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Devil of the Highlands


Chapter Five

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"We're home."

Evelinde opened her eyes and glanced up at her husband. She then sat up a little straighter in his lap and followed his gaze to the dark castle towering ahead in the darkness. Trepidation immediately slithered through her.

Truly, Donnachaidh was a grim and gloomy fortress cloaked in night as it was, she decided, as Cullen urged his mount up the hill toward the gates. Evelinde settled back against his chest and rubbed her hands over her face, trying to wake up properly. She'd nodded on and off through most of the three-day journey. Not because of Mildrede's tonic, but just because it was long and monotonous and seemingly without end. The first time she'd woken was the morning after they left d'Aumesbery. She'd been stirred from sleep to find most of the effects of the tonic gone. It had been a relief since it had been a burning need to relieve herself that had dragged her awake. Wouldn't that have been embarrassing had she still not had control of her muscles?

Cullen had only stopped long enough for her to take care of business, then had hurried her back to his horse. He'd set her in the saddle, mounted behind her, and they were off again. A few moments later, he'd retrieved an apple, some cheese, and bread from a bag hanging from his horse and offered it to her. It was then Evelinde had realized they would not be stopping except to take care of personal needs.

They'd ridden through the day, traveling at a speed that didn't allow for conversation unless she wished to risk biting off her own tongue. The only other stops they'd made had been to change horses once a day.

Evelinde would have liked to ask why they were in such a rush. She would have liked to ask where the rest of his men were, too. She hadn't realized it when they'd first left d'Aumesbery, but once she'd been able to lift her head and look around, it was to see that their party was made up of herself, Cullen, and a man named Fergus. The other four men were not with them. But Evelinde had feared did she open her mouth, the first question to pop out would be to ask how he could carry her away from d'Aumesbery without her maid, her mare, and her belongings. Not wishing to start the marriage on a note of strife, she'd kept her mouth shut, remaining as silent as her husband was.

Evelinde glanced curiously around as they entered the bailey of her new home. Due to the hour there was little activity and even less to be seen in the darkness covering everything. All she could make out were shapes and shadows.

Giving up on trying to examine her new home in this light, Evelinde settled against her husband with a little sigh and waited impatiently to be able to get off the horse. Truly, Evelinde had never wanted anything in her life as badly as she wished to get off his mount at that moment. She'd never left d'Aumesbery ere this and hadn't realized how uncomfortable, wearying, and just plain boring travel could be. She sincerely hoped she'd not have to travel again for the rest of her life.

Cullen drew his horse to a halt at the foot of the stairs leading up to the keep. He slipped off the back of his mount and reached up to lift her down before she could stir herself to follow. Evelinde clasped his hands anxiously once he set her on her feet, waiting for her legs to find their footing once more. As they had the few times they'd stopped on the journey, her legs were weak and sore and threatening to buckle under her. But as they had also done each time, they soon regained their strength and agreed to hold her weight.

Cullen usually gave her the time to recover so she might walk under her own steam, but this time he simply scooped her up and carried her up the stairs to the keep.

Glancing over his shoulder, Evelinde saw Fergus leading Cullen's mount away to the stables and supposed the stable master at Donnachaidh had already retired for the night.

The great hall was dark and silent when they entered, but certainly not empty. By the light of the fire in the hearth, Evelinde could see that every bit of space on the floor appeared to be taken up with sleeping bodies. Male and female, old and young, they filled the floor sleeping side by side, leaving just a path from the doors to the stairs and another from the doors to another smaller door she presumed was the kitchens.

When Cullen carried her to the stairs, Evelinde found herself clutching nervously at his shoulders as they ascended into darkness, leaving the weak light from the dying fire behind. Her husband apparently had no need of light, however. His steps were confident as he carried her along a landing that left her blinking owlishly at the darkness surrounding them.

"Open it."

Evelinde reached out blindly and felt a wooden panel she assumed to be a door. She found the lever, pushed the door gently open, and Cullen carried her inside. He set her down on a soft surface she presumed was a bed, then moved away. She wasn't sure where he'd gone until she heard the soft click of the door closing.

Evelinde followed the sound of his returning and moving around the room to the opposite side of the bed. There was a soft thump of something hitting the floor, the jangle of his removing his sword and belt, then a soft whoosh followed by a rustle she suspected was his plaid landing on the rushes. Then she felt the bed depress as he climbed in the opposite side.

"Sleep."

The soft order was followed by silence, but Evelinde simply sat where he'd placed her. She'd spent a good deal of time worrying about her arrival at her new home during the journey here. She'd worried about what her new people would think of her, about whether they'd accept her. She'd fretted that she'd arrive looking less than her best after three days and nights in the saddle. She felt that first impressions were important, and she'd also been concerned about what her husband would expect, fearing he might wish to consummate their marriage the night they arrived.

Apparently, all her worry had been for naught. Her new people had slept through her arrival, and her husband definitely had no interest in bedding his new bride. The man was already snoring next to her.

Evelinde shook her head with a little sigh and lay back fully clothed on the bed he'd set her on. Really, she should have realized he'd be interested in nothing but sleeping on arrival. While she had slept quite a bit the last three days despite the jolting ride, he and Fergus had not slept at all. The two men had traveled a bit more slowly through the night, but both had remained awake the two nights and three days of the journey. In truth, she was amazed her husband had maintained the energy to carry her up here to what must be his room.

She supposed now she just had a whole day more of fretting over the bedding to come. Meeting her people, however, would happen the moment she awoke, Evelinde thought and closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep to the sound of her husband's soft snores.

"What are ye doing, Mogg! Ye blethering-Ye'll drop the damned tub do ye no watch where yer going. Stop staring at the lass and pay attention!"

Evelinde opened her eyes at that exclamation, then sat up abruptly on the bed to stare with confusion at the crowd of women moving about in the space between the foot of the bed and the fireplace in the far wall. At first, she was completely befuddled as to where she was. This wasn't her room at d'Aumesbery was the only thing rattling through her poor, sleep-muddled brain, but then she shifted on the bed and gasped as pain radiated through her hips, and she recalled the events of the last few days.

She was at Donnachaidh, Evelinde recalled, and presumably in her husband's chamber. Hers now, too, Evelinde supposed, glancing curiously around. The room was twice the size of her chamber at d'Aumesbery. The bed she lay in was also twice as big as her own had been. Two plain wooden tables stood, one on each side of the bed. The one on the far side held an unlit candle, the one beside her held a mug of what looked to be mead.

Evelinde peered at it curiously, then turned her attention to the rest of the room. A large open space sat between the foot of the bed and the far wall. It was a nice spot for a couple of chairs and perhaps a small table, a place where the lord and lady, she and Cullen, might relax on a night. However, there was nothing there at the moment but a tub and several female servants rushing about pouring in pails of steaming water.

"She's awake," one of the women announced, flashing her a wide smile.

Evelinde found herself unable to resist smiling back, then glanced to the plump little woman, who glanced around and suddenly broke from the group to rush to her side.

"Oh, yer awake, lass," the woman greeted her with a smile as she grabbed up the mug of what Evelinde had thought might be mead and turned to offer it to her. "I've brought ye some honey mead, and we're preparing a bath fer ye. Cullen said ye'd be wanting one."

Evelinde stared at the woman blankly for a moment, slow to decipher her thick Scottish burr and understand what she said. While her husband had a definite accent as well, his words were so few she had no problem understanding him. However this woman had rattled on so quickly, it took her mind a moment to comprehend the meaning behind what she said. Finally, thinking she'd grasped their meaning, Evelinde reached for the offered drink, murmuring, "Thank you…?"

"Elizabeth Duncan, but you can call me Biddy, lass. Everyone does," the woman answered the silent question. Clasping her hands before her skirt, she beamed at her expectantly. "Mairghread makes the finest honey mead in Scotland. I'm sure ye'll agree."

Evelinde raised the mug to her lips and sipped as she deciphered the words. Once she thought she knew what the woman had said, she let her gaze skate to the servants milling about at the foot of the bed. It appeared the task of filling the tub was finished, the women were staring at her with unabashed curiosity while edging closer to the bed like a litter of shy puppies.

Evelinde smiled at them all a trifle shyly herself as she lowered the mug, then pronounced, "I believe you may be right, Biddy. 'Tis indeed fine honey mead."

Biddy beamed at her, then glanced to the people at the foot of the bed as one of them bumped against an empty pail, sending it toppling on the rushes.

"Well? What are ye waiting fer? If yer done, be off with ye. Ye've all things to do," Biddy said, though her tone of voice was not as angry as her words would have suggested. She sounded more exasperated than annoyed with the group. She watched them out the door before turning back to Evelinde, to say, "They're all loves, lass, but ye need to be firm else they'll get nothing done."

Evelinde merely nodded, still feeling disoriented.

"I shall leave ye to yer bath then, I-Oh!" Biddy had moved toward the door as she spoke, but paused when she glanced back, a small frown curving her lips. "I've sent them all off, and ye need help undressing." She hesitated, glancing toward the door and back, then clucked her tongue and returned to her side. "I guess I shall have to help ye."

"Oh, no, that's all right-" Evelinde began, but then paused as she shifted her legs off the bed and the small movement made pain shoot through her from hip to knee. Sighing, she managed a smile and nodded. "Aye, I would appreciate help if you do not mind."

"Not at all," the woman assured her, concern now in her eyes. " 'Tis a long ride, and Cullen said he rode straight through. No doubt yer feeling it now. Do ye need help standing up?"

"No, I think I can…" Evelinde let the words trail away as she got to her feet. She sucked in a breath at the pain that caused, but her legs held her up without trembling for the first time in what seemed like days. Assuring herself that was a good sign and hopeful she would mend quickly now she was no longer sitting in one position on a horse's back for hours on end, Evelinde let out a slow breath and offered a grateful smile as Biddy set to work at helping her undress.

"Dear God in heaven, lass," Biddy breathed once the gown and chemise were off. Walking around her slowly, she examined the bruises. They were an unattractive mixture of purple, blue, and black. Evelinde hoped that meant they were starting to fade, but they still looked ugly.

"What did ye do to gain these?" the maid asked, shaking her head.

"Cullen did not do it," Evelinde said at once, used to everyone assuming he had. "I fell in the river."

"O' course he didna do it," Biddy said with a laugh that suggested the very idea was ridiculous, then she sobered, and said solemnly, "Pay no mind to those tales about the lad. He's no Devil, but a good man like his da before him. He's got a good heart. He'd no hit a woman."

Evelinde relaxed with a little sigh. Despite her lack of fear of the man who was now her husband, and her own instincts prior to this telling her he was a good man, it was nice to have someone else verify it.

"I've a special salve. I'll fetch it after yer bath and rub it into yer sore spots and ye'll be right as rain in no time," Biddy assured her as she urged her into the tub.

This, too, was bigger than the tub at d'Aumesbery, Evelinde noted as she relaxed in the water.

"Where is my husband?" Evelinde asked, as Biddy moved back to collect her gown and chemise from the floor.

"Out with the men, checking on things," Biddy answered. "He's a hard worker, is our Cullen. A good man and a good leader. The clan is lucky to have him." Her mouth firmed, and she added, " 'Tis just a shame they've no the sense to ken it."

Evelinde raised her eyebrows curiously at the word. "Are his people not happy with him?"

"Oh." She waved one hand with exasperation, then continued her folding as she said," 'Tis just that half of them believe those nonsense rumors about his father, uncle, and wife, and think he should step down. They forget that we've enjoyed peace and prosperity since he became the laird."

Evelinde was silent for a moment, then admitted, "I have heard the rumors."

"Aye. All of Scotland and most of England have," Biddy said dryly, and shook her head once more as she crossed the room to the tub. " 'Tis all nonsense. Cullen was not even here when his father, the old laird, died. He'd ridden out to visit our neighbors the Comyns when it happened. He rode out that morning, his father died that afternoon at the foot of the cliffs, and someone started the rumor the lad was seen there. By the time he arrived home, the rumor was firmly entrenched, and it mattered little that he could produce witnesses that he was not here. The rumor was started, and nothing could stop it. Tip yer head back, lass, and I'll wet yer hair to wash it."

Evelinde tipped her head back and closed her eyes, but asked, "So his father's death was an accident?"

Biddy snorted as she poured water over her head. "Of course it was, though ye couldna convince half the people here of it. I think even Cullen thinks it was not."

Evelinde fell silent, considering the matter as Biddy began to work a lovely scented soap into her hair, then asked, "Who was this witness that claimed Cullen was there?"

"I told ye, Cullen wasna there," Biddy said with a scowl.

"Aye, obviously this witness was mistaken, but who was it?"

Biddy paused and frowned briefly before picking up a pail of water and raising it to rinse her hair as she admitted, "In truth, I doona ken. It was just told to me that 'someone' saw him there."

Evelinde kept her eyes closed as a second pail of water was poured over her head, then asked, "And the uncle? "

Biddy shook her head. "An accident. He was out hunting with the men and took an arrow in the chest."

"That does not sound like an accident," Evelinde said dryly.

" 'Tis no the first time it's happened and willna be the last," she assured her.

Evelinde nodded, then asked quietly, "And his wife?"

Biddy was silent for a long time before sighing, and saying, "I fear she may not have been an accident… and I also fear she may have brought her death down on herself."

Evelinde's eyes blinked open with surprise at the words. "How?"

Biddy was silent for another few moments as she continued to rinse her hair, then said, "It troubled Maggie that Cullen's name was tainted by his father's death. She loved him."

Evelinde felt herself tense and wanted to ask if he'd loved her back, but instead simply queried, "Did he talk more to her? He seems to keep his thoughts to himself with me, and I worry he does not-"

"Cullen isn't much for talking," Biddy interrupted reassuringly. "He tends to keep his own counsel. He used to be more talkative when his father was alive, and when he and Tralin were boys, you couldn't shut either of them up, but since the trouble…" She shrugged.

Evelinde sighed at this news and found herself wishing she could resolve the mystery around all these past deaths. Perhaps then Cullen would open up and talk a bit more.

"Maggie found his silence a bit hard going as well and feared he didn't care for her," Biddy said sympathetically.

"Did he?" Evelinde asked, unable to stop herself this time. "Did Cullen love Maggie?"

"I think he grew to have affection for her," Biddy said carefully, then sighed. "There are different kinds of love, lass. For the most part, our Cullen treated Maggie with the easy affection of an older brother. In truth, I think she set out to find his father's killer in the hopes of gaining his love. And I fear that may be what got her killed."

"I am not sure I understand," Evelinde said slowly.

"The silly lass got herself broken on the cliffs. No one kens how. She may have just fallen, or…" She paused and then admitted, "I've often wondered if she did not come close to solving the matter, if she did not fall so much as was pushed. Ye ken?"

Evelinde nodded, then just as quickly shook her head, confusion rearing up in her. "But if Cullen's father and uncle were not murdered, why would anyone kill Maggie for looking into their deaths?"

Biddy appeared startled by that logic. "Aye. That's true enough."

Evelinde took in her troubled expression and decided Biddy obviously wasn't as certain they weren't murdered as she'd like others to believe. Closing her eyes as the woman began to pour another bucket of water over her head, Evelinde asked, "How did the rumor start that Cullen killed her?"

Biddy released a sound of disgust. "How does any rumor start? Someone spoke it and, nonsense though it was, it spread like wildfire. They say he killed her because she had produced no bairn. Howbeit, the lass was with child when she pitched off those cliffs."

"She was?" Evelinde gasped, and peered at her with horror. "Are you sure?"

"Aye. She'd missed her woman's time three moons in a row, though she wasna showing yet."

"Did Cullen know?"

"It would be hard for him to miss, with them sleeping in the same bed," she said dryly.

"Aye," Evelinde murmured, a blush rising to her cheeks. She hadn't considered what it would mean to be married. She would now be sharing a room and a bed with the man. He would know everything about her; every flaw on her body, and even when her woman's time was. She bit her lip at the realization, then shook the matter away with a sigh. There was little to be done about it. It was the natural way. It was just embarrassing to realize Cullen would soon know her even better than her own lady's maid.

"There, lass. Yer hair is all done. Now I shall go take yer gown and chemise below to be cleaned and fetch that salve for ye. It'll take me a minute to mix it up, so ye go on and soak a bit if ye like, then dry off, but doona dress. Lay yersel' on the bed on the linen, and I'll be back to spread it on ye."

"Thank you, Biddy," she murmured, as the woman bustled from the room. Evelinde remained in the tub a few more minutes while she contemplated all she'd learned, but her thoughts died abruptly as she realized she had no fresh clothes to don.

A displeased mutter slipping from her lips, Evelinde carefully got out of the tub and began to dry herself. She then wrapped the linen around her body and plopped onto the side of the bed to consider her situation. Much to her dismay, all she had in the world was the wrinkled and filthy dress she'd worn on the journey. It amazed her that a man who had shown such care and consideration in other ways could be so dense about things such as this. Shaking her head, she dropped back on the bed and closed her eyes, but then winced as her hip began to ache.

Standing, Evelinde removed the linen and laid it out on the bed to protect it from any salve dripping on it, then lay down again, this time on her stomach. She then crossed her hands as a pillow and laid her cheek on them, her eyes closing as she tried to sort out how she was to deal with the issue of having only one gown. Perhaps Biddy would have an idea, she thought hopefully. She would have to ask her when she returned with the salve.

So far, the woman really seemed very sweet, and she was glad to have her there, but it didn't stop her missing Mildrede. Sighing, she closed her eyes and soon found herself drifting off to sleep as she waited.

Evelinde woke to the feel of a warm salve being spread over her back. She smiled sleepily as strong hands massaged the salve into the bruise over her ribs on her side and back. The touch was as soothing as the salve, the way the abused flesh was kneaded, easing away the last of the knots in her muscles.

"That's lovely, Biddy, thank you."

The grunt that came in answer made her eyes pop open and her head swivel in alarm.

"Cullen!" she gasped.

"Wife," he said calmly.

"I thought you were Biddy." It was the only thing she could think to say as her mind screamed that the man was kneeling on the side of the bed, her naked back and bottom displayed before him.

Cullen didn't bother to say she'd been wrong, but simply pushed her back to lie flat with one hand on her shoulder blade and continued his ministrations.

Biting her lip, Evelinde lay stiff beneath his efforts, even squeezing the cheeks of her bottom tight together.

Cullen worked in silence for another moment, then growled, "Relax."

Evelinde tried. However, it was simply impossible while his hands were moving over her skin and his eyes were drinking in her naked state.

Cullen continued to work on her side for another moment while she struggled to relax, failing miserably. He then stopped, caught her by the waist, and flipped her onto her back.

Evelinde gasped in alarm, her eyes going wide, and then his mouth covered hers. She stilled at once, not rejecting him, but not exactly welcoming either. She was too stunned by the speed of everything, but then his tongue slid into her mouth, and she relaxed beneath him with a little sigh, her arms creeping up around his neck as his mouth and tongue worked their magic.

He really was a very good kisser, Evelinde thought dreamily, then blinked her eyes open in disappointment as he suddenly broke the kiss. In the next moment, he'd flipped her onto her stomach again as if she was a child and began to work the salve into her back once more. It was only then she realized he'd only kissed her to make her relax.

It had worked, too, Evelinde realized. She'd become loose and limp in his arms after just one kiss. Mind you, now that he wasn't kissing her anymore and her mind was functioning again, she was remembering she was lying naked before him, her bare behind in his face. It was having a rather deleterious effect on her relaxed state, slowly bringing the tension back to her body as she wondered if her bottom was as pink as she was sure her face was at that moment.

Cullen removed his hands, and she glanced around to see him scoop up a handful of some goop from a bowl on the table beside the bed. He worked the salve between his hands for a moment, warming it, then turned back to smooth it over her back.

Much to her surprise, he wasn't just using it on her bruise, Instead he was spreading it over her whole back, running it up her spine and kneading it into her shoulders, before sliding down her back again. She was just beginning to relax under the gentle kneading when his hands reached her backside.

Evelinde winced when his hands slid to the sides of her hips, smoothing the salve into the tender areas there. She even began to squirm a little, instinctively trying to withdraw from the touch. Cullen didn't comment, merely worked the salve into the skin gently until she began to relax as the pain eased and faded. He then shifted his attention to her lower back and finally her buttocks.

Evelinde had to bite her lip and squeeze her thighs tight together to keep from reacting to the touch. She was most relieved when his hands continued down to her legs, smoothing the salve across the backs of her thighs and down to the backs of her knees. However, when his fingers began to trail up again, moving along the inside of her thighs, every muscle in her body jerked tight.

"Roll over."

Evelinde glanced over to see him concentrating on scooping out more salve from the bowl. She briefly considered refusing the order, but he was her husband, and he'd certainly already seen everything, she told herself. He'd had to help dress her on their wedding day.

Cow indeed, she thought with disgruntlement as she recalled the comment, then heaved out a breath and reluctantly turned over. Still, Evelinde couldn't prevent her hands from instinctively moving to cover herself.

When Cullen turned back with the salve, he didn't comment on her modest efforts but simply began by rubbing the salve into her throat and shoulders. Evelinde watched his face as he worked, but as usual it was expressionless. His eyes, however, were not, and she found herself fascinated by the slow burn building in them as he met her gaze.

She didn't resist when he took the arm she'd laid across her breasts and began to massage the salve into it. Cullen started at her fingers, then moved on to her hand, wrist, and elbow, feeding her arm through his hands so it was between them. He'd reached her upper arms when Evelinde realized her salve-slick hand had brushed against the bit of plaid that crossed his chest over his tunic as he worked.

"There is some on your plaid," she said apologetically.

Cullen glanced down and frowned. He released her to try to brush at the spot, only to make it larger. Scowling, he reached for the broach that pinned the plaid in place, then paused to stare at his salve-covered hands. Raising his head, he said, "You do it."

Evelinde hesitated, then reached out with her still-clean hand and quickly unclasped the pin. The plaid fell away at once to pool around his waist, but she knew it was just lying there loose and could slip away at any moment.

"The shirt, too."

Evelinde glanced uncertainly at his face. His expression was closed, waiting. Biting her lip, she sat up on the bed, wiping her greased hand on the linen as she did. She then reached for the hem of the loose shirt and lifted it up his chest, her eyes widening as inch after inch of flesh was revealed.

Unlike her, his chest looked perfect without a bruise to be seen, but then he'd landed on his back, she thought, as he as he lifted his arms and leaned forward for her to remove the shirt. Evelinde did and then sat back to look at the suddenly half-naked man before her.

Lord in his heaven above! He was beautiful. Muscles rippled through his shoulders and chest as he was freed from the shirt and lowered his arms. She had the most curious urge to run her hands over his chest, and briefly considered scooping up some salve as an excuse to do so.

"Lie down."

Evelinde dropped back on the bed as ordered, but couldn't seem to make her eyes stop their exploration of the wall of male chest before her. The man had to be twice as wide as she.

Cullen distracted her from his chest by bending to his work again. His hands were still slick with the salve as he turned his attention to massaging her side where the biggest bruise was. Evelinde winced at the first touch, but the salve soon eased the tenderness there. She hardly noticed when his hands began to move in wider circles over the spot… until his fingers brushed lightly over the side of one breast.

Evelinde caught her lip in her teeth, her eyes fastened on his face as he worked. Truly, at first she thought it was merely an accident. There was nothing about his expression to suggest otherwise, but then his fingers brushed lightly over the side of her breast again, a little higher this time.

On the third pass, Cullen's eyes suddenly shifted to her face, and he caught her gaze and held it as his fingers glided up again, this time, sliding so high they came perilously close to brushing her nipple. Evelinde's breath caught in her throat, then he removed his hands and turned to scoop up more salve and, again, he warmed the substance between his hands. Evelinde watched the process with interest, her gaze sliding between his hands and his face. She was watching his face when he apparently decided the salve was warm enough and suddenly brushed her arm out of the way and covered both her breasts with his hands.

Evelinde gasped, her body jerking as he began to knead the flesh there. Her eyes closed as his fingers worked magic, drawing responses that left her breathless and even panting. It was exciting and frightening, all at the same time. He'd touched her before, but then she hadn't felt quite so vulnerable and… well… naked. It did not help that he was watching her the whole time, his eyes hooded and hungry.

She wanted to ask him to stop. She wanted to beg him not to stop, and she wanted him to kiss her, but he touched her with nothing but his hands, squeezing, kneading, plucking then rubbing by turn, until Evelinde thought she couldn't bear it another moment. Just when she opened her mouth to protest, to ask him to at least kiss her as he touched her, his hands slid away, and he turned to scoop up more salve.

Evelinde bit her lip to keep from speaking and clenched her fingers to keep from reaching for him as he warmed the salve. When he turned back, he ignored her upper body altogether and instead turned his attention to her lower legs. He massaged and caressed her feet, her ankles, her calves, her knees…

Evelinde watched him turn away to collect more salve, aware her breathing had become uneven and labored. It was a combination of what he was doing and anticipation of what was yet to come, then he turned back, and his hands glided over her legs just above the knees. Evelinde was stiff as a board, her entire body waiting. When his hands moved higher and crested over her upper thighs toward the juncture between her legs, she gasped and caught her hands in the linens she lay on.

She did not know if it was the salve, or his massage that was doing it, but her aches and pains were completely gone; the only sensation she was experiencing was pleasurable anticipation.

"Relax," he growled again, and Evelinde sighed as his hands moved back down her legs: rubbing, massaging, and kneading the kinks out of her muscles. This time, when his hands began to move higher along her thighs, she didn't stiffen up but squirmed slightly, her legs easing open under his touch.

What he was doing was making her eyes droop closed so she was peering at him through bare slits. She watched his face, noting the concentration and care on his expression and once again wished he'd kiss her. Evelinde liked it when he kissed her. She liked to taste him when his tongue thrust into her mouth, she liked the way it rasped across her own. These thoughts frittered away like cobwebs, and she gasped and found herself clutching at the linens again as his hands moved over her upper thighs, his fingers brushing lightly across the flesh at the apex.

Evelinde was suddenly aware that as he'd massaged her he'd spread her legs wider, leaving her open to him. A flash of embarrassment claimed her, but not enough, she thought, to make her close them and hamper his touch. And then his fingers brushed over her core again, and her legs snapped closed, stopping the caress and trapping his hand at the same.

It was an instinctual reaction. Evelinde couldn't have stopped it had she tried. Biting her lip, she opened her eyes and found him looking back at her. They stared at each other for a moment, neither of them moving, then, still meeting her gaze, he used both hands to ease her legs open again and shifted to kneel between them so they couldn't close. As he did, his plaid slipped until she was perilously close to seeing the hardness that was presently raising the cloth.

Evelinde watched him silently, aware her chest was rising and falling in rapid shallow breaths, as his fingers brushed over her skin again. Her legs tried to snap closed but were prevented by his presence, so instead she closed her eyes and clenched her fists and moaned, her hips instinctively trying to shift and arch as his fingers danced over her flesh.

If she'd thought he'd built a fire in her by the riverside at d'Aumesbery, it was nothing compared to what he was doing now. Evelinde actually began to ache with a need she didn't understand and had barely tasted at the river. Her hips began to move of their own volition, the urge so strong his hold could not completely stop it. And then he suddenly withdrew those magic fingers.

Evelinde's felt the absence keenly, and her eyes shot open at once. She met his gaze and saw the smile curve his lips before he suddenly leaned forward to dip his head between her legs, replacing his hand with his mouth. She cried out with shock and started to sit up to grab for his head and try to draw him away, but then his tongue rasped over her heated, sensitive flesh, and she froze, even her breathing stopping. A second rasp sent the breath she'd been holding out on a whoosh, and Evelinde dropped back on the bed, her body taking over from her shocked mind.

Her knees rose, her heels dug into the bed, and her hips began to undulate as a high, ululating moan began to stream from her mouth. It soon turned into a somewhat louder, uh uh uh… and then an Oh God, oh God, oh God.

Evelinde had begun to twist her head desperately back and forth on the bed when she felt something enter her, his finger, she thought, and the excitement that had built in her suddenly exploded, rushing over her in a wave that left her incapable of making any sensible sound at all. Lost in the sensation claiming her, she never noticed him rising up, tearing his plaid away to drop it on the floor, and shifting his position between her legs.

Evelinde was vaguely aware of a gentle prodding, then he suddenly plunged into her, filling her until she thought she'd break apart around him. He froze. She opened confused eyes to see his were now closed, an expression that appeared almost to be pain on his face. After a moment his eyes opened, and he watched her face silently as he eased halfway out.

Evelinde felt her body clench around him, protesting his leave-taking, then he eased back in again, and she closed her eyes once more, giving herself over to the sensations bursting back to life inside her.

She felt him catch her by the bottom and lift her hips, and groaned as he pushed back into her again, his body rubbing against her sensitive core. Her moan seemed to act like a release for Cullen. The speed picked up then, his hips moving faster, his body pounding into her over and over again, enflaming their passions until they both cried out with release.

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