Authors: Mary Wine
* * *
Someone was next to her.
Ailis opened her eyes and stiffened, sitting up. The room was dark, the hearth embers
putting out only a tiny red glow.
“Naught is amiss, lass.”
She jumped and heard Bhaic chuckle. He reached up and stroked her arm before rising
from the bedding and closing his arms around her.
“Go back to sleep.”
He didn’t wait for her to comply, gathering her close, pulling the bedding around
them as he settled her against his body.
She didn’t know what to think of it, but his scent soothed something inside her. Awakening
a memory of him being beside her, holding her. Honestly, she didn’t need to think.
* * *
“Still in bed, little brother?”
Ailis squealed, jumping as Marcus’s voice boomed in the early morning. Bhaic snarled
and flipped over, coming out of the bedding to shield her. It wasn’t necessary. Marcus
was in the outer doorway, his back to them.
“Ye need a wife!” Bhaic shouted before the door shut.
“A demanding one,” Ailis added. “To slow him down a bit.”
Bhaic looked toward her, but his gaze settled on her bare shoulders.
“Ye make a fetching sight.”
He made a soft sound before he grabbed a shirt and put it on. The morning sun was
streaming through the windows, shaming them both with how long they’d slept. Ailis
crawled out of the bedding, her body stiff.
She scooped up her chemise, but froze when she caught sight of herself in the long
mirror. Across her shoulder was a dark, jagged line, impossible to miss. She started
to turn, slowly, until she was looking over her shoulder at her reflection. The path
the bullet had traveled across her back was marked with a half-healed line an inch
wide in places. Her skin was sewn together, the edges uneven and red.
“It will look better in time, lass.” Bhaic moved toward her and looked at the healing
wound. “There was so much dirt in it from the river. Little wonder ye were taken with
fever for so long.”
She was fortunate.
She tried to focus on that as she put on her chemise, but all she could see was the
Bhaic cupped her chin, raising her face so their eyes met. “Ye’re strong. That’s what
that scar says about ye. The healer had ye given last rites.”
“I didn’t realize…”
He slid an arm around her when she tried to step away. “Did nae realize how close
ye came to leaving this world?” He locked her against him, keeping their gazes fused.
“I recall every last moment of it. I’ve never spent so much time on me knees.”
“Ye prayed…for me?”
There was a flash of something in his eyes that touched off a storm of emotions inside
“I treasure ye, Ailis.”
No one, outside her family, had ever treasured her. He pressed a hard kiss against
“And I have no idea what it means, only that fate seems to think ye and I belong together.
So perhaps we should try doing as we’re being directed.” He released her and walked
back to where he’d been pleating his kilt.
“Ye mean kicked in the tail until we fall into line.”
He looked up from his pleating and shot her a wicked grin. “Into bed, ye mean.”
Considering she’d spent the night in his bed, she shouldn’t have blushed. But she
did, turning away to fumble with her skirt. He buckled his kilt and captured her while
she was busy trying to avoid his gaze.
“I’m beginning to see why the French lock new bridal couples into a chamber for a
month with all the honey mead they can drink.” He kissed her soundly until she melted
and kissed him back.
“Ye need to learn to be easy in me company,” he said.
He released her, grabbed his second belt, and secured it around his waist before retrieving
his bonnet from the table. With a wink, he headed for the door and disappeared, giving
her a glimpse of Skene waiting outside.
Easy in his company?
She was fairly sure her hair would be gray before such a thing came to pass.
Summer came, and the crops ripened.
Ailis spent more time in the kitchens, overseeing the enormous task of preparing the
castle for the lean months of winter. Wagonloads of fleece came in from where Bhaic
and his men were supervising the shearing of the sheep. Days passed in which all she
did was catalog load after load of wool.
They built fires near the banks of the river, setting huge caldrons on them to warm.
They all tucked their skirts up to kept their hems from the flames as fleece was dunked
into the hot water and washed.
Her hands were rough from the lye soap, but the bundles of drying fleece pleased her.
It was the sight of prosperity, of life. The fleece would be sold south, bringing
income. It was so valuable, Bhaic took over half the retainers with him every morning
to safeguard the incoming wagons. Some nights, he didn’t return.
Her brothers would be doing the same.
But for the first time, Bhaic and Duncan wouldn’t be raiding each other.
Aye, “hopeful” was the word for her mood.
Even Angus wasn’t shooting her suspicious looks anymore. The burly captain had settled
into a silent contemplation she might have called a glare if she wasn’t feeling hopeful.
At least until the night she caught a whiff of her supper and ran from the hall. Two
serving maids had to jump out of her path, or she would have run them over. Finley
stood up so fast, he turned over the bench he’d been sitting on. Men looked up, and
Lyel took off after her, but all Ailis could manage to focus on was not throwing up
in the hall.
She ended up in her chamber, draped over the chamber pot that was thankfully empty.
“Here now…” Helen said as she and Senga arrived.
“Give me a moment…”
They both ignored her, coming around the privacy screen. Helen wiped her face with
a cool cloth as Senga helped her off her knees.
“Really, I do nae need help,” Ailis protested. What she needed was a corner to hide
Lyel had the outer door of the chamber pushed open, looking in, trying to judge her
condition for himself. There was shuffling on the steps as Finley brought up the healer.
“I’m fine,” Ailis said.
She was completely ignored.
“Ye’ll sit, mistress.” Marcus took several long steps into the chamber, making it
clear he wasn’t leaving until the healer had seen her. “And we’ll hear what the healer
has to say.”
“What are ye doing in me chamber?”
Marcus hooked her upper arms and lifted her right off her feet. She gained a brief
moment of shocking firsthand understanding of just how strong he was before he deposited
her on a stool.
“Yer husband is nae here. So yer health is me concern.”
The healer was a thin man who wore a leather skullcap. It came down over his forehead,
hiding all of his forehead and almost all of his eyebrows. He squinted at her as he
held a candle up to her face. He examined her hands and fingernails, turning them
over several times with his lips set into a hard line.
Ailis gasped. “I never thought there was.”
But Marcus clearly had. He looked toward the open door and nodded at Lyel. “Tell Duana
she can finish serving supper.”
“Really, it was just a queasy belly.”
The healer grunted before standing. “I suggest ye send a midwife up.”
Marcus had been watching with an unreadable expression, his arms crossed over his
chest. The first genuine smile she’d ever seen appeared on his lips, lasting only
a moment before he turned and disappeared through the doorway.
* * *
Bhaic and his men escorted the last of the fleece. The village was full of cheering
when they were sighted on the road, and someone even rang the church bell.
In response, the men on the walls of the castle began to ring the bells. Ailis left
the drying bundles of wool and started down the road toward the castle with the rest
of the women.
But she stopped, watching the stallion charging up the road toward them. Bhaic was
leaning low over the beast’s neck, letting him have his freedom. The stallion made
good use of his strong legs, sprinting up the road until Bhaic pulled him up, slowing
him with a firm hand. The stallion snorted, clearly unhappy. Bhaic leaned over and
hooked her about the waist. He pulled her off the ground and onto the stallion.
She ended up gripping him for dear life as the women around her laughed.
All Ailis cared about was the way his scent filled her senses.
She shivered, feeling as though the scent touched her. How long had they been separated?
Was it really long enough to feel so needy?
She dug her fingers into his clothing, uncaring if she tore it off him. He growled
next to her ear, the sound raising gooseflesh along her body.
They reached the stable, and he rode right inside it, slipping off the back of the
stallion before he reached up to help her down.
She slid happily into his embrace.
“I can nae wait…” he said, his tone as strained as she felt. He pressed her back,
kissing her as he plunged one hand into the neckline of her dress.
“Christ, how I’ve missed ye.”
She bumped into the wall but didn’t care. She was too busy trying to find his skin.
She tore at the buttons on his doublet, and then the ones on his shirt, purring when
she bared his skin at last.
“Want me, do ye?” he asked.
He’d grasped a handful of her hair and pulled it just tight enough to send a prickle
of pain across her scalp. His eyes were full of need, and she would have sworn his
nostrils were flared.
It was blunt.
She raked her fingernails down the bare skin of his chest. “I want ye to satisfy me.”
He shuddered, his body flinching before he kissed her.
Hard, savagely, and completely satisfying. She rose on her toes, pressing her mouth
to his, opening her lips and boldly thrusting her tongue.
He growled and bit her softly on the side of the neck.
She arched against him as desire slammed into her like a lightning strike.
He grasped her skirts, dragging them up until he could cup her bottom. It was pawing,
but it twisted her insides with an intensity that forced a gasp past her lips.
He was lifting her up, using his body to push her against the wall. She clasped his
shoulders and locked her legs around his waist.
“That’s it, lass…cling to me. I swear to Christ, I’ll die if ye do nae.”
He pressed into her, plunging his length deep. She gasped, arching toward him as she
used her legs to pull him to her. The wall was rough against her back, but it gave
her a solid place to take the hard ride Bhaic gave her.
She didn’t care. Honestly didn’t have any room in her head for thoughts.
There was only the need and the delight churning inside her. Like two sides of a coin,
it was impossible to separate them. She craved him, and he satisfied her with every
hard thrust. But the moment he withdrew, she hungered again. Bhaic felt it too, riding
her with more strength, greater speed, until it all burst. She clung to him because
the alternative was to fly apart.
He ground himself into her, his seed hot against her insides.
“Christ…” He nuzzled against her neck, kissing the spot he’d bitten. “I should nae
have done that.”
“I am no’ complaining.” She sounded husky, and he chuckled softly.
“Well now…ye were doing a fair bit of yelling…”
She slapped his shoulder and unlocked her legs. “There’s the thanks I get for giving
ye a warm welcome home.”
Her skirts settled, but she was still leaning against the wall. Bhaic stroked her
cheek, his eyes flickering with a warmth that touched her deeply.
“It was a fine welcome, lass. One I’ll no’ forget.”
For a moment, she was struck deeply by how tender his gaze was. The loneliness that
seemed her constant companion evaporated as he stroked her cheek with the back of
his hand. It was as though he was the other part of her. She hadn’t realized she’d
longed for him until he’d returned.
Men were starting to make their way into the stables now, horses snorting, happy to
be home. Bhaic’s stallion had found an empty stall and was busy eating.
Bhaic backed away from her, turning to begin relieving his stallion of its saddle.
She watched for a moment, soaking him up.
* * *
Shamus was in good cheer at supper, slapping the table and laughing as he retold stories.
The hall was full of more life than it had been. Ailis sat at the high table longer
than she had in weeks, nibbling on a piece of bread. The staff knew not to fill her
plate, but Bhaic stared at the empty place with a question on his face.
She shook her head, not wanting to pull him away from his father. But Shamus caught
“Have eyes only for yer wife?” he demanded. “Well now, I recall being much the same
way. Off to bed with ye. I’m looking forward to a grandson.”
Bhaic pushed his chair back, and hers as well. He clasped her hand and pulled her
above stairs at a speed that had her heart pounding.
For all that she’d slept in his chamber while he was gone, she felt shy with him there
now. There was still so much about him she didn’t know.
Like what he’ll do now that his seed has taken root…
It was a fear, and she couldn’t deny it. More than one man left his wife to the duty
of growing his babe while he enjoyed dallying with others. It was possible Bhaic might
think his duty complete, at least as far as sharing her bed.
The slipper tub was still in the chamber, the water emptied.
“I should have bathed before having ye welcome me home,” he said softly, “but I could
nae help meself.”
He came up behind her, closing his arms around her. “But now…”
He nuzzled her neck, pressing a soft kiss against it and then kissing his way to her
“Yes?” she asked. “Now…what?”
A soft chuckle was his response before he stepped away from her just enough to get
at the laces on the back of her dress.
“Now, I am going to enjoy spending the night in bed, with me wife.” His voice had
a wicked promise in it.
Her bodice sagged, and he eased it over her shoulders and down her arms.
“I’m sure the Earl of Morton would be pleased.”
He grunted behind her and found the lace that kept her skirts tied about her waist.
“Fate has a strange sense of humor,” he said. “I’d have cheerfully run the man through
a season ago.”
Her skirts puddled around her ankles, and she turned around as she stepped free of
“Go to me bed.” His tone was edged with demand, but a needy form of it she never would
have thought she’d ever crave. “I want to see ye waiting there for me.”
She tugged off her chemise, standing for a moment in nothing but her skin. His gaze
swept her from head to toe, his features sharpening as he began to disrobe. Ailis
took a step back when his kilt hit the floor.
And another step when he unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt.
Two more when he reached behind his neck to yank the garment over his head, leaving
him standing in only his boots.
He still didn’t look vulnerable.
No, not Bhaic MacPherson.
He propped his foot on a chair and started to pull the lace that held the antler-horn
buttons closed on it. Her attention slipped to those buttons, a sudden memory surfacing
of Lye Rob’s silver ones. Bhaic wasn’t one to cater to fashion or vanity.
It was that strength of character that drew her to him. He dropped the boot and worked
the other one loose.
“Hmmm,” he said softly as he came toward her, “what will it take to make ye properly
She chuckled. “Ye do nae truly want such.”
He was looming over her now, his greater height making her breath catch. “Telling
me what I want now as well?”
She reached out and stroked his thighs. His lips thinned, the reaction fascinating
“Enjoying yer power over me?”
She lifted one shoulder. “It seems only…fair.”
He stroked the sides of her bare body. She’d never realized her skin might be so sensitive.
Or a simple touch so erotic.
She shivered, allowing her eyes to close as she savored the moment.
There was another thing she’d never realized before. How a single moment might be
so soul moving.
“Surprising…is nae it…”
Ailis opened her eyes to find Bhaic watching her face. He drew his fingers down her
sides again, slowly, so very slowly as he gazed at her.
“Is it no’ always this way?” she asked, her tone a breathless whisper. There had to
be something wicked about discussing such a topic.
He drew his hands around and stroked her belly until he closed his fingers over her
breasts, cupping them and holding them. She shuddered with delight, her heart pounding.
“Believe me, I have never been so captivated by a woman reaching for me as I am by
ye,” he said softly.
She rose up on her toes, seeking out his lips, needing his kiss. There was a haven
in the intimacy, one she craved above all others. It was some mixture of physical
pleasure and spiritual intimacy A place where she was no longer alone.
He lifted her up; she wasn’t even sure just how. Only that they were soon among the
bedding, his body hard and heavy against hers. She twisted against him, spreading
her thighs in welcome as he kissed her long and deeply, taking his time with the cover
of darkness to cloak them, just the embers from the hearth glowing.
The need built in her, rising to a slow boil this time. Her passage was sore, but
he eased his length into her, withdrawing and thrusting in slow motions until her
body relaxed. By then she was wet and welcoming, her bud pulsing with hunger. Bhaic
didn’t leave her unsatisfied. He moved against her, his jaw drawing tight as he held
back his own release. She arched up to take him. He held her hands down to keep her
in place as he pushed her toward release with a final few strokes.