Border lord, p.14
Border Lord, page 14
Rocks tinkled against glass. Verbatim appeared at the window, her black nose framed between the velvet drapes.
The Border Lord grabbed another handful of rocks. "Miriam," he whispered urgently.
A thrill coursed through her, and she hugged her knees to keep from leaping to her feet and answering his call. She had to know what he intended to do.
"I'll give her to the count often." He resumed pacing. "If she doesna open the window and give me that bletherin key, I'll make her sorry she stepped her dainty feet in the Borders."
Miriam's high spirits sank like a stone. He didn't want her. He wanted the key. But how did he know she'd taken it? The earl had told him. That possibility fostered a dozen more questions and twice as many suspicions. Just how close were those two men?
"Stop dallying, you nosey beastie," he called up to Verbatim, "and fetch the lass." Again he showered the glass with pebbles. "One…"
Verbatim dashed away from the window. The curtains fell back into place.
"Two…" Silhouetted against the gray stone, the Border Lord looked an imposing figure. He radiated anger, impatience, and manliness that lured her like a miser to a gold mine.
Verbatim came back to the window, her head cocked in question.
"Rouse her, you overgrown lapdog."
Verbatim whined, her breath fogging the panes. Miriam fumed. Even if the Border Lord was acting out her romantic fantasy, he was doing it for the wrong reasons. How dare he say he wanted her one moment, then insult her the next? It was time to teach this despotic Scotsman a lesson in manners. Yet a part of her longed for a man strong enough to match her own will and honest enough to admit he desired her.
She pushed back the hood of her cloak and prepared to reveal herself, but stopped, for the Border Lord began to scale the castle wall.
Miriam's breath lodged in her throat. How could so large a man find purchase in the smooth stone?
In the pearly moonlight, his arms stretched over his head, he moved like a leopard climbing a tree. She almost called him back, for if he injured himself she'd feel responsible. On the other hand, he deserved to see where a fit of angry impatience would land him.
His grunts of exertion echoed off the stone walls. Between breaths he continued to call her names and promise retribution.
She got to her feet and tiptoed to the squat door in the garden wall, the fountain masking the sound of her steps. She had to make him think she was just entering the garden and had not overheard his dilemma. Let him believe she came running at his command.
From her vantage point she saw him struggle, now about ten feet in the air, but at least another ten feet from the window. When he was an arm's length from the ledge, he lost his footing. He plummeted like a wounded bird and landed on the ground with a grunt and a whoosh of air.
Panic held her motionless. Never had she caused another person pain. What if he were paralyzed? Or dead?
"Damn bloody female."
Relief swamped her.
He struggled to his feet and reached again for a handhold. "I'll turn her over my knee and whack that delectable bottom until she begs for mercy. She wilna sit for a week! Or poke her perky nose where it doesna belong."
Incensed, Miriam ground her teeth. Whack her, would he? Let the miserable cur try.
His curses and insults continued as he slowly retraced his vertical path. His hand touched the ledge below the window.
"Rouse yourself, my wee, meddlesome diplomat," he said in a harsh whisper.
Miriam said, "Impossible, for I'm wide awake."
"What?" He grunted. In a swirl of dark shadows and flailing arms and legs, he tumbled to the ground again. His torso lay between the box hedges, his booted feet exposed to the moonlight.
Fear cut a path through her triumph. She rushed to him.
A heap of cloth and lost dignity, he didn't move. His hat had come off, and his hair lay like a black cap over his head. His face looked inordinately pale against his ebony clothing, the arching of his black eyebrows distinctive even in the dim light.
She dropped to her knees and felt his throat for a pulse. The throb of life brought a slight relief, but the warmth of his skin, his distinctive male scent, and the stubble on his jaw stirred her in a different and feminine way.
Leaning close, she turned her cheek to his face and felt the slow rush of his breath. His eyes opened.
"You came to me, lassie," he whispered. "I didna think you would."
Miffed, she said, "How can you speak such romance when you're lying flat on your back? Are you hurt? Have you broken anything?"
He slipped a hand around her neck and pulled her toward him. "Only my heart, Miriam," he said, a fevered tremor in his voice. " 'Twas your doing. Heal me."
The seductive words fanned the embers of her desire. But practicality had for too long been her soulmate. She drew back. "No. You lied to me about who you are."
"Ah, lassie. 'Twas but a wee stretch of the truth, and one you shouldna hold against me."
"You're no swineherd. Who are you?"
"I'm a man with few choices and fewer joys. Be my joy tonight."
Temptation dragged at her. He was the embodiment of her fantasies. He was a silver-tongued devil. "You want the key to the castle, not me."
"I'd hoped for both."
"If you want to go into the castle, why don't you knock on the front door? And don't concoct another lie about sow's hair for the earl's fishing flies."
"Because the housekeeper claims I'm her great-grandsire."
"Mrs. Elliott is much too practical for such nonsense. Tell me the truth."
He freed a strand of her hair and brought it to his nose. Inhaling, he said, "I'd rather talk about your hair. It smells like a summer garden. 'Tis a truth I'll swear to."
Like the tide raking the beach, his tender words dragged at her will to resist. "I don't trust you."
"Trust doesna come so quickly to people like you and me."
"What do you mean?"
He tugged gently on the lock of her hair, pulling her over him again. "You're a fighter, Miriam MacDonald. You wilna stand by and let others wage your battles. The only battle you fight is with yourself. Over your desire for me. You'll win, lassie. I trow you always do."
She hadn't expected praise from this rogue. "You're bold."
"Aye," he said, the warmth of his lips teasingly close. "I'm fair smitten. Kiss me. I need you."
Lost and weak with yearning, she touched her mouth to his. Like a long awaited reunion with a cherished friend, the moment stretched out, the anticipation driving away reason and logic, leaving her with a longing so real her body strained to get closer, to get caught up again in the spell only he could weave.
When his mouth slanted across hers and his tongue stabbed past her teeth, her eyes drifted shut and she gave herself up to his demanding mastery. Nimble fingers cradled her face and held her still while he performed a ravishing dance of advance and retreat. Keenly attuned to him, she felt his desperation, and ignoring the consequences, sought to feed his desire.
"You taste like paradise," he murmured, and drew her over him.
Thrilled by his words and emboldened by the feel of his long body beneath hers, she admitted, "I want to taste you, too."
He half-chuckled, half-growled. "Doona expect resistance from me, love. I'm as agreeable as a Cameron on campaign."
She settled herself on top of him, legs tangled with legs, chest against breast. She moved slightly. Something stabbed her in the ribs. Sliding her hand between them, she searched his belt and encountered a hairbrush. How odd. Angling it toward the moon, she tried to examine it. "Why are you carrying this?"
His hand closed over hers and slid the wooden handle from her palm. She felt the carving of a swan rising from a coronet. The badge of clan Lindsay. It was Betsy's brush.
Miriam had known he would avenge the crime, same as he had before. A part of her hated that she'd been right; another part of her applauded his deed.
His evasive tone sparked her annoyance. She scooted an arm's length away. Desire evaporated. Looking into the shadows, she tried, without success, to gauge his expression. "Nothing but Mrs. Lindsay's hairbrush, which was stolen by the baron's men. How did it end up in your breeches?"
"I have far more interesting things in my breeches than a hairbrush."
"That's preposterous. The hairbrush is a family heirloom. Where did you get it?"
He sighed. "I found it near the Wall. I thought the earl would know who it belonged to. Then he could return it, benevolent laird that he is. He's always concerned about getting possessions to their owners. He's persnickety about the rights of his people."
"He's a fine man. You shouldn't belittle him."
"In truth, lass," he said, his voice rife with exasperation, "belittling Duncan Kerr is the last thing on my mind." Leaning up, he grasped her around the waist. "I'd rather make love to you."
She squirmed, but couldn't free herself from his hold. "A pity, for you've broken the mood. Have you spoken to. him about the brush?"
He chuckled, the sound a seductive rumble in his throat. "If you make love half so well as you interrogate, we wilna stop all night."
At his seductive words, a shiver played over her skin.
"Why do they say you're a ghost who fulfills women's fantasies?" she asked.
He heaved a sigh, and with little effort, pulled her onto his chest. "I canna control what other people say."
"You're very much a flesh and blood man."
He placed her hand over his chest. "Who should know that better than you, Miriam?"
"You haven't adequately answered me."
"I canna. Now tell the truth. You want to kiss me."
Heaven help her, she did. "I only want to kiss you. Nothing more."
Giving him her weight, she cupped his face in her palms. The manly drag of his unshaven jaw made her skin tingle to the tips of her fingers, the lobes of her ears. Following his lead, she tilted her head and began a slow, delicious feast of his mouth. He tasted of unrestrained lust, and he promised the sweet fulfillment of a thousand nights of maidenly dreams. She charted the curve of his lips, the slick, heated skin that beckoned her deeper into a banquet of sensual delights. With the slightest of entreaties, his tongue frolicked with hers, darting away and enticing her on a merry chase that ended in a swirling union so divine she stifled a moan of pleasure. She grew damp and demanding in places that cried out for relief, yet at the same time she begged for him to stoke the fire.
Then his hands slid from her face and rummaged through the bulk of her cloak until he found her arms, her waist, and her hips. Easing his legs apart, he cradled her there, his palms kneading, caressing, mapping her bottom, urging her closer to the stark evidence of his desire.
The circling motion of his hands, sliding the soft wool of her dress against the sheer silk of her chemise, turned her body to liquid need.
Pulling back, she opened her eyes and focused on his parted lips, now slick from their ardent kisses. Again, she wished for the light of day so she could learn his expressions, watch emotions play upon his features. Even as close as she was to him and as intimately as she felt she knew him, she would not be able to pick him out in a crowd.
He smiled, revealing straight white teeth. "How's that for a ghost?"
"You want more, don't you?"
"Tell me what to do," she said.
His hands stilled. The smile faded. An agonized groan passed his lips. "Doona tell me you're a virgin, lass. Not now."
Hearty and strong, his manhood throbbed against her. She felt empty, desperate. A half-truth came to mind. "I've never been ravished in a garden 'neath the light of the moon." His eyes narrowed. "There isna enough moonlight for an owl to forage, but I doona need the sun to tell me the truth." Her confidence waned, but her body waxed. "Which is?" He lifted her off him. "You're an innocent." His rejection stung. Rising to her knees, she said, "Ha! I'd hardly call myself that." He sat up and began rubbing his thighs, as if he had a cramp. "Have you stood naked before a man?" One of his hands caressed her breast. "Has he suckled you here?" Her nipples tingled. "You've no right to ask me that."
"I think," he said thickly and slid his hand lower. "That no man has brought an ache to your belly and touched you—" His fingers wedged their way between her legs.
"Here." Her backbone turned to jelly, and she grabbed his wrist to dislodge his hand. "What are you doing?" His other hand tunneled beneath her skirts to touch her bare leg. "Proving a point." Her knees trembled and yet an odd languor engulfed her.
She wanted his touch and his sweet words, not a challenge.
" 'Tis a silly point when you said you wanted to make love to me."
"Is it now?" The flowing of the fountain and the rustling of leaves filled the silence. His hand snaked higher until the warmth of his fingers touched her intimately. Drenched in a downpour of erotic sensation, she stifled a moan.
At last he said, "Give me the key to the castle." Distracted by the pleasure he inspired, she said, "Why?" One of his fingers played over her woman's flesh, and to her surprise, she felt a wetness there. She grew lightheaded and a cool flush blanketed her skin. Leaning close, he said, "Spread your legs a bit." She did, and when his finger slid into her, she sucked in her breath. Fire raced through her, and her hips surged against him, opening herself and giving him easy accessibility. He instantly took advantage, and with a twist of his wrist, captured her completely. Magic fingers moved to and fro, tracing flesh that tingled and swelled, but the movement of his thumb against her secret treasure pushed Miriam toward the edge of fulfillment.
"Now will you give me the key?"
Through a fog of delicious excitement, she sought to understand his words.
"If you give me the key, lassie," he whispered against her cheek, "I'll carry you inside and love you properly."
His hot breath flowed over her skin. But a smidgen of rebellion remained. "What if I don't?"
His thumb moved in quick circles that made her dizzy. "You'll have bruises on your back from the ground." He spoke softly, yet urgently. "You'll get leaves in your hair. You'll get dirty. We canna have that, can we?"
Involuntarily, her head moved from side to side. Her hand fished in her pocket for the key. Just when she would have given it over, his thumb stilled.
"No!" she cried out, feeling as if she were teetering on a narrow ledge.
"Shush." He brought her hand to the bulge in his breeches, slipping the key away as he did. "Feel how much I want you?"
He pulsed with vigorous life beneath her palm, straining against the soft leather of his clothing, but selfishly, her mind stayed fixed on her own body and his wretchedly motionless thumb. "Please," she said.
"With pleasure," he said, his lips closing over hers, and he resumed his glorious play.
She leaned into him, yielding herself completely. His tongue darted into her mouth, then retreated, while his fingers performed a matching motion. The erotic sensations were multiplied when his thumb stepped up the intoxicating spiral. In reflex, her hand curled around him, eliciting a growl that sounded part pain, part bliss, all undeniably male.
He rocked his hips against her hand, pushing himself closer, then drawing back, and with each lunge she felt him grow stronger, harder, his chest laboring to draw breath, his mouth threatening to devour her.
Miriam gloried in his spontaneous show of sensuality and reveled in her own ability to rouse such passion in so bold and forceful a man. But his expertise soon dominated her budding confidence, and the wizardry he worked sent her thoughts flying to a goal just out of reach. She groaned in frustration.
"Think of paradise, love," he murmured urgently. "Imagine you're standing on the bank of a deep blue loch."
From the delirium, she dredged up a few words, but had no idea if they made sense.
Against her ear, he said, "Aye, you
Afraid he would stop, she conjured an image of the glassy, black waters of Loch Leven.
"Do you see it?"
"Aye," she breathed, clutching him tighter.
He trebled his assault on her virgin flesh. The garden and Kildalton faded, and her mind latched on to the man and his magical image of silky water.
Then he said, "Jump in."
In her imagination, she sprang from the bank and plunged into the icy water, but in reality, her body burst forth in a heat that sent a tremor from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet. Like a cinder leaping from the flames of a mighty fire, she jerked and swayed, riding the currents of a gusty wind, letting it take her where it would.
"Did I not say 'twas so?" he said in a strained whisper.
Her eyes drifted open and focused on the appealing slant of his nose and the thick brush of his lashes. His eyes were brown, she decided, the warm, rich hue of an oak.
He planted a quick, wet kiss on her forehead. "Put your arms around my neck."
Too happy to wonder why, she did as he bade, barely noticing that his hair wasn't slicked back with pomatum as she'd thought, but covered with a scarf and tied at the nape of his neck.
He swept her up and carried her past the urns, and with the ease of a seamstress plying a needle, he unlocked the door to the castle and took her inside.
Absolute darkness and the mustiness of damp stone greeted them. Without faltering, he carried her through a second door, then started up the stair tower.
The circular, upward journey had a dizzying effect. Her head grew light, and she nestled her cheek against his neck. He smelled clean and earthy, like fallen leaves, freshly cut timber. Beneath the pleasant aromas, she detected the odd odors of dank wool and something burned. At the absurdity, she focused her thoughts on the man himself, his allure, his vitality.
She seemed as light as eiderdown to him, his steely arms cradling her, his thickly muscled chest a wall of strength.
"You know this castle well."
by Arnette Lamb / Romance have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes