When the clock struck midnight-a scant two hours before Liam would make his move-Ellen made sure Natalie was sleeping, descended the staircase wearing a long pelisse, carrying sturdy walking shoes in her hand. Using her fingertips against the wall to guide her, she moved silently down the corridor toward his rooms, her heart growing heavier with each step, breaking under the weight of it all. It was ending too soon!
Drawing a deep, fortifying breath, she rapped lightly on the door, heard the creak of the bedsprings, and calmly pushed it open, peeking around the frame. Dressed in his kilt, Liam was lying on his side. A single candle burned on the table, casting a soft, murky light across the room. “Ellie,” he murmured as she slipped through the door. “I hoped ye’d come.”
She stepped inside, closed the door softly behind her, and leaned against it, looking at him. Lord God, she did love him, even though she’d convinced herself, after so many painful months of waiting for Daniel to return to her, that she’d never love again. Ah, but what irony-Look at you now, Ellie. Look at you, desperately in love with him. And look what would become of them. Her lot in life, it seemed, was to love deeply just to lose it.
“Come here, lass,” he said, rising to sit on the edge of the bed.
Ellen leaned down, laid her shoes by the door, then straightened again and began to slowly unbutton her pelisse, letting it fall open to reveal the gown she had discovered in the trunks on the top floor. Liam watched her, his eyes drifting from her face to her body as the pelisse fell open, his fingers curling around the edge of the bed. “Mo chreach, what have ye got there?”
She smiled wantonly, knowing the effect of the bathing gown she had discovered. It was a paper thin, almost transparent gown from years gone by that a modest woman would have once worn to bathe in. She shrugged out of the pelisse and let it fall to the floor.
His eyes on her body, Liam rose to his feet. “What a treasure ye bring me, leannan,” he said admiringly. He began to walk toward her, the kilt swinging around his knees, his gaze feasting on her. “I swear to heaven, there was never a woman more beautiful than ye are. Never.”
That heartfelt sentiment trickled down her spine like a tear, yet Ellen remained silent as he came forward and reached for her. But when his hand touched her waist, she laughed low, put a hand on his chest, and pushed away from the door, forcing Liam backward.
His lips curled seductively; he laughed with her as he caught her wrist. “What is this, then? Would ye entice me so and deny me?”
She pushed him, forcefully, and Liam stumbled backward a step or two. “Do you deserve to touch me, sir?” she asked playfully, lifting her chin.
“I donna know if I deserve it,” he said, “but I crave it like water. Ye should no’ play with a man who desires to touch ye as much as I do.”
Ellen tossed her head, strutted away from him, aware that he could see her naked body through the flimsy material. He made a guttural, appreciative sound as she neared the table, where she saw his things so carefully laid out-the sporran, the daggers. The war medals. She turned around, leaned against the table and cupped her breast with her hand. “Do you want to touch this?” she murmured huskily.
His legs braced apart, Liam clenched his hands in a fist. “Aye.”
She smiled, flicked her finger against her nipple. “Do you want to kiss it?”
Liam growled, took a step forward, but Ellen quickly moved, put the table between her and him. Bracing himself against the table with his hand, Liam leaned across, chuckling. “Ye shouldna play games with an aroused man, lass,” he said sportingly, but there was a sting of truth in his voice. “If ye play with fire, ye may be burned.”
Ellen leaned across the table, so that her gown was gaping open and he could see her breasts. “Perhaps. But if you want to touch fire, you must be prepared to hold it in your hand.”
Liam instantly made a move to his right; Ellen jumped to her left, just beyond his reach, and laughed low. His smile faded. “Come now, Ellie. Ye’ve had yer fun.”
“Have I?” she asked, laughing again as she ran across the floor to a window. She stood in front of the heavy drapes, pulled back with a thick roped cord. “Shall I open the window so everyone sees how you chase me to ravage me?”
“Ye’ve no idea how close I am to doing just that,” he said, walking toward her.
Ellen darted to the next window, pulled the heavy cord that held the drape and let it fall. She tossed the cord on the bed, kicked the drape out in front of Liam and ran to the brazier. His eyes never left her; he followed her, moving slowly, cautiously, a strange light playing in his eyes. “Ye’ll pay for yer foolishness,” he warned her. “I’ll no’ be gentle.”
“I do not believe I asked you to be gentle, sir…if you catch me.”
That earned her another growl; he lunged for her, but Ellie managed to slip him again, running to the empty hearth, laughing breathlessly.
“Why would ye torment me thus?” he asked, just as breathlessly. “Ye desire yer punishment, eh?”
Ellen dragged her palms up her belly to her breasts, kneading them. Liam stared at her with dark, hungry eyes, creating a wave of desire in her that arched down her back, landing hot in her groin. She licked her lips, let her eyes wander his body, the broad chest, the narrow waist. The tent of his kilt.
“Ye see what ye do to me, then,” he said low.
Lifting her gaze, she purposefully laughed at him. “I enjoy tormenting you thus.”
Liam shrugged out of his shirt and let it drop. “Then by all means, come here and torment me, leannan.”
Ellen shook her head; Liam suddenly strode forward, and with a shriek of laughter, she made a mad dash for the bed, letting him catch her this time. He fell with her onto the bed, half on top of her. Ellen started to struggle, but he caught her arm in his hand and held her with an iron grip; with his legs, he locked her legs. Then, with his free hand, he unbuckled his belt.
“Oooh, do you intend to tie me up?” she asked with breathless anticipation. Liam’s eyes widened for a moment, but he responded by straddling her, jerking her arm to the bed post and wrapping the belt around it. “I’ll be your prisoner of love,” she murmured, “but it’s too tight.”
Liam looked down, eyed her critically. “I tied it loosely, mo ghraid.” He leaned over and kissed her as his hand sought her breast.
Ellen squirmed beneath him. “It’s too tight, Liam.”
He groaned, lifted his head, and looked up at the knot. “It canna be-“
“Here, I’ll show you. Slip your hand in with mine. Come on then, put your hand with mine.”
Liam smiled as if he suspected this was more play, and slipped his hand into the loop of his belt with her. “There ye see, then? Quite loose.”
“Silly, wretched man!” she said, pausing to let the tip of her tongue run across his shoulder. “You’ve no idea how to play properly! Shall I show you how to take your prisoner and relieve your lust? ”
Liam closed his eyes with a moan, and Ellen moved from beneath him, pushing him down as she straddled him. She lifted the bathing gown, pressed her warm, moist flesh to his groin, partially bared now that he had removed his belt and his kilt was falling away. He sighed with ecstasy; Ellen laughed, looked up at his arm hanging loosely from the bed post. “Oh no, this will not do,” she said, and reached for the drapery cord she had tossed onto the bed. She wrapped it around his wrist, tying the complicated lover’s knot he had taught her one afternoon when they had played languidly with his neckcloth. The same knot she had practiced over and over in the privacy of her room, drawing it tight against his wrist and the bed post. His eyes fluttered open; he smiled up at her. “Now that ye have me captive, what would ye do?”
Ellen slid down, let her mouth trail from one nipple to the other, then rose again to press her sex against his hardness. “I don’t have you captive yet.”
“Ach, lass,” he groaned impatiently. “I’m captive, I’m captive, then! Ye torture me!”
“That,” she whispered, “is precisely what I intend to do.” She came up off the bed, untied the bathing gown at her neck and let it fall away from her body. Naked, she walked to the second window, where she untied the cord from the drape, then draped it around her neck like a boa scarf, strutting back to him. He had lifted himself up, so that his back was to the headboard, and he watched her with due anticipation, practically licking his lips.
Ellen climbed on top of him again, resumed the rubbing of her sex against his, and taking his other hand in hers, lifted it to the second bedpost. “Shall I tell you what I intend to do with you?” she whispered. “I will tie you up. Then, I will taste every inch of you-“
He bucked helplessly beneath her.
“-and nibble away at you like cake,” she continued.
“If ye go to such lengths, I must insist that ye torture me completely,” he jested. Ellen smiled down at Liam; his expression was one of a man thoroughly enjoying carnal pleasure-a devilish, boyish look. Tears were suddenly burning at the back of her throat; she quickly looked away and wrapped the cord around his wrist, tied the second lover’s knot. “So many knots, Ellie, because lovers are never meant to part,” he had told her.
Beneath her, Liam chuckled. “Ye donna have to fear an escape, lass. I’ll no’ go before ye’ve done what ye will to me.”
Ellen ignored him, studied the bindings. He could not possibly pull free of it. She looked at the other hand. It, too, was secure.
“Come on then, ye’ve tied them so tight I canna feel me hands. Come back to me.”
Her heart was pounding now, so hard that it felt as if it might actually break free of her chest. She couldn’t seem to catch her breath. She braced her hands against Liam’s chest, bent over, and kissed him gently on the lips.
She lifted off his body, onto the floor, and pulled the kilt from beneath him. Liam opened his eyes, turned his head to look at her, his expression still one of a man anticipating a rousing, lustful bout of sex. “What are ye about, leannan? Come here.”
She couldn’t speak, could not find her voice as she hurried to where he had dropped his shirt and thrust first one arm, then the other into it.
“All right then, what is this?” he asked, his voice having lost some of the warmth.
Don’t talk, not yet.
“Ellie! What are ye about?” he demanded, realizing quickly that it was no longer a game.
Avoiding his gaze, she looked around the room, saw his buckskins draped across a chair. She ran to them and put them on, but they were impossibly big. Wild with fright now, she looked around, saw the belt she had tossed aside, and picked it up.
“What in God’s name are ye about?” he demanded gruffly. “Untie me, Ellie!”
Her fingers trembling, she managed to thread the belt partially through the belt loops. She needed a coat to hide her figure. Why hadn’t she thought of a coat?
“Goddam it, Ellie! Untie me!” he demanded more loudly, bucking forcibly against the bed, straining against the ropes around his wrists. “I’ll skin ye alive, I swear to God I shall if ye donna untie me at once!”
His kilt. There it was, on the floor. Just below the bed where he lay captive, seething with fury. Ellen risked a glimpse of him; his face had turned to cold stone, his eyes full of murderous rage. He knew what she was doing, and a dagger of terror impaled her. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t do this!
“I donna know what ye think ye will do, but if ye think I will remain tied up like a fucking sow, ye are wrong.
“I have to,” she said, surprised by the strength in her voice, and moved carefully toward the kilt, watching him carefully. He looked like a beast now, one intent on his prey. His chest was rising and falling with each furious breath as he glared at her. Slowly, she went down on her haunches and reached in front of her, grabbing a corner of the kilt. Liam tried to lunge off the bed then, and with a screech, Ellen went falling backward onto her bum, dragging the plaid with her.
Knowing full well that he was captive, Liam, fell back against the bed, his teeth bared now. “Ye foolish chit!” he spat at her. “Do ye think ye can climb a trellis? Open a window? Pick a lock? Do ye think ye willna be caught? And what do ye think Farnsworth will do to ye when they find ye stealing into a man’s house! Listen to me Ellie, come on then, we’ll do this together-“
No! She had anticipated this. “I have to do this, Liam. I have no other option. And I am so very sorry for it, you’ll never know how truly sorry I am,” she said, and before she dissolved into a torrent of tears, she ran to the door and slipped out into the corridor, grabbing her shoes just as she closed the door, wincing as he bellowed her name. She prayed that Follifoot had drunk the whiskey she’d stolen from her father’s study and given him and would not hear Liam’s cries in his rooms at the far end of the house.