her sister a dismal fate. She was now being offered a marriage much more hopeful than the one she had contracted to make. Why was she balking?

She could have a measure of happiness while keeping her sister safe. According to the Highlanders, they only obeyed their king when they wanted to. As long as she wasn't returned to England in disgrace, Abigail should be safe. Her father had paid the price his king demanded of him, and by all accounts, it was unlikely the Scottish king would check to make sure his laird had.

But surely, even if he did, he would be as content to have the wild Lachlan "tamed" by marriage to an Englishwoman as Talorc of the Sinclairs.

Still, she wondered if this was the right thing to do. She cast a sidelong glance at Lachlan. He looked so sure. And suddenly she knew it was going to be all right. For him to have had the change of heart he did about marrying a Chrechte, he had to love her. He might not realize it. He might not ever be willing to acknowledge it, but she was confident the feelings were inside him.

He would never, ever consent to marrying a human woman, much less argue for the marriage otherwise. He'd told her he planned to claim her before, but she'd thought he was under the influence of lust alone. After what had just transpired, even he could not be under such an influence at the moment. He must truly want this.

And he'd said he would love their children no matter what. Perhaps one day, he would even acknowledge loving her.

As her thoughts and heart finally settled, Talorc sighed, long and drawn out it was, too.

He asked, "You would rather marry me? With the priest here, that could be arranged."

She practically shouted her vows to the background of his uproarious laughter.

When it was done, Lachlan kissed her with such a wealth of passion she couldn't help wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him back. He lifted her and cradled her against his chest, then carried her up the stairs and to his chamber. The sound of loud shouting followed them from the great hall.

When they reached his room, he did not give her a chance to stop and think.

They were both naked and in the bed before she became aware enough to warn him, "Once we make love there is no going back."

Despite her certainty that he loved her, she felt the need to give him one last chance to turn back. Marriage to a human woman was so far from what he had planned for his life.

"There was no going back from the moment I met you, but I was too stubborn to see it at first." He sounded too flippant to her.

"I mean it, Lachlan. As long as I am still a virgin, you can obtain an annulment, but once the marriage is consummated, I won't let you kick me out of your life, even if I'm not your true mate."

"I would never let you go." It was a vow and she took it as such, knowing it came from deep inside him. Then he kissed her again.

He touched her in ways he had not done before, bringing her excitement to a fever pitch of need. She widened her thighs, wanting him to join their bodies, to assuage the ache he'd created deep inside her woman's place.

He paused with his shaft pressed against her opening. "I offer you my body and all that I am, Emily of the Balmoral. Do you accept all that I am?"

There was only one answer she could give. "Yes."

"Do you welcome me into your body?"

"Yes. I want you to be part of me, Lachlan."

"I already am, lass, now and forever." He pressed inside then, his hardness stretching her to the point of pain.

She whimpered.

He brushed her face with an incredibly gentle hand that shook. "You must relax your body, love. It is not enough that I take you, but you must will your flesh to accept me."

"I don't know how." Though it was what she wanted. So much.

Reaching down, he touched her sweetest spot with his thumb. The light circular caress sent pleasure shooting through her and she arched up for more. He gave it to her, touching her again and again with the gentlest of strokes.

"That feels so good," she moaned.

"Aye. Think only of the pleasure, love." His voice sounded strained.

She tried, and found herself relaxing around his manhood. He rocked his pelvis, pushing himself inside farther and farther until he hit a barrier that made her cry out and try to scoot back from him in pain.

He held her in place with his heavy body. "This will hurt. I do not know of a way to prevent it." But he wished he could. She could see it in his glowing eyes.

That comforted her as no words could have. "A short, sharp pain is better than a long, drawn-out one," she whispered.

He nodded and thrust, breaking through the barrier and embedding himself to the hilt.

She cried out in pain, tears leaking out of her eyes, but she did not fight his possession. There would be pleasure beyond the pain. There had to be, or all women would join nunneries.

He held his body still and kissed her. "It will get better."

"You promise?"

"I promise."

"But it hurts so much."

"I'm sorry, love." He kissed her again, renewing his ministrations with his thumb. The pain began to get lost in the pleasure.

It was not gone completely, but the pleasure grew until it was more consuming than the pain. She made a small move with her hips and he matched it, increasing the depths of his strokes until he was withdrawing almost completely before pushing back into her, every thrust bringing an intensity of pleasure that astonished her.

She could not help moving beneath him and he urged her on with words of praise and pleas for more. He was as much at her mercy as she was at his. That knowledge sent her pleasure spiraling out of control until their bodies locked together and he yelled something in Chrechte as they both shuddered their completion.

She told him she loved him again.

He collapsed on top of her and then rolled to his side, curving her into his body as if he could not bear to be apart even a few inches.

She did not know how much time had passed before he started speaking. "My father was a wise man, if hotheaded. He must have seen something in Ulf I did not early on. We all assumed it was Ulf's lack of a wolf nature that made our father change toward him, but I remember how Ulf reacted to the fact that he did not go through the change. Each month that went by during that year, he grew more and more sullen. He got into fights with other boys and used his position as laird's son to try to manipulate others. My father saw these things. He and my mother argued about them because she thought Ulf was just showing the tendency to lead."

"But Ulf said your father changed after he showed his lack of a wolf nature."

"Father and Ulf's relationship changed before that, but until I looked back at the past with the eyes of a man, I did not see it. I do think the fact that he was not a werewolf influenced how my father felt. My mother never accepted my father's beast completely and he never accepted the lack of a beast completely in his son. He was still hoping Ulf would go into the change late when he died."

"But he had already named you his heir."

"Because he did not see Ulf as fit to lead. Emily, I meant what I told my brother. If our children have your fierceness and your loyalty, I do not care if they have my wolf nature. You were right to accuse me of being blind."

"I wasn't that plain-spoken."

"Mayhap not, but it is what you meant. I blinded myself to my brother's true nature and the threat he represented, but I will not be blinded to your value, or that of our children if they are as fully human as you are."

"If we have children" she said sadly.

He smiled at her. "Oh, we'll have them."

It was only then that she realized his mouth had not moved once the whole time he'd been talking.

"You mindspoke to me!"

"Yes."

"I want to try."

"Go ahead."

You owe me an apology, she said with her thoughts.

He grimaced. "I do not like saying I'm sorry."

"I don't imagine you do. You're awfully arrogant."

He rolled his eyes. "I'm sorry, truly sorry for the accusations I made earlier today and for not recognizing how important you were to me to begin with."

Her eyes misted. "All right then. I'll forgive you this once, but if you ever do such a thing again, I'll put nettles on your side of the bed."

"We'll share the middle, but I have no doubt you'll find some way to make your displeasure felt."

"I'm glad you realize that."

"Now you will apologize to me."

"For insulting you when you first took us?"

"For looking at Talorc's cock with such interest."

"It wasn't interest, it was curiosity. Surely you can see the difference."

"From this point forward you will reserve such curiosity for me. Promise me this."

"I promise."

He waited.

"And I'm sorry, but I'm a very curious sort of person."

"I know, love, I know."

It was the second time he'd called her that. Perhaps it would not take until they were old and gray before he admitted his feelings. Being who she was, Emily simply asked outright, "Do you love me?"

His smile was warmer than the summer sun. "Can't you tell? I've told you twice now in Chrechte."

"Oh." But the daft man had not realized hearing the words in a language she understood would have made her choice to marry him so much easier. "Say it in Gaelic," she demanded.

He did. Then in English and Latin after that.

She was crying by the time he was done. He kissed her all over her face, sipping at her tears and then gently claiming her mouth in a tender connection that filled her with absolute certainty of his sincerity. Afterward, he kissed her once more on her temple. "I will love you to my dying breath."

"And I will love you just as long."

"You had better."

"Arrogant Chrechte."

"Precious mate."

She smiled, blinking away more tears of joy. He returned her smile and cuddled her into his side. Finally, they slept.

The next morning they heard the news that Ulf had discovered the escape route she and Cait had used to get out of the keep. The walls had been slick with rain and the wind had been blowing fiercely the night before. And as Cait had predicted, his plaid had not been adequate to make a sufficiently long rope. He was found at the base of the castle wall with his neck broken.

While it was a terrible tragedy, Emily was relieved for Lachlan's sake. Justice had been met for the murderer, but the man she loved had not been forced to mete it out on his own brother.

Lachlan was furious at the discovery. Not because Ulf was dead, but because the women had risked their own lives climbing out.

Emily tried to explain that it hadn't been raining when they did it, that their rope had been much longer and that she and Cait were never in any danger of falling. But it did no good. Lachlan only yelled louder and Drustan glowered more fiercely until both women ended up promising never, ever to try such a thing again. (Though apparently Cait had already promised this once, having told Drustan of their rope the night before. Emily had been too addled by the prospect of marriage to remember.)

"And did you ever consider the security of the keep while you were leaving ropes dangling from windows?" Lachlan demanded. " 'Tis a good thing Cait thought to tell Drustan." Emily did not take umbrage at the question, for it came after twenty minutes spent harping on her personal safety. She came first, but now he felt the need to slip back into his role as laird. However, she believed her reasons for being forgetful were more than adequate.

"Had you not overwhelmed my attention with a wedding and what came after, I would surely have remembered to tell you about the rope before it could be of danger."

"Are you trying to imply our marriage inconvenienced you, English?"

"Sent the rest of my thoughts flitting from my head more like," she said with a smile.

That pleased him and he smiled as well.

"You can't keep calling me that, you know."

"What?"

"English."

"And why is that?"

"Because I'm Balmoral now. I have it on good authority we're a clan of Highlanders."

"Would you prefer I call you sweeting?"

"I do like that."

He laughed and pulled her into his arms. "You're going to lead me on a merry chase."

"I should not want you to grow bored with me, laird."

"I love you too much to ever do that, but I have a feeling my hair will be silver before the birth of our first child."

"Will your wolf's fur go gray if the hair on your head does?" she asked, her curiosity immediately aroused.

His eyes narrowed warily. "No."

She peppered him with questions after that and he only got her to cease by taking her to bed. Afterward, he taught her how to declare her love in Chrechte.

The next day she asked him if they could send for her sister Abigail and he agreed. "What about your Scottish king? I don't want him making trouble for my sister."

"Talorc has already agreed to go speak with him."

"He's not as bad as I thought he was."

"Our king?"

"Talorc."

"But I'm still the only Chrechte you love."

"You are the only man, Chrechte or human, that I could ever love," she vowed firmly.

"That is as it should be."

She hit his arm and then winced. The man had muscles like boulders. "You are supposed to say I am the only woman you could ever love."

"Do you not know this already?" he asked quite seriously.

She made no effort to stifle her happy grin. "Yes, in fact, I believe I do. But I still want you to say it."

He lifted her and held her close to his chest, his eyes filled with devouring hunger and the love she now recognized had been there as long as her own. "There is no other female, wolf or human, that I could ever love as I do you, sweeting."

"I think I'd like another swimming lesson."

"I believe I might enjoy that myself, but this time I will do what I longed to the first time we were in the loch."

"Drown me?"

He laughed out loud, the sound warming her clear through. "Make love to you."

"It will not take too much time from your important duties?" she teased.

"Nothing is more important to me than you."

And she knew it was true.

She had come to the Highlands to save her sister, but had ended up finding her own happiness. A wound that had opened on her mother's death and been torn wide by her father's rejection, finally closed. She had not thought it humanly possible, but then her husband, the love of her life, was more than human, and she would not have him any other way.


Chapter 20 | Moon Awakening |