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Authors: Jackie Ivie

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BOOK: Knight Everlasting
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“You ready?” Aidan asked.
To get up, seek the bushes herself, and then get fed? Juliana was more than ready. She nodded.
“Good.”
Nothing like that happened. He stayed in the half-sit position, taut muscles against her nether region and his attention fully on her.
“Start speaking.”
“A-A-A-bout what?” She wasn't feigning the confusion. The slight lift of his lips on one side wasn't helping either. She had to look away if she wanted her tongue to work at making words.
“This.”
He added to the word by moving every bit of him against her, in a continuum of sensation, making a shiver that rippled over and through her before finding a center at each nipple, making them darts of awareness and sinful itch.
“Do you need to . . . visit . . . the bushes?” she asked, gapping the sentence with gasps of air.
“I did prior to the hurting you gave me,” he replied. “Now? I believe it can wait.”
Juliana wrinkled her brow.
Hurting?
“And you'll wait with me until you explain.”
“Ex . . . plain?” she stammered.
He sighed again. She moved up and down with it. She truly wished he'd cease that.
“You slept in my arms,” he informed her.
Oh . . . Lord!
She swore the words for him. Silently.
“Slept. All night. And you went there willing. Of your own accord.”
“No . . . I . . . It was . . .”
“Look to me,” he commanded.
Look to him? Now?
She shook her head.
“Why na'? So you can keep lying?”
“I am not lying!”
Juliana turned back to him before she could think it through. It wouldn't have changed it, because he was right. Avoidance didn't do any good. It wasn't anything she wanted to deal with, but she might as well face it and get past it. She only had one thing left—her betrothal to Sir Percy Dane. She had a large worth to the man, once the king restored her property, and if she could get back to it.
And if she remained untouched.
Betrothal to Sir Percy Dane had been a large coup for her father. Sir Percy was a knight of great renown and distinction. He claimed powerful blood links to the crowns of Normandy, Saxony, Sicily, and England. If he hadn't been away, crusading for the noblest of causes, none of this would have happened. Castle Fyfen would never have been taken and she'd have been wed already. She wouldn't have even met a Highlander, especially not Aidan MacKetryck. And she would never have been astride the man with nothing covering her woman place while he looked at her with such an honest expression on his handsome face that the fates decided to shame her again with another nonrhythmic lurch of her frame against his.
There was nothing to hide behind, so she didn't even try. She met his look without flinching, enduring the shivers it gave her and then the flutter within her rib cage as her heart decided to join in.
“I'm going to kiss you, lass,” he whispered.
“No—”
He stopped her with his move, made so swiftly his lips were filming hers before the sound left them, and her denial ended up sliding against his skin instead of being voiced with disapproval and strength. He'd moved to a sit and moved his hands, too, releasing her waist so he could slide both arms about and across her back, latching her right against his chest and making her experience the short huffs of breath he made, the increasing thud of his heart, and the damp heat his skin was exuding.
Every thought just disappeared, granting Juliana the freedom just to feel, experience . . . enjoy. Light filled her, gaining in strength and volume and luminosity. It was accompanied with song, light and joy-filled and melodic. And that was covered over by vast vistas of clear sky, large fields . . . wide oceans. And that changed to the wonder of water. Clear, fresh, open running falls of water, filling her consciousness as it rushed through her, engulfing her with the magnitude and intensity of it. An entire realm so filled with ecstasy opened for her that she nearly wept at the beauty and scope and grandeur of it.
And then it slowed . . . faded. Disappeared. Shut off. Ended.
The groan that released his lips paralleled her moan in length and timbre and meaning. Exactly. Aidan pulled his head up, releasing her, before looking down at her with such a tender expression her heart stopped. Restarted. Went into a ragged beat.
He licked his lips. “Deny that,” he whispered, and then he smiled in that cocky motion that only lifted one side of his mouth.
“No . . . I—”
“You serious?” His smile dropped.
“It's not . . . I'm not—”
“You truly . . . deny . . . what you feel?”
He didn't have to put a description to it. She'd rarely experienced something so precious. And wrong. Her throat was closing off and her eyes were filling with useless stupid weak tears before she nodded. She was always going to deny it. And she couldn't tell him why.
“Doona' cry again.” He had a pleading tone to the words. He'd also opened his arms and set her atop one of his legs, at the prone bent knee. Or thereabouts. She couldn't feel for certain and didn't look to check. She couldn't. Her eyes were hooked, watching him yank up on his shirt, pulling it from beneath his belt in order to offer the end to her.
Juliana smiled slightly, and then it widened. He was so sweet . . . and so rough-hewn. Coarse. Uncouth. Only a Highlander would offer up cloth that had been right next to his skin for days. But only this Highlander put naked flesh right where she had no choice but to see it and be bothered immensely by it. Juliana dropped her eyes to his lower chest and belly and then looked aside as she colored. She could appreciate why he'd do such a move now.
“I am a beast,” he said, and from a side glance, she watched his hand drop.
She shook her head.
“It . . . is still too soon. I ken.”
Too soon?
Oh no. It was not ever. That was what it was.
“Your husband has been but fresh buried—”
“Husband?” she asked.
“The woodcutter,” he answered.
Juliana stiffened and then she giggled. And then she was snorting through her nose to keep the laughter at bay. The release was akin to being filled with ale foam, and about as frothy and unsubstantial.
“What?” he asked.
He thought her wed to the D'Aubenville steward, with his airs and pontificating and complaining and pinched-nose features?
“The woodcutter . . . was na' your spouse?”
She shook her head.
“Then who is?”
“No one.”
“Face me when you lie,” he answered.
“I am not lying.” She was grinding her teeth, however. And regretting every single moment of the morning. Almost.
“You're na' lying? Truly?”
“I am not lying and I am not wed.”
“Widowed?” he asked.
“I am not a widow and I am not a wife. I have never been wed. Listen closer.”
“At your age? What is wrong with them?”
Juliana was sucking in air at the insult and then losing it at the confusion. “With whom?” she asked frostily.
“The men . . . in that village. Doona' they have eyes?”
His men weren't the only ones with a teasing tone. They'd obviously picked it up from him, she decided.
“I'm getting up. I've nature to see to.”
“Tell me why you're unwed,” he replied, snatching her upper arm with a move that was invisibly quick.
“Now, MacKetryck,” she ordered and pushed on him with her free arm. It was foolish and did nothing other than prove how warm he was and how stout and heavy.
“Was it your . . . argumentative tongue?”
He was going to get a good dose of her argumentative tongue if he said one more word. He was also going to get the cook pot against the side of his head the moment his younger brother had emptied it. And the moment he wasn't looking.
“Or perhaps it's . . . your prickly . . . wit?”
“Have you finished?” she asked.
He sobered suddenly, oddly, and completely. “Please doona' tell me you're a maid.”
Juliana debated every option in a matter of two heartbeats. If she claimed a lover or two, he'd probably want to join them. But if she claimed the pox, he might not. If she told him the truth, he might be even more curious about her. And probably more amorous. Trouble. It just kept getting deeper and wider.
“Jesu'!”
Aidan swore and stared at her, ending her quandary. She didn't have to say anything after all. He'd read it in her face.
Chapter 9
The lass was a virgin.
A maiden.
Untouched.
Every step of the horse beneath him echoed the words through his head and his nether region, making the sway of the animal erotic and stimulating. Strands of unkempt hair he should have tied back were slapped across his mouth wetly. That was erotic and stimulating. The scratch of woolen plaid against his skin was rough and itchy, and even more erotic and stimulating.
Hellfire. And damnation.
Even the windblown spurts of rain wetting his chest, right shoulder, and arm were erotic and stimulating.
A virgin . . .
Aidan cursed the fates again and lifted his face to the gray low hang of cloud. He opened his mouth, pulling in fresh, cool, wet air, and licking at the hair strands as well as drops on his upper lip. Even that started feeling erotic and stimulating. And forbidden. He lowered his head and went back to looking ahead.
This problem was without reason and against all logic.
Juliana had been unsettling and bothersome since he'd rescued her. He could feel and sense her about . . . and that was just wrong. There wasn't a charm to ward off unsettling women with bottomless eyes, lush lips, beautiful features, hair that demanded a touch . . . and nice-sized woman curves. He was already alert and aware of her enough, without the added fact that she'd never been touched by a man.
Except him.
Aidan wasn't an untried whelp, whose every waking thought was filled with women. He smirked slightly at the untruth. Near all his dreams had been spent in the same fashion. Arran was a prime example of that age. The lad reddened, danced with nervousness, and stammered worse if any lass looked his way. And if one approached, he'd probably faint. Aidan wished his brother well of it.
Nor was Aidan a young prospect like his brother Alpin, whose every move seemed accompanied by giggling lasses from the moment he arrived anywhere. They'd yet to pick a suitable wife for the lad. Aidan was waiting for him to do it. He huffed the amusement out. Alpin usually looked to be on the run from his admirers, looking for contests of skill, challenges of strength, or game to hunt. The lad had discovered the best ways of dealing with urges and hungers and lusts, all of them manly and accepted and useful. Aidan wished his brother well of that, too.
All of that was proof. Aidan was too old for any such awkward yearnings and desires. Where the love act was concerned, his body was fully his. If he needed or wanted a woman, it wasn't a difficult thing to gain. But it was under his control. His. He no longer suffered wild cravings and aches and hard hunger from just a glance at a girl. Or the thought of one.
She's a virgin.
An immediate blast of heat filled him, sliding through his belly to encase and torment his loins. The rush of sensation fisted his hand about the reins, pulling his horse's head up and halting the line. Belatedly, he put a hand in the air, signaling the rest. He sensed the line behind him coming to a halt, and he also sensed their interest. It was the third halt he'd called, and it was not yet eve. Aidan whistled and waited for Arran to come for his horse. He used the time to send unspoken commands, and then curses, and then pleas, to cease the hardening and engorging and preparing . . . for her.
Jesu'!
He was cursed. Beset. Spelled.
Aidan sat his horse to give Arran instruction, ignoring the curiosity on the lad's face. Then he waited for the others, all the while sending unspoken demands and orders. Useless. All of it. His body had a mind of its own and it wasn't interested in obeying. This angst was for lads the ages of his brothers. Not him.
A virgin . . .
Aidan sucked in a breath. Held it. This lass he'd rescued upended everything. Again. Everything.
Aidan let the breath back out. She was changing his plans now. They weren't riding through to Castle Ketryck. He didn't dare. She couldn't sit a horse while asleep and he wasn't tying her, although if this got much worse, he was fully considering it. But that would require getting near her . . . touching her . . .
God blast and damn . . . everything!
Aidan lurched against the saddle with an instantaneous uncontrollable flash of pure hunger. Craving. Need. He pulled in another breath and looked heavenward again. Then he shifted his shoulders and rolled them as if to stretch away soreness. His men were gathering on his orders as given through Arran, standing about, awaiting further instruction. None of them would believe this. He didn't even believe it.
Aidan . . . she's a virgin . . .
Aidan looked up again at the answerless sky before he lowered his head back. Nothing worked. Nothing stopped the litany of thought that struck him without warning, and nothing muted it. It wasn't fair and it wasn't just and it wasn't right. It just
was
. He cleared his throat in the event his voice came out high-pitched or shaky. Then he sent Stefan and Gregor ahead with the tent horses to set up camp and get a fire started. If they had sense, they'd use the one left a fortnight ago, at the beginning of this accursed foray. Then he sent Alpin and Tavish for what they did best: hunt game.
Aidan licked his lips and grimaced at how shaky that minor act was. His hands were shaking, too. This was not happening. He tightened every muscle he still controlled before the tremor reached them. Before God and His Mother Mary, Aidan was not going to let this happen . . . he couldn't. And his youngest brother was watching! He concentrated and felt the response in his chest. Arms. Lower legs. Back. Neck. Belly. He dared try lower. His upper thighs . . . buttocks. He forced the image of a large fire with a roast slowly turning atop it on a spit, sending heavenly smells into the air.
She's a virgin.
“Oh . . . blast!”
“Wh-Wh-What did I do?” Arran burst out.
Aidan scrunched his eyes shut, took another deep breath that did little except make the tight knot of muscle in his belly pound, and then opened them to regard his brother. The lad appeared to have jumped back at his outburst.
“Why are you na' in the bushes?” he asked.
“I've no n-n-need.”
“Nae?”
“W-W-We but st-st-s-stopped an hour a-a-a-ago.”
“Oh.”
“D-D-Do you ail?” Arran asked, lifting a hand to protect his eyes as he looked up. Aidan hadn't noticed it before but his brother had the same one-eyebrow lift. It was cocked up to meet his hair as he asked it.
Aidan tipped his head in consideration. It might be better to look weak due to illness. “Perhaps,” he replied.
“Oh. I-I-I'll ask Juliana—”
“Nae!” Aidan interrupted his brother with a shout that made the younger man stumble backward and nearly fall. He felt like a bear. Nothing was going as it should. Nothing. “Can you just go back? Get on your horse. And cease delaying us?”
Arran nodded and then spun. And took off at his usual run.
Aidan was twisted slightly without thinking. He watched Arran, and that just put the center of his torment right in eyesight. Juliana sat one horse behind him. She had a quizzical expression on her lovely face, and calmness everywhere else. And that just wasn't right. Aidan swiveled back around, lifted one half of his lip and cheek in a grimace at the hard contact of his saddle, and started up again.
Things had better improve, and quickly.
 
 
It was a forlorn order. He smelled camp before he saw it, proving not only their expertise at erecting tents that protected and hid a fire even in another day of rain, but that Alpin and Tavish were successful at the hunt as well. The aroma of roast venison pricked his nose and would probably have started his mouth to salivating and the pit of his belly to growling, if there was any sensation that broke through the other.
The need. Want. Absolute lust.
Aidan avoided everything to do with her once they filed through the trees. He lifted his arm and stopped the line without looking at her. He sat for a few moments, practicing at ignoring her and trying for control over his frame. And then he planted both hands, palms down, against the horse's neck. That gave him a fulcrum to push up and out of the saddle using upper body strength. Then, he rotated using his shoulders, moving his body the exact amount he needed so he could drop in an arched fashion onto the ground beside the horse. It was the best he could manage and he didn't care what anyone thought. A glance in her direction showed Arran jogging toward him, but he'd stopped at her side, his mouth dropped with the awe. The object of all this torment, Juliana, just sat atop her horse and looked at him. Without one expression on her beauteous face.
“See to her!”
Aidan pointed in their direction before he turned away. They were near MacKetryck land. They'd camped near Loch Erind. He knew it was fed by melted snows and emptied into Buchyn Loch before draining into the North Sea. It was bottomless, white-capped with the weather, and heavy with fish. And cold. He was at a full run before he got to the shoreline and dove.
 
 
“Beast.”
Juliana said it beneath her breath after Arran had given her a hand to assist her down. Once he had some substance to him, he could lift both hands up and accept a lady's hands against his. That way he could bear a woman's weight as she stiffened her arms and he assisted the drop from a horse. Done correctly, that was the only portion of a lady's form he'd need to touch. Or if they had proper acquaintance and the lady allowed it, he could put both hands about her waist and lift her down safely to the ground beside him. It certainly wasn't done by reaching one hand for hers, and using it to pull her down against him where he stumbled, making them both nearly fall.
The lad needed some training but he had a great sense of where to start. At least he knew to try and treat her differently and a bit gently. She could work with it.
“F-F-Forgive m-m-me,” he stammered, releasing her almost instantly.
“I meant your brother. He's the beast.”
Arran's face cleared. “Oh. Him.”
“Aye. Him.”
“Doona' b-b-blame him. He's ill.”
“Ill?”
Arran nodded.
“How ill?”
“Uh . . .”
Juliana watched him look about furtively, as if telling was a great crime. Then she realized it might be construed as such. He was their laird, and Aidan told her that his word was law. In an English household, that meant charges and trials and punishments. She didn't need to ask about a Highlander. She'd already been the victim of it. Juliana forced the thoughts away. She already had her justice. MacDonal no longer held her castle. He was dead. Perhaps his body was hanging from the rampart right now . . . without a trial.
Men.
It was all the fault of men and their lusts for power and property and victory, and then more of the same.
“Will I get the little tent again?” she asked, releasing Arran from the worry of answering.
He nodded. He did it often. Probably to avoid the chore of speaking through the stutter, she decided. She hoped he'd outgrow it. Then again, with his resemblance to Aidan MacKetryck, the lad didn't need to do much talking anyway. His brother didn't.
“Oh. Well and good,” she continued, walking in the direction of the smaller tent. Arran was trailing behind her as if seeing to her meant allowing her to do whatever she liked. Juliana stopped. Aidan had put her in Arran's care? The least decisive and youngest member of his band? And she'd balked?
“Once there . . . you'll fetch my sup?”
He nodded.
“I'm hungry. Could you bring me . . . a large sup?”
For packing.
“If-If Alpin has na' eaten it all,” he teased.
Juliana smiled slightly to herself as he lost more of his stuttering. That happened the last time he was with her. She'd wondered if it could be repeated until he lost it entirely. She almost wished she'd be around to try and test it.
“And perhaps water?”
“I'll bring ale,” he replied without a hint of stutter.
“Not to drink. I need a pail. To wash with. I've not bathed in . . .”
Juliana stopped. Had it been four days since the attack? She wrinkled her forehead. Five? Being near that Aidan MacKetryck was affecting her wits. Her heart stumbled slightly before a heavy, painful beat restarted it. She tamped it down, ignoring it. However long, she'd guess at twice that time to get back. She wouldn't be riding through the night, she wasn't sure of the direction, and she'd have to be careful. She'd be an easy target.
She looked about as if unsure which way to go, although they were at the tents and their cook fire. The small tent was behind and to the right of the large one, with the overhang and fire in front of it. A small deer carcass was impaled on a pole, and she recognized Gregor as the man watching over it by turning it every so often. He'd stood at their approach, and then he pulled the bonnet from his head and nodded. Juliana's heart pinged slightly within her breast, but she had it covered over before returning the nod.
BOOK: Knight Everlasting
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