Son of the Morning (Chapter 25)

GRACE LET HER EYES CLOSE, UNABLE TO DEAL WITH ANYTHING right then, unable even to worry. She felt disconnected, drifting apart from reality. Her world had just been shattered, again, and she couldn't quite accept what had just happened between them.

She had never before made lovewithout love; she had slept only with Ford, known only his touch, and known that when he took her it was with love. With Niall, what was there? Lust, definitely. Lust beyond measure, beyond comprehension. Desperation on her part, rage on his. And yet he had forced from her a response deeper and far more powerful than any of the joyous loving she had felt with Ford. She hated him for that, hated him for taking s0mething that should have been Ford's, but which she hadn't known was within her for the giving.

Lights danced beyond her closed eyelids, and the icy cold of the hidden passageway changed to the greater warmth of the castle.

"Alice!" Niall called, his deep voice like thunder. "Bring hot water."

"Is the lass hurt, then?" askedAlice , her tone startled. "Nay," he curtly replied, then he was going up more steps. After a moment she heard a door creak on its leather hinges as it was opened, then closed again with a thud. A few more steps and he stopped and dragged her off his shoulder, holding her briefly while she found her balance. Startled, she opened her eyes, swaying a bit as he moved away from her.

They were in his chamber. She looked around as if she had never seen it before, for she couldn't grasp why he had brought her there. She looked at the sturdy table, and the carved, massive chair that sat to one side of the fireplace, in which a fire was springing to life as Niall bent and struck a spark to it. On the other side was a bench, large and heavy. A big wooden trunk occupied the space at the end of the bed… the bed. It was at least four feet high, and looked to be seven feet square. A huge bed, more than large enough for the man who slept there. It was piled high with furs and rugs, and looked as if she would sink out of sight in it.

The fire grew, chasing the shadows to the farthest reaches of the chamber, sending its waves of heat out to flow over her chilled body. She looked out the narrow window and saw that night had fallen while she had been below. The castle was quiet, the intruders repelled or killed, repairs and recovery going on in the hush that follows a battle.

Niall unbuckled his sword belt and dropped it across the bench; the sword he kept in his hand, however, as he took a piece of straw and stuck it in the fire, then used the flaming twig to light the tall tallow candles on the table. Grace stood where he had deposited her, afraid to move lest he wield that wicked, bloodstained blade against her.

In the flickering mellow light of fire and candle she could see now the signs of battle on him, see the dark patches of dried blood. His shirt was splattered with it, there were dark splotches on his kilt, and smeared on the leather of his boots. The blood of many others adorned him, this warrior, and she wondered if hers would soon join the stains. His black hair swung about his shoulders, freed from even the small braids that were usually at his temples.

Without glancing at her he sat down on the bench and took an oiled rag to the stained surface of his sword, meticulously cleaning it, inspecting the edges for ragged chips. He would sharpen it himself, as she had seen him do before in her dreams, not trusting the weapon to anyone else's care.

The sword restored to its previous gleam, he laid it on the table. Then he stood and began to strip.

The bloody shirt had been pulled off over his head and dropped on the floor when Alice softly knocked on the door, and at his growled permission she entered with a pitcher of steaming water, and cloths for washing. As she set the water and cloths on the table beside the sword, Alice cast a curious glance at Grace, who stood white-faced and silent.

Alice picked up Niall's bloody shirt. "Will ye be wantin' food, and wine?" she asked.

"Nay," he said, then changed his mind. "Aye, bring bread and cheese, and wine."

Alice left with another furtive glance at Grace. It hadn't happened to Lord Niall before, but mayhap the strange lass was less willing than others, and he thought to soften her resistance with wine. He was angry.Alice knew his mood, knew he was in a rare rage, and it was centered on the young woman whose eyes made one want to weep.

Niall moved to the table and poured some water into the washbowl. Wetting one of the cloths, he scrubbed it over his face and shoulders. By the time his chest and arms were clean,Alice was back with the wine and food, curiosity having given her feet wings. He denied her the opportunity for observation, however, by going to the door and opening it only enough to take the platter, then closing the door and dropping the heavy bar in its brackets.

Now he stripped completely, removing his boots and stockings, dropping his plaid. Splendidly naked, he stood in front of the fire and washed himself clean of the grime and blood and sweat of battle. He gave Grace no more attention than if she were part of the furniture, unconcernedly washing his armpits, his muscled legs, his genitals.

She had been blessedly numb, but this last act brought reality intruding again, making her sharply aware of his body and hers, of the aches from fight and flight, of the throbbing tenderness deep inside and the stickiness between her thighs as his semen dried on her skin.

Firelight played across his powerful muscles. She stared as if mesmerized at the gleam of his shoulders, the flat ridges of his stomach, the round hard buttocks, the long, brawny muscles of thigh and calf. Black hair grew in a thick patch on his chest, around his genitals, and to a much lesser extent decorated his forearms and lower legs. Sheer perfection. She had never before seen a man so acutely male, his body as God had surely meant His creation to be formed. The beauty of bone and muscle and sinew, honed by a lifetime of work and battle, made her weak.

Warmth began to pool deep in her belly as she stared at him, and in despair she recognized the return of sexual desire. This unreasoning need felt like the deepest betrayal of all Ford had meant to her but she couldn't stop it and, it seemed, couldn't sate it. How could she possibly want him again, so soon after that soul-searing upheaval of body and mind? But she did. She wanted to know it again, take him within her, milk him with the internal caress of her body. Even when he came to her covered in the blood of battle, she wanted him. Should he take up that sword now, and take her life from her, she would die with her flesh aching for him.

Her gaze dropped to his groin. His testicles swung heavy against his thighs, evidence of his recent climax, but her heart jolted in her chest when she saw his penis jutting out, thick and erect. She remembered the tales she had read, the whispers she had heard since coming there, of how he could ride a woman all night long when a hungry mood was upon him, of how he sometimes required two women before his appetite was slaked. Suddenly she knew that his moods weren't hungry, they were savage. She could see it in him now, feel it pulsating beneath his skin. He gave no outward sign of it, except for his erection, but she felt .the rage that still burned in him and manifested itself in the stiffness of his cock – a rage that somehow didn't feel as if it were directed at her.

He poured the bowl of red-stained water into the chamber pot, then refilled the bowl with fresh water. He looked at her for the first time since carrying her into the chamber, and the expression in his black eyes made her shudder with both dread and anticipation.

"Remove your clothing," he said quietly, but she heard the underlying iron. If she didn't undress voluntarily, he would perform the service for her.

She obeyed in silence, removing shoes and stockings, her bare toes curling with nervousness. Next came the overgown, then the kirtle. As that garment dropped to the floor, she stood in complete nakedness. Twentieth-century clothing revealed more, she thought irrelevantly, but it provided much more protection. A man had to deal with hooks and snaps and zippers, had to peel off layers of formfitting clothing before he could get to a woman's private parts. Medieval clothing, all-covering as it was, offered a woman little protection. All a man had to do was lift a woman's skirts and he could take her. The Scots had simplified matters even further, for a man had only to do the same to his own garments.

He looked at her, leisurely inspecting her breasts, the narrow curve of her waist, the dark curls at her pubis, her trembling legs. Then he held out his hand and said, "Come," and those trembling legs moved, carrying her to him.

He dipped a clean cloth in the warm water and began cleaning her as gently as a mother would a babe. He bathed the grime from her face, the smears of blood from her skinned palms and knees. His callused hands were careful with her, easing over the dark bruises forming under her pale skin. He knelt down and parted her legs, steadying her with a warm palm on her bottom as he gently wiped the cloth between her thighs, washing away his dried semen. Her thighs quivered, and she gasped for breath. The cloth felt raspy on her oversensitive flesh as he moved it along and between her folds. He even covered his fingers with the cloth and washed inside her, gently probing. He was very slow, very thorough with his washing, and the warmth in her belly grew into a fire. Her hips arched, seeking. Without a word he tossed the cloth aside, leaned forward, and set his mouth on her.

He knew exactly how to handle her, how to drive her insane. He sucked at her clitoris, drawing it forth, then licked it until she writhed and could barely stand up. All the while his long fingers probed, sliding into her, withdrawing, circling her tender opening. Then he kissed her, holding her hips with his iron hands and arching her forward while his tongue moved in and out of her, and helplessly she gave in to her exploding senses.

She went boneless, collapsing over him. He lifted her and sat down in the chair, and she lay limply across his lap, unable even to lift her head.

With his free hand he reached to pour the wine, holding the goblet to her lips, and she sipped. He drank after her, the expression in his black eyes shielded by his lashes. Grace relaxed against his chest, feeling warm and hollowed out, and oddly reassured. He might have taken her while still planning to kill her, but she doubted he would have pleasured her the way he just had if he intended to kill her afterward. It wasn't just his manner of pleasing her, but the fact that he'd done it at all; executioners generally weren't concerned with their victims' pleasure.

The heat of the fire licked over her bare body, chasing away the last of the chill. His thighs were hard and warm under her bottom, his shoulder a wonderful resting place for her head. He fed her bits of bread and cheese, feeding himself, too, and held the goblet to her mouth again. Again she drank, more deeply this time. When he raised the goblet to his mouth again he turned it so that he drank from where her lips had been, and the subtly erotic action squeezed at her heart.

"I have to tell you-" She stumbled into speech, not at all certain what she would say, but he pressed the back of his knuckles to her mouth.

"Nay. We'll not speak of it tonight. In the morn will be time enough." His voice was low and quiet, his Scots accent gone. He spoke now in the precise, measured tones of the Guardian. "For now – I like the taste of you, and I mean to have more of it." He leaned over and set the goblet on the floor, and then he kissed her as he had not since the night she had freed him from the Hay's dungeon, as he had not even during those other kisses they had shared. The kiss was wild and deep and she put both hands in his hair and held him, almost moaning with delight and arousal. He could licks and kiss, she thought dimly. What woman wouldn't give her gold to experience such sweet, wild mastery, such play of lips and tongue, such a blend of teasing and promising and authority? He kissed like an angel, or perhaps it was the devil, for surely an angel wouldn't know such carnal delights.

Swiftly he carried her to the bed and placed her on it, then joined her there, his broad shoulders blotting out the light as he came up over her. Panting, Grace opened her legs and took him between them, gripping his hips with her thighs even as she pushed hard on his shoulders. Willingly he rolled onto his back, and Grace sat astride him, gripping his penis in both hands and lowering herself onto it.

The penetration was just as shocking, just as full. She braced her hands on his belly and pressed her hips down, taking all of him. Her breath shuddered between her lips. God, oh God, she felt frenzied, unable to get enough of him. Her body had been starved for a man's hardness, the hunger shoved into her subconscious where it could surface only in her sleep, and now that hunger was released in an ungovernable flood. She rode him hard, and he squeezed her breasts, and she came again.

And still it wasn't enough. He hadn't climaxed, he was still iron-hard within her. The hunger built again even before she had the energy to deal with it. Lying on his chest, his hands moving comfortingly over her bottom, stroking her back, she felt her inner muscles tighten around him.

He laughed, the sound rough and male, his white teeth gleaming in the golden firelight. She sat up, the motion pushing him deep inside her once more. She rode him hard again and this time he came before she did, his powerful body arching between her thighs, his hands gripping her hips and grinding her down on him. Wet with his spurting seed, she climaxed again.

They dozed a bit, with her lying on top of him and one of his hands threaded through her hair. Grace woke to find the fire still warmly blazing, so she knew not much time had passed. He slept, his penis soft. She slithered down his body and took him in her mouth, feeling him wake, feeling him grow hard. And then she mounted him again.

The hours blurred together. He gave his body generously, letting her do as she would with him. He gritted his teeth and fought his own climax, not letting himself reach pleasure again so he would remain hard until she was sated. She didn't know if the frenzy would ever stop, if her body, so long denied, would ever tire of her almost intoxicated enjoyment of his body. She stroked every inch of him, her hands shaking with delight at the textures of his skin. She kissed his jaw, his ears, his wonderful mouth. At the last, when finally she was exhausted and emptied out and at peace, she tormented him by taking him deep in her mouth. Knowing how he fought to control himself, she swirled her tongue around his shaft and sucked at the swollen head, and with a strained, hoarse sound he bolted upright, lifting her away from him and tumbling her onto her back.

He mounted her, pushing her thighs wide. "You've put me to hard use tonight," he whispered, sliding into her. "Now 'tis my time."

He should have been beyond control, but she discovered that wasn't so. When he climaxed again, he should have been beyond arousal, but that wasn't true either. His use of her was as devastatingly thorough as hers had been of him, and the sensations blended together. His thrusts hammered deep in her belly, over and over, and she held him when he shuddered and convulsed. The fire burned down, the candle guttered, and in the darkness he did things to her she had never imagined she would let a man do, but instead she reveled in his raw sexuality.

And in the darkness, finally, quiet came. She lay against him, her head pillowed on his shoulder, her body heavy and limp. His hand covered her breast, his thumb absently stroking her velvety nipple. She inhaled his scent, the musky, unique smell of him, and she realized she could no longer recall how Ford had smelled.

Agony rushed out of the darkness, and she had no defenses left. It boiled out of her, deep and wrenching, sharp claws shredding her insides. A guttural cry ripped out of her throat. Niall's arms closed hard around her, and she came apart.

She didn't know how long she wept. Endlessly, unceasingly. The grief had been kept bottled up too long and now there was no holding it back. She cried in deep, wrenching sobs, her entire body shaking. She cried until her chest hurt and her eyes were swollen almost shut, until her throat was raw and the sounds she made sounded like an animal's.

He held her through it all, not letting her go even when she fought him, kicking and scratching. She raged silently against the two senseless deaths that had devastated her, against the terror and fury of the past year. She pounded Niall's chest with her fists until he caught them and held them, rolling over on top of her and using his weight to control her.

She began gagging, and he swiftly dragged her to the chamber pot and held her while she vomited. Then he gave her more wine and carried her back to bed, and held her until she could cry no more.

Dawn's faint gray light was creeping through the narrow window. ..You loved him," Niall said quietly, smoothing her tangled hair away from her hot, grief-ravaged face. .'You have not wept for him before, have you?"

"No." Her voice was a croak. The sound shocked her. "I couldn't."

The wine was warm in her belly, and her mind was fuzzy from both alcohol and fatigue. His hands were on her body, her breasts and thighs and loins, ensuring she acknowledged his claim on her even as he comforted her. She was so sore from the night's excesses that she flinched when he entered her again, but she didn't resist. He pressed deep, nudging her womb, and held himself deep and still until all the tension eased from her muscles and she lay limply beneath him, breathing deeply.

He didn't climax, didn't even thrust, just maintained the link. After a time he maneuvered them onto their sides, and put his hand on her bottom to keep her anchored to him.

Grace put her hand on his face, her fingers tracing the slope of his brow, the high curve of his cheekbone. I know who you are," she said numbly, all emotion exhausted except for theuneroded joy of touching him. "I know what you are, Guardian. I came from the year nineteen ninety-seven to find the Treasure, and use it to destroy the man who killed my husband and my brother."