“You are right, of course, it would be painful.” She started walking again and he easily caught up. Then she stopped and turned to him. “When you were bringing me here on your horse and I rested my head against your chest, I could hear your heart and it comforted me somehow. Even the sound of your voice gave me peace. I think about that and try to understand it.”
“Perhaps you would have felt the same with any lad.”
“I did not feel the same when Thomas held me. He was very kind, but I did not feel the same. With you, I felt safe. Do you think it odd?”
He thought about his strange need to hold her when he first saw her. “‘Tis not odd at all, I am your husband, and I want you to feel safe.”
“Then may I hear your heart now?”
“The same way as before?” When she nodded, he slowly pulled the length of plaid off his shoulder and opened his shirt. He put the palm of her hand on his chest and covered it with his. Then with his other hand, he cupped the back of her head and slowly drew her to him.
At last, she was close to him again. She put her ear against his chest, closed her eyes and listened to the peaceful, steady rhythm of his heartbeat. Yet that was not all, now that she knew who he was, she loved the feel of his touch and his warmth so much more. Without realizing what she was doing, she wrapped her other arm around him.
Not two hours before, he had been filled with more rage than he could possibly endure. Yet having her so close seemed to wash away his rage and he thought only of the way her touch felt. He wanted to hold her even closer and thought of the day he could without hurting her. Then he felt her arm go around him, so he put his cheek against the top of her head and closed his eyes. Maybe he needed her touch as much as she needed his. When she moved closer still and her body was against his, it was all he could do to keep from holding her the way he really wanted to.
Anna didn’t want to move away and was glad he didn’t make her. She couldn’t remember a time when she felt so content. Was this love? She hoped so; she hoped so very much.
He had a feeling he would remember this and didn’t have the faintest idea why. It was the kind of tender moment he had never experienced before with a woman. Was it because she was so vulnerable and he had a duty to protect her? Or was it something else? He wondered, if only for a second, if he was beginning to love her. He didn’t want her to, but when she started to pull away, he let go.
They walked further than they had the day before and she didn’t get tired as quickly, but when they turned back, she was glad of it. Perhaps she was expecting too much too soon as Katie suggested. They didn’t talk much on the way back either, but she was content just to be near him. He had given her permission to touch him whenever she wanted and her heart was pounding with excitement and joy. She would touch him, she would even kiss him -- but that was all.
He heard her let out a long sigh. “Why do you sigh?”
“I just realized I have shared my burden with you.”
“Nay, you have given your burden to me.”
“If that were so, I would not still have a heavy heart.”
He realized she was right. “When Thomas found you, why did you want to die?”
“There were two reasons. First, I thought if I was dead, my father’s plan would be useless, and he would have no reason to kill my mother or my sister.”
“Father told me you were a cruel man who would kill me and never love me. I was dead either way … or so I thought.”
“Do you still believe him?”
“I do not believe you intend to kill me, but...”
She had to turn away so he wouldn’t see the twinkle in her eye. “You might find me pleasing someday, but you will never love me.”
His heart sank. He should never have told her about the woman on the horse. What kind of man would give his wife no hope of ever being loved? Katie said he already did love her and he had to admit he enjoyed her touch and her company very much. She seemed so open and free with him. Even now, she was able to tell him what she felt. Yes, he might learn to love Anna, but how the hell was he going to get the other woman out of his heart?
When they got back inside, he took the time to show her where everything was and then walked her to her bedchamber.
Kevin leaned down and kissed her forehead. “Good night. Wake me if you need anything.”
“What is it?”
She looked into his eyes and if she could have, she would have looked into his soul. What she was about to say was important to her and she wanted him to remember. “When you kill my father, tell him it is from me.”
He studied both her eyes and her words. “You know we are leaving? Who told you?”
“No one.” She turned, walked to the bed and sat down. “It is the only way. If you wait until he uses Rachel to draw you out, he will have the advantage.”
He was quick to sit down on the bed beside her and take both of her hands in his. “As soon as you told me it was your father, I sent lads to watch him. He may well lead them to Rachel. Try not to worry.”
“I will try.”
“Good. I will be pleased if you use this time to take good care of yourself and get well. I expect a healthy wife when I return.” He kissed her forehead again and got up. Just as he closed the door, he heard her whisper, “Come back to me, Kevin MacGreagor.”
He stood outside her door for a while and then went back in. He took her hands and pulled her to her feet. “Listen to my heart and hear my words.” He placed his hands the same as before and waited until she rested against him. “Remember the feel of this and be comforted while I am gone.” He closed his eyes and memorized it as well.
She stayed close, but this time she felt something deeper than comfort and safety. It was more even than the excitement of being near him. She loved this man.
When she started to pull away, he said, “I will come back to you, I give you my pledge.”
It was early in the morning when Baron Stoneham locked the bedchamber door, slipped the key into his belt, and went down the stairs. He had just entered the dining room for his morning meal when he stopped dead. Three giant Highlanders stood beside the table with their arms folded across their chests. He quickly looked around for his two-man guard and found them slumped in the corner, unarmed and unmoving. The woman servant still held a platter of pastries in her hand ,and looked as though she were going to pass out from fright at any moment.
“How the devil did you get in here?” Stoneham demanded but none of them answered. “Which of you is Kevin MacGreagor?” Still none of them answered so he tried again in Gaelic. It didn’t help, so he thought of another approach. “I assume you got my gift. You were pleased, of course. If I were you, I would kill her, she is worthless.”
It was all Kevin could do to control himself. The man before him was indeed a MacGreagor, just as large and just as intimidating as any Highlander could be. He wanted to kill Stoneham with his bare hands and do it now. Instead, he nodded.
The baron couldn’t quite believe his eyes when the woman stepped out from behind Kevin. “Athena?”
“I am surprised you remember me,” she said in her native tongue. “You left me without children.”
He laughed. Then he slowly looked her up and down as though he were undressing her with his eyes. She was still a vision of beauty even at her age. “I could give you one now.”
Kevin could feel the tension rising in both Thomas and Clymer, so he shifted his weight just a little to calm them. Both men eased.
Athena pretended not to mind what he was doing. Instead, she gave Stoneham a once over with her eyes as well until they rested on the slight bulge in his belt. She looked up and smiled seductively. It made him do exactly what she wanted and when he reached out and pulled her to him, she slipped her hand in his belt and got the key. Her other hand went to his crotch and painfully grabbed hold to remind him what she was capable of. He instantly released her and pushed her back.