He didn't understand why, but he liked hearing those words. Nevertheless, he said, "It does not matter."
"No, I don't suppose it does. Just as it does not matter to you that I think you are wrong to have kidnapped Cait and me."
"You are better off with my clan than the Sinclairs."
She bit her bottom lip, her eyes questioning him. "I don't see how."
"No one here will hate you, Emily."
"Ulf already does."
"Ulf is offended by your plain-speaking and your insults."
Lachlan laughed. " 'Tis good of you to notice."
"I wasn't complimenting him."
"He would take it as such."
"You Highlanders are a strange lot."
"You have no idea."
She looked at him with such an air of innocence, he could barely refrain from touching her. "Your husband has not bedded you yet, has he?"
She gasped, her pale skin going rose red. "You should not ask such a question!"
"But I am right."
Her blush deepened and she looked away.
"Tell me the truth, English."
"It should not matter to you."
She hugged herself, as if grabbing for courage. "No, he hasn't." She glared at him. "Are you happy now?"
He had guessed she was untouched, but to hear her say so affected his libido with cruel intensity. "He has never even kissed you, has he?" he asked, embarrassing her further and tormenting himself, but he had to know.
"Lachlan, please… don't ask such personal questions."
"I want to know."
"I don't want to tell you."
"I could kiss you and find out."
"It would be wrong to kiss another man's wife."
He didn't answer, waiting to see if she would give in and tell him the truth. She watched him as if waiting for him to withdraw the question. It was not going to happen.
He moved toward her.
She took three hasty steps backward. "No. He's never kissed me. Are you satisfied? He hates me. I told you, but the truth is… I don't want his touch."
That final whispered admission almost sent him to his knees because she did not mind his touch. His body still throbbed in reaction to her burrowing into him for comfort, even though she had seen him as the enemy.
Her violet eyes searched his during several seconds of silence he was content not to break. "If your people hate me, will you let me go?"
"They will not hate you." He would make sure of it. He knew the Sinclairs had more reason than most to despise the English, but to take their anger out on a tenderhearted woman like Emily was wrong.
"Will the women be kind to Cait as the Sinclair women are to Susannah, or will they shun her for being their enemy?"
"Drustan would challenge any man whose wife or daughter shunned his mate."
She nodded, apparently satisfied by that. "That is good to know. He's a strong warrior. Few would challenge him."
"You've got the right of it."
"I am standing right here, lass."
"Are you married?"
He shook his head, wondering why she asked the question.
"Oh. Why not?"
"I do not want to marry yet."
"Oh." She went silent, apparently deep in thought.
What she had to think about, he could not guess. "Why do you ask?"
"Not for any particular reason." She licked her lips, blushing a bright pink and looking like she'd lost her train of thought.
"But you were curious?"
"It was merely a general curiosity. I don't care personally if you are married," she emphasized. "I am a very curious sort of person. Sybil always says my curiosity will get me into trouble, but I cannot seem to help myself."
Women were odd. Particularly human females, but this one was stranger than most. And even harder to understand was the fact that he liked it. He liked her.
"If I weren't married, would you let one of your soldiers keep me like Drustan is keeping Cait?" she asked, her expression going from worried to embarrassed.
"Nay. I would let no other man keep you."
"Cait believes you mean to kill her brother because of me."
"It is a move worth considering."
Emily paled, all traces of her blush fading along with her natural color. "But I don't want you to kill him!"
She should, or was she too tenderhearted to realize that? "You do not want to be married to him."
"That is no reason to kill him."
"But you do not wish to be his wife." He wanted to hear her say it, though why he should he could not understand. Her desires in the matter made little difference. Still he prompted, "Do you?"
"No, may God forgive me."
"Then his death would be to your benefit."
"Are you truly that cold?" she asked in a shaken voice.
"I am practical."
"Killing a man is not practical. It is wrong."
He did not understand her view. "Your father is a warrior."
"He has killed."
"Yes, but only his enemies."
"Talorc is my enemy."
"Were you at war before your clanswoman married his clansman without permission?"
"Then he is not your enemy." She seemed relieved by her conclusion. "You have no reason to hate him… or to kill him for that matter. I'm sure everything can be worked out if the two of you met… to talk I mean."
He didn't bother to scoff at her belief, but it was laughable. He and Talorc would not talk if they met face-to-face. They would fight.
"Stop looking like that."
"Like you plan to kill him."
"Perhaps I do."
"You can't. Talorc is Cait's brother. It would upset her. Don't you see that? According to you, she is soon to be one of your clanswomen whether she wants to or not. Doesn't that mean that her happiness is your responsibility? You are the clan's laird after all."
The woman's ideas were downright daft on occasion and why that should make her even more appealing, he could not begin to fathom. "Cait is already upset."
"It would upset her more."
He shrugged. "She would get over it."
"She would hate you… and Drustan. She would hate him even more. You can't go killing her brother."
The discussion was getting to him, but not in the way he was sure she wanted it to. The thought of killing Talorc and claiming Emily as his lover was too damn tempting for Lachlan's peace of mind.
"He is also your husband. He hurt you. He should die." It made perfect sense to him, but Emily looked appalled.
"You can't kill the man on my behalf!" she shouted. "He didn't hurt me, not more than my feelings anyway. And I've come to believe that feelings are not overly important to you Highlanders. Leastways, not to warriors."
He shrugged again. Feelings weren't important, but if he chose to be offended on behalf of hers, that was his right. He was laird and pack leader. He could do anything he wanted.
"You shouldn't want to. I mean nothing to you, but then I don't suppose it takes one of you Highlanders much in the way of incentive to start killing each other." She paced away from him, muttering things that even his hearing could make no sense of. Finally, she stopped and faced him from several feet away. "I am not Lady Sinclair."
He heard the words, but could not take them in. She was not Lady Sinclair? That would mean she was not married to Talorc. "You are saying you lied to me?" he demanded.
"Only that one time. I wanted to save Cait and I thought you would believe that as his wife I was enough of a sacrifice to the clan."
"But you are not married to the Sinclair?"
"No." She was wringing her hands now. "We are supposed to marry, but he hates me. I don't know what I will do if he sends me back to England. I have to save my sister."
The words made no sense, but perhaps nothing would have at that moment. All he could think about was that it was not a smirch on his honor to kiss her. Right now.
He could not keep her, not a human… but he could kiss her and perhaps more. He smiled. "Emily… come here."
Her violet eyes flared warily. "I don't think that is a good idea."
The words were barely out of Emily's mouth before Lachlan crossed the distance between them and grabbed her by both arms. She gasped in shock, both at his touch and the fact that he'd traversed the distance so quickly. How had he done it?
Her eyes must be playing tricks on her. She had thought she was farther from him than she had been. That was all, but she hadn't seen him move either. Only a blur and that too was odd. She was sure she'd been watching. Only she must have looked away.
He looked at her like he planned to devour her.
Was he furious about her lie? Had he decided to kill her instead of Talorc? She thought about mentioning that that was sure to upset Cait as well, but that argument hadn't swayed Lachlan in regard to the other woman's brother.
"You do not belong to him, then?" Lachlan asked, his voice rumbling like a predator's growl.
She shook her head. "I am his betrothed."
"But not his wife?"
"No, not his wife."
Lachlan pulled her closer until not even a breath separated their bodies. He was so big and hot, his heat seared her right through her gown and shift. She'd never been held like this. It was indecent, but she could not force sound from her dry throat for a protest. She could barely breathe.
Her breasts pressed against his chest and every time she pulled in a shallow puff of air, they moved in a most disturbing way that made them tingle and ache mysteriously.
Lachlan's eyes were narrowed and fixed on her. He did not look beset by strange feelings from their closeness. "And you told me the truth before, that he has not touched you?"
"Yes." She could barely get the word out.
He said nothing more, but his head descended slowly toward hers, his gaze trapping hers the whole time.
He stopped his mouth hovering just above hers, so close she could feel his warm breath on her lips. A strange kind of fearful excitement shivered through her. Was he going to kiss her then?
She should not want him to. It was wicked, but she did.
Lachlan's lips closed over hers not a second after the thought formed. They were warm and firm, unlike anything she had ever known and she strained upward, needing to feel more.
He made a sound low in his throat, his mouth molding hers. It drew a response from her that was wholly instinctive and she moved her lips in unison with his. It was the most amazing experience she had ever known. Her insides popped and sizzled like a sap-covered log in the fire. She never wanted him to stop kissing her.
In this moment in time, nothing existed that could harm her. No parents who would dismiss their own children as expendable, no angry Sinclair warrior who would send her home only to force her parents to send Abigail in her stead, no Balmoral warriors waiting to carry her to their castle where she would be prisoner.
She was no captive in this moment, but a woman. She had never felt so free and did not think she would ever feel such sensations again. Right or wrong, she wanted to feel them for as long as she could.
His body was so hard against hers, so different from her own… big and powerful, emanating a scent that filled her senses. It was spicy and uniquely male. And it called to something deep inside she could not name, making her feel hollow and empty. Not in a bad way though, not like true hunger for food. No, this felt all too good, as if she had a peculiar hunger only this man could fill. Warmth and an ache connected in some mysterious way to that emptiness pulsed between her legs.
Her hips moved of their own volition, brushing his hard thighs and increasing the maelstrom of feelings storming through her. She didn't understand what was happening to her. It frightened her, but it entranced her as well. She needed to get closer to him. She didn't know how though. Their bodies were as close as two beings could get.
It was not enough.
Her lips parted, softening against his and she could taste him. His flavor was sweeter than honey, which was strange because the man was so far from sweet, but she had never known anything as delicious as Lachlan's kiss.
Craving more of that flavor, she touched his lips with the tip of her tongue. He growled like a hungry wolf, his entire body vibrating with the sound. It shivered through her, too, making her shake and her knees grow weak, but she did not want to stop the kiss.
Far from willing it to end, she wished to do wanton things… to touch him and to be touched by him. She wanted his hands on her face again, cupping her cheeks while he kissed her.
She wanted to feel his skin, imprint his scent and the feel of him on her mind to carry with her into eternity. Her fingers itched to trace the pattern of the tattoo that circled his bicep and then the one of the animal on his back. She wanted to run her fingers through his hair and the dark curls scattered over the sharply defined muscles of his chest and torso.
She allowed herself to press one hand, open palmed, against the front of his chest on the side not covered with his plaid.
Everywhere her skin touched skin, it tingled. It was the oddest sensation she had ever known and it fed the desire burning her insides. It felt as if she were meant to do this, as if she had been born to connect to this man alone.
That could not be true. He was not her intended. She could never be his bride. Tears leaked from behind her eyelids from inexplicable pain at the thought.
She should pull back. She had to stop this before she lost her heart and her honor. Propriety and sanity demanded it, but her heart cried that this was her one chance to taste true desire. Once she was married to Talorc, she could never experience anything like this again. She couldn't. Not with him. Talorc did not smell right… he would not taste right.
Most likely, he would not even kiss her.
He hated her.
How could she belong to a man who hated her?
But her brain insisted that this kiss was still wrong.
Finally, she forced herself to listen and tried to break away from Lachlan, but he responded by moving his grip to her waist and lifting her into more intimate contact with his big body. The apex of her thighs met a hard ridge and with a groan, he pressed her against it. Pleasure suffused her on a wave of such overwhelming delight, she cried out against his lips.
"What the hell are you doing?"
The raucous voice infiltrated Emily's thoughts just as Lachlan went stiff, his hold on her biting into her waist.
He lifted his mouth from hers. "Go away, Ulf."
"Balmoral warriors do not bed married women," Ulf said, spitting the words out with enough disgust to make Emily's face flame with shame.
She buried it against Lachlan's neck.
"She is not married."
"She said she was."
"And you have only her word for this?" Ulf demanded.
"Yes," Lachlan ground out as he lowered Emily until she was standing on her own two feet again.
He turned to face his brother, stepping away from her at the same time. Chilled by the loss of his touch, she rubbed her arms. He stood between her and Ulf, but she did not feel as if he stood with her—only in front of her. He was a barrier, but not an ally.
Shame that she wanted him to be suffused her. She was not married, but she was promised. To a man who has flat-out refused to marry you, her brain reminded her. Did that negate the betrothal? It couldn't when Abigail's future was at stake.
"Why should we believe you now, English? One way or another, you are a liar." Ulf sneered at her.
"I'm not lying."
He abruptly turned his attention to his brother. "What the hell were you doing kissing her, regardless? She is our enemy."
"She is not our enemy and you will not call her such again." Lachlan's tone was so harsh, she could barely make herself believe he had been the man kissing her so tenderly only moments before.
Ulf did not appear impressed by his brother's ire, however. "I bloody well will. Just because you're controlled by that beast inside you does not mean I will abandon reason for such base urges as lust. It's obvious to the other soldiers as well. They're back at the beach betting on whether or not you have tupped her yet."
Emily gasped at the crude terminology and the implication of Ulf's words. The others knew that Lachlan wanted her? They thought he was having her… right now? By the saints, didn't they realize she was a chaste and honorable maid?
She hadn't been acting like either a moment before though. She'd touched a man's bare chest… and wanted to do more.
Perhaps she was depraved.
"I am not governed by my beast, I am benefited by him," Lachlan said in a hard voice.
"So you say."
What was all this talk of beasts? Was Ulf trying to say that lust was a beast? She'd heard it described thus by the priest that served her father's barony, but Ulf did not seem a religious man who would eschew the pleasures of the flesh. Did he mean to imply that he did not have the same beast raging in himself, or simply that he felt no such thing for her?
She suspected the latter and did not feel in the least offended by it. Relieved more like.
Ulf's sneer was now directed entirely at his brother. "Then prove your superiority instead of making a mockery of it."
Lachlan sighed. "She is innocent."
Emily was confused. Of what had she been accused?
"You kissed her to determine if she had been touched or not?" Ulf asked, sounding marginally approving. "To test whether or not she told the truth?"
Emily stared at both men for several seconds before fully comprehending the import of their conversation. When she did, she wished the earth would open up and swallow her. She had responded with lascivious abandon to a test the odious laird had been making on the veracity of her words. While she had been lost to something beautiful and she had believed meaningful, he had merely been trying to discern if she told the truth or not.
It was humiliating… and it hurt.
Nevertheless, she was shocked he'd drawn that conclusion, considering how wantonly she had incited his ardor.
"He might refuse to touch an English wife," Ulf mused.
"Not even for the sake of his pride would a Chrechte warrior refuse to mate his wife. Honor demands he touch no other." Lachlan shook his head. "Nay. She is not his wife and we have only her word she is his betrothed, though I am inclined to believe that part of her story."
"You are certain of her innocence?"
"He has never even kissed her."
Ulf looked at Emily, his expression mocking. "She is that unskilled?"
"She is completely untouched."
"She was," Ulf said with a smirk, now obviously thinking his brother's actions bordered on the heroic.
Why shouldn't he? She had been thoroughly humiliated by her response to the kiss. And that had to be obvious by the blush burning her face and neck. No doubt Ulf was most pleased by such a circumstance, but she wanted to strangle Lachlan.
He had promised not to hurt her, but once again he had lied… for he had hurt her more than she wanted to admit, and not merely her pride. She felt wounded, but she would not give him or his horrible brother the satisfaction of knowing that.
And she was never going to believe another word Lachlan said. A man who could kiss like he meant it—but didn't—could not be trusted.
When they got back to the others, Emily forced herself to apologize to the warrior she had hit with the driftwood. Her words were met with a shrug and then the man turned his back on her.
Fine. She wasn't going to be hurt by his rejection. She was through being so tenderhearted around these barbarians. She took their feelings toward her entirely too seriously. Hadn't she lived almost her whole life with her father and stepmother thinking less of her than if she were a servant in their household?
The only person in the world who truly loved her like family was supposed to was her sister Abigail. And Emily was in the Highlands to spare her sister the same fate. She could face anything and anyone for such a cause.
She wasn't going to run again… unless she was sure of her destination and her chances of true escape were high. She was going to endure and do it with a smile on her face just to confuse them. She would show them she was no weakling, no matter how foolishly she had behaved thus far.
Cait rushed to her side and took both Emily's hands in hers. "Are you all right?"
Emily squeezed Cait's fingers. "I am fine. I do not know why I ran. It was foolish."
"Your emotions overcame you. I could see it happening, but could do nothing to help you. It was not surprising after the time in the boat. You were terrified; I could smell your fear. You masked it well, but I was right beside you," Cait said with obvious admiration. "I did not know huma… I mean the English had that skill."
Emily shook her head. "Sometimes you say the strangest things. Do you know that? Just because I am English does not mean I am a weakling."
Cait laughed. "I'd say, after the way you handled that soldier who came after you. It is obvious to everyone here you are no weakling."
"I did not handle Lachlan as efficiently."
"Naturally not. He is laird. He would not be so if he was not stronger than all the others," Cait replied consolingly.
Was that why his kisses had turned her inside out? If it were true, then perhaps Talorc's would be just as powerful, but somehow she could not believe that would be the case.